Monday, 22 August 2011
Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011, Carbon Credits (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011, Australian National Registry of Emissions Units Bill 2011; In Committee
In the earlier debate on this amendment before we postponed it, I indicated that the opposition is sympathetic to the issues that Senator Xenophon is attempting to address with this amendment and that we are inclined to support this amendment. That position has not changed in the days that have followed or as a result of the advice that the minister has given. I understand the point the minister is attempting to make in terms of the differentiation between kinds or types of projects and broad criteria and the potential of this amendment to capture and require analysis of specific projects. However, the types of projects that are likely to flow from this bill are of course going to have very specific effects and impacts in very different areas as they are applied right across the country, especially when it comes to water availability or agricultural production. We spent quite a period of time debating another amendment that had been championed by the opposition in relation to providing some security over land access for agricultural production. We think that in this regard it is important that we do not allow a system where loopholes in broader regulations can be exploited by specific projects. Whether they are exploited deliberately or otherwise, the potential is there for these specific projects to potentially have an adverse impact on water or agricultural production even under the type of regulations that the government is proposing under the existing section. Indeed, we have seen it in those draft regulations and in the earlier debates on the amendment about land access for agricultural production. I expressed quite strongly and passionately at that stage the concern that the government appeared to be treating land access for agricultural production as a side issue. The government appeared to not take into account the amendment that has now been made to insert new subclause 56(2)(e) to provide for consideration of land access for agricultural production. The government appeared to have no intention to revise the regulations relating to the negative list to reflect any guidelines in that regard.
I understand that there are challenges in preparing guidelines for that such as: what is your prime agricultural land and how do you go about defining it? These are issues the minister has to tackle in a number of different areas. But in this regard we think there is value in Senator Xenophon's amendments, which provide the potential for some case-by-case scrutiny and provide the potential for projects that may sneak through the types of project regulations to be addressed under a specific project-by-project regulatory approach.
To that end, we are supportive of these amendments. They may not be perfect. The challenge with any legislation is whether or not we can make it perfect. However, as is so often the case—and will probably be the case with this bill—I am sure that, whether this amendment passes or otherwise, the bill will be back before us in a year or two so we can tidy up things that have problems in the way they operate. If this clause were to have such problems then I am sure it will be addressed equally. It is possible that by not passing this clause, we will find in a couple of years that we are back, perhaps inserting something like this to provide greater discretion and greater powers to the minister to disallow certain projects or put them on the negative list.
I think it is important for the government to take this matter seriously. As I said, I understand the arguments the minister has made. But we think, as Senator Xenophon has outlined, that there is a continuing risk at the end of this process that if the bill passes in its current form we may see projects proceed that have an adverse impact on water availability, or we may see projects proceed that have an adverse impact on agricultural production. They may be one-off projects, but those one-offs add up to create a problem. It is that type of adverse impact and inadvertent consequence of a bill like this that we want to make sure is avoided. That is why we are inclined to support and will be supporting these amendments.
We urge the government, if these amendments fail, to once again take a good look at the regulations it is proposing, to once again take a good look at that draft and, particularly, to once again revise that draft with regard to the new clause, 56(2)(e), which was inserted the other day; it does at least provide for some consideration of any adverse impact in regard to land access for agricultural production. I urge the government to take a look at that again and be particularly mindful of what the stakeholders have to say during consultation on this. I am accepting the likely political reality that this amendment will fail, but I hope the government at least takes into consideration the principles that this amendment is seeking to pursue. If it will not do that, then I urge the government to make the regulations for the negative list as tough and as stringent as possible. That is what is absolutely important—to make sure that the credibility of this system and the credibility of the assurances the government has given to farmers and to all those stakeholders in the industry stack up and are seen through. With that, I again thank Senator Xenophon for proposing these amendments and once again indicate the opposition's intention to support them.