Thursday, 16 June 2011
Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011; Second Reading
I am very please to speak in support of the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011 and against this amendment. This is a subject I am extremely passionate about, representing a region where this issue is going to land most significantly. My own family have been dairy farming in the Eden-Monaro region for 160 years and have done it tough through the recent drought and the tough times, as I know a number of members have experienced and understand. Yesterday, the member for Gippsland was expressing concern for me as to whether or not I was stepping up to the plate on these issues and having to tow the party line. I really appreciate the concern of the member. He is a good bloke, but let me reassure him that this is a subject I am passionate about and I am sincerely advocating a bipartisan approach to this issue. I really believe it is an issue on which we can be bipartisan. We do not want political point scoring—this is just too important for our farmers, for the nation and for the world.
It has been a great privilege for me to have listened to the contributions by the member for New England and the member for Lyne, both of whom represent the voices of reason in this chamber. They are obviously amplified in the current circumstances and that is a good thing. The member for New England has great expertise, as a farmer himself, and when you hear him talk on these issues, you are not hearing a partisan political point of view; you are hearing the voice of reason. We should heed that voice of reason because now is the time for us to act.
This Carbon Farming Initiative is a policy intersection. A lot of issues come together here—food security, the carbon price and the future of our farming in the way we deal with drought and productivity in the agricultural sector. In the coming weeks we have a serious meeting of the G20 agricultural ministers, followed by a very important FAO meeting in Rome, as well as the gathering of the Global Research Alliance ministerial summit. That in particular is highly relevant to the discussion we are having here.
People are trying desperately internationally to come to grips with food security. It is one of the most serious challenges the world faces with growing population, the effects of climate change and the loss of arable land. The Global Research Alliance is looking in particular at agricultural greenhouse gases. We have been a very active participant in that process and certainly through our own carbon farming research and through the processes of the climate change research program we have played a very vital role in the elimination of nitrous oxide emissions—a highly significant contributor to our overall emissions story. Coming to grips with it will aid our position and also the world's efforts as we contribute our ideas and the outcomes of our research to this issue.
Australia needs to be part of this story. We have been part of the international agricultural story through our foundation participation in the FAO. So obviously there is a great story to be had here. This is something the coalition members who purport to represent regional areas and the rural sector of this country need to understand. I know there have been issues raised about accountability, management of this system and prevention of speculation et cetera. A vast range of safeguards are built into this framework. We have the administrator, who will manage the processes of the Australian carbon units, which will represent a tonne of emissions, and the depositing of those units into regulated accounts. That will be complemented by the Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee, which will manage the process of approving the methodologies. That is the dual responsibility involved in this process. The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency is managing the establishment of the market processes and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry will also contribute its input on methodologies. Those methodologies will be subject to the sign-off of the Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee in advising the minister—so the minister must take the advice of this committee.
In addition to the safeguards that are in-built in that respect, there will be auditing of this program put in place. It will be a robust auditing framework, providing buyers with confidence that the offsets are genuine abatement. That will be established under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Audit Act. All audits required by the legislation must be undertaken by greenhouse and energy auditors who are registered under that act, so there will be very significant safeguards built into this process.
When we talk about this issue, as the member for New England highlighted, we are talking about productivity gains. There are many challenges out there in the landscape at the moment. We have seen people trying to come to grips with this—and the member for Lyne mentioned Major General Jeffery—through the natural sequence farming initiative. But there needs to be understanding of how important some of these measures are for productivity. For example, revegetation is something that a lot of our farmers have taken up, understanding that devegetation and deforestation have caused significant deterioration of their properties. Revegetation can assist in building windbreaks. It will help contravene erosion of the soils. (Quorum formed) I can understand why a quorum would be called in the middle of these very essential points: they embarrass the coalition because they are so important to the people whom they purportedly represent.
I was talking about the importance of some of the measures that will be accredited under this regime, including revegetation. Revegetation is important for building windbreaks on properties, it is important for combating erosion of the soil, it is important in providing shade for livestock and it is important for improving the quality of water catchments on properties. These are investments that are going to improve land as well as leading to abating carbon emissions and earning credits under this regime.
We have heard a lot of talk about carbon sequestration in the soils. This offers huge potential for us as well. We are at present commissioning and promoting a lot of research into these things. We have over 70 different types of biochar under analysis, and there will be great potential in that, as Mr Garnaut has highlighted. Even if we realise only a part of that potential, it will be an enormous contribution to this story. There is some concern about soils possibly losing that storage. But under this scheme that risk for the farmer is entirely eliminated due to the risk reversal buffer system whereby five per cent of the ACCUs issued will be held in security against the loss of carbon in those soil situations. Of course, farmers would lose the income from that stored carbon and would be required to re-establish the stores, but they would not be penalised for any loss of carbon in that respect.
We know that carbon is very important for the health of the soil. We know that carbon helps retain moisture in the soil and is a key nutrient. A lot of the farming practices that have been adopted over the last few centuries have been counterproductive to the health of the soil because they have denuded carbon, and therefore we need to take dramatic action to stop that. Under this system farmers will have tradeable credit. I heard reference to the fact that there were issues to do with Landcare. Well Landcare has been a high priority for this government and Landcare is going to be at the heart of helping to deliver this scheme. As this process unfolded we had a forum earlier this year in March where we had 56 Landcare facilitators who were being trained in the concept. Since that time we have been developing a training regime for those Landcare facilitators and now we have 85 people involved in that program who will be associated with the 56 natural resource management regions. They will be deployed to conduct a wide range of workshops with landholders out to 2014 as soon as this legislation is in place. Those facilitators will be out there helping farmers to aggregate and to deal with carbon-trading companies to diversify their income base as well as gain these productivity benefits. They will be associated in that process with other experts.
We have seen, as Mr Garnaut said, that this is essential for farming. It offers the potential to make a large contribution to our emissions reductions, but Mr Garnaut also highlighted the possibility and the potential that this sector could achieve from a carbon farming initiative, which could be the equivalent of a new wool industry. Mr Garnaut highlighted that there is potential for a $2.25 billion industry based on this. I certainly would not claim this is a panacea for all the issues that face our farmers, but the National Farmers' Federation have certainly understood how important this is and fully endorse it. They have stated that:
The legislation has also addressed NFF concerns around potential perverse outcomes in relation to food production, water, local communities, employment …
The concern has been raised about the possibility of driving the uptake of arable land for use in revegetation. We know that will not happen. The managed investment schemes have been listed in the negative lists and will not be part of this scheme. Also, all proposals have to be in line with the natural resource management plans for regions, which is the mechanism by which communities can have input into that process. The minister himself can analyse each and every methodology and proposal in relation to the consequences they will have for issues of water management and management of arable land. Bear in mind that this government is also in the process of developing a national food plan, which will also intersect with determinations in this respect.
The issue of taking up arable land for carbon sink uses and revegetation is simply not a concern or a risk. It will be managed within the context of the scheme. It is an issue that has been raised in the process of developing the framework. So this is a spurious issue. It is highly hypocritical of the coalition to raise it as an issue when we know as a fact that their own proposals for inaction—they call it direct action, but in reality it is inaction—would in fact take up 20 million hectares of the Australian landmass, which is 63 per cent, most of our arable land, and be totally unsustainable in that respect. It is entirely hypocritical for them to raise that issue in this context. It will be well and truly catered for. The coalition members opposite who purport to represent the men and women on the land in this country need to come on board with this legislation. It needs to be done now for the future of farming in Australia.