Senate debates

Monday, 30 November 2009

Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Australian Climate Change Regulatory Authority Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (Charges — Customs) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (Charges — Excise) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (Charges — General) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS Fuel Credits) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS Fuel Credits) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Amendment (Household Assistance) Bill 2009 [No. 2]

In Committee

2:34 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move Greens amendment (24) on sheet 5786:

(24)  Clause 88, page 131 (line 19), omit paragraph (e).

This particular amendment relates particularly to the reforestation aspects of the government’s bill. The Australian Greens have argued that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme should be for fossil fuels and that we should keep all green carbon separate from the scheme. We argue that green carbon should be dealt with by a separate mechanism.

By including reforestation, afforestation and, more generally, the land use offsets, you are creating a carbon credit through the scheme—the reforestation, afforestation and some of these other offsets that were discussed in recent times—whilst not having a current mechanism in place to actually look at water sustainability, food security, biodiversity and resilience in rural communities. The Greens believe it is appropriate for all land use issues to be out of the scheme and that there should be a parallel scheme. We have put that forward in two green carbon bills: our Safe Climate Bill, one which deals with the protection of native forests as carbon stores, and another which sets out the parameters for drawing up legislation to this end. We need to do this because of the distortions that have occurred in picking one set of winners in the landscape and not everything else. In the case of the managed investment schemes—and I am not going to go into this at length because the Senate is familiar with what we have been arguing—you have a situation where you give benefits for forestry that are not there for the rest of the farming community, thereby creating distortions in terms of water and land prices.

It is no surprise that the National Association of Forest Industries is in here pushing to have these credits immediately, whereas what we want to see is appropriate plantings of biodiversity, restoration of existing forestry stands around Australia, ending of native vegetation clearance and a whole range of things. We also would like to see stewardship payments relating to the removal of weeds, the maintenance of biodiversity and improvement in riparian vegetation. We would like to see credits given for feral animal control, credits given for weed control and so on so that you actually set up a stewardship arrangement in rural and regional Australia that maximises the carbon benefits from those things which we can do easily and first, like the protection of native vegetation and forest, and then moves through to a range of other things that you would reward, including soil carbon.

Senator Joyce recently spoke about the work of Dr Christine Jones. I went out to Warren in New South Wales to have a look at a property where she has been working with the landowner. It was quite amazing. You just shove the spade in and have a look and you can see for yourself the huge improvement made by planting native perennial grasses. The landowner said that the enormous benefits from this were in reduced water costs because you have better water retention in your soil; in your perennial grass dying down at the right time in terms of the crop that you are producing; and in being able to reduce inputs in terms of petrochemical fertilisers. All that is an excellent outcome. His margins have improved because of the change in the system that it is operated in. I have said several times in here that Dr Jones was ostracised for a long time. Now, I am glad to say, her work is finally being looked at in a peer-reviewed context. I am really pleased about that, and I am pleased about the role that the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport took in actually facilitating that turnaround.

By picking and choosing things which earn credits without looking holistically at the whole landscape we are going to end up with perverse outcomes, no matter what goodwill might come into this, because it is an incredibly complex area. Neither Land and Water Australia nor the Bureau of Rural Sciences nor the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry have really sat down and had a look at how you manage this on a landscape scale, how you manage this at a catchment scale and how we make sure that we end up with a sustainable river system and a sustainable food supply. How do we end up with jobs in rural communities by incorporating renewable energy and the like? How do we change our laws in terms of vegetation and management practices? Where do we have to put the R&D in? There is a really big focus here. We need to go on thinking about a mechanism for rural and regional Australia. My preference would have been to set up an income stream from the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, through 100 per cent auctioning of permits. I would have set up an income stream to fund an authority which would oversee the green carbon mechanism. That is basically what we have set out in our proposed legislation.

So I do not think it is appropriate that we simply reward NAFI, and that is what this is about. The plantation forest industry in Australia has had a big win here with the government, and the people who want to protect native forests have got nothing. The largest carbon stores in the country are being logged. You get a credit for replanting, afforesting and reforesting, but you get nothing for protecting a standing native forest. There has to be something entirely wrong by giving the incentives to things that do not store the carbon in the same capacity as standing forests. There has to be something wrong when you prefer plantation forests over biodiversity in the landscape. That is why the Greens take the view that we ought not to be issuing free units, free permits, to reforestation and afforestation projects, as prescribed in the government’s legislation.

This whole area of land use needs an entirely separate mechanism and decent accounting. That is the other problem we have here: the total dishonesty of the accounting. That is why we have been trying to get the maps from the government throughout, and we still have not got them. Under Kyoto accounting, which is separate from this, you can log a carbon-dense native forest and pay no carbon penalty whatsoever. The emissions are not counted under the Kyoto accounting rules. You can transfer the wood that you cut down to a Gunns pulp mill furnace where you can burn it, and you can get credits for that as renewable energy in spite of the fact that at no stage have you had to account for the emissions. This is ridiculous. Emissions are deemed to have been accounted for at the place that the trees were felled and yet they are not, because under the accounting rules you do not have to account for the emissions from logging a carbon-dense native forest providing that that forest is replanted. The assumption is that over time you will end up with carbon neutrality because if you do not change the land use the forest will regrow and over several hundred years you might end up with some equilibrium. But the point at issue is that you never end up with that equilibrium because you have lost a massive amount of carbon from a primary forest, and you are never going to have your forest growing in the ground long enough to take up that amount of carbon.

When I say ‘long enough’, it is in the context of what we have to do to avoid emissions. We have just had the discussion of 350 parts per million, and that whole thing goes to this issue of time. We do not have time to wait for a primary forest to regenerate and, in 200 years or 500 years down the track, have as much of the carbon in it as it has now. That is where we are going horribly wrong with the whole accounting procedures in terms of forestry. The Greens do not support the inclusion of plantations in the CPRS. We want the lot out—not only agriculture out but also those plantations out—and a completely different method for rewarding carbon sequestration in the landscape.

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