House debates

Wednesday, 23 October 2019


Farm Household Support Amendment (Relief Measures) Bill (No. 1) 2019; Second Reading

1:15 pm

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you, member for Moreton. I'll take that interjection, that 'Hear, hear!' The Flavours of Tasmania was held in the Great Hall, a wonderful exhibition of Tasmanian produce, much of it from my electorate.

Agriculture affects a lot of people in Tasmania—a lot of communities—and a lot of them are vulnerable to increasing temperatures and unpredictable extreme weather. The fact is that the government have no plan for drought. Despite the minister, despite the envoy, despite the coordinator-general and despite all the research, they have no plan, they have no strategy. The backbench Nationals know there's no policy. They're sick of waiting to see one from their colleagues on the front bench. They're revolting, in more ways than one. Six years ago, the Liberals and the Nationals came to government and the first thing they did was abolish the Standing Council on Primary Industries, a formal body of the Council of Australian Governments. Under the last Labor government, the federal and state governments and the National Farmers Federation all agreed that existing drought architecture was deficient and we needed a coordinated national action plan. That was more than six years ago. The first thing the Liberals and the Nationals did upon coming to government, led then by Tony Abbott, the former member for Warringah, and his deputy, the current member for New England, was abolish this COAG process. What a different place we would be in today if that process had been allowed to continue. We would have a nationally agreed drought plan.

Where is the report from Major-General Stephen Day? He was appointed in a blaze of headlines to be the national coordinator for drought. Major-General Day did his job. He produced a report, with recommendations, that he has provided to the Prime Minister, but where is it? Collecting dust on the Prime Minister's desk. Why won't the Prime Minister release the Day report? Why won't he allow it to be discussed and debated? The Prime Minister's addiction to secrecy is causing uncertainty in the community, and others are filling the vacuum. In the absence of substantive drought action from the government, others are calling for a national drought plan. The NFF put its own ideas for one to the government earlier this week. Farmers for Climate Action are calling for a national climate change strategy, because, as we know, it would be foolish to have a drought plan that does not include a climate change action plan.

The discussion around climate and worsening weather should not be ideologically divided. The effects are real—it's based on science—and we can see them around us every day. The cost to our fellow Australians is real. The cost to the economy is real. Climate change is not about Left and Right. It's not about cities versus regions or latte sippers versus VB chuggers. Climate change affects us all and we must come together as a nation to do something about it.

I recently met with Farmers for Climate Action—a professional movement of farmers, agriculture and primary industry leaders, and rural Australians who want to ensure that action is taken on climate change. Farmers are on the front line of climate change and are part of the solution. They must be part of the solution. Farmers for Climate Action work directly with those on the ground to ensure that they have climate literacy. They encourage them to become advocates and teach them innovative and scientifically backed practices to adapt to a changing climate. The work they do is vitally important and the lessons they teach are valuable, but they can only do so much, and they must be listened to. Countries and communities across the world are implementing innovative practices and strategies that serve to alleviate some of the consequences of climate change. In Africa, we have the Great Green Wall, an ambitious project to grow an 8,000 kilometre natural wall of forest to combat climate change and desertification. A decade in and with roughly 15 per cent under way, the project is already restoring Africa's degraded landscapes, providing environmental outcomes, food security and jobs. Elsewhere in Africa, there are other attempts to restore landscapes and encourage water retention. Justdiggit, a Dutch NGO currently active in Kenya and Tanzania, is teaching communities how to modify their landscape through digging, to encourage growth and vegetation restoration, as well as water preservation for subsurface soil.

There's growing evidence that forest restoration can encourage rainfall, not only in places where trees already exist but also hundreds of kilometres away. Over the past 200 years, Australia has cut down more than 40 per cent of its forests, leaving a scarred landscape behind. To be clear, I support sustainable logging. I think the Greens' obsessive opposition to the sector is ridiculous. Sawn timber is a terrific carbon sink and a natural product we should make more use of, not less, in the construction of our homes and cities. When we cut down one tree, we should replace it with three, four or five. Some of those replacements should be destined for reharvest and others for reserve or reforestation, either here in Australia or overseas in places like Indonesia, Burma, Malaysia and the Amazon. Forestation is a major part of drought mitigation. I commend the bill to the House.


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