Senate debates

Monday, 22 August 2011

Bills

Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011, Carbon Credits (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011, Australian National Registry of Emissions Units Bill 2011; In Committee

11:23 am

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

I will not be supporting these amendments, either, for many of the reasons that the minister has just outlined. For the Greens it is essential that the permanence obligations stand very clearly as they are in current legislation. I remind the coalition and Senator Xenophon of one of the big concerns people have with the whole Carbon Farming Initiative. It has been outlined by Senator Joyce in his run around the country, saying that the whole of the Murray-Darling Basin will be covered in trees if you turn around twice and so on and so forth. We need to not only guarantee permanence but also give people very clear signals so that we do not end up with the simultaneous crises that we have leading to perverse outcomes. The simultaneous crises we have are a climate crisis, a water crisis, a food security crisis and an energy crisis. If you do not look at all of those in a holistic way, you will get perverse outcomes. If you suddenly decide that you are going to go with carbon sink forests everywhere without any concern about water or about food production, you will end up with a complete mess in rural and regional Australia. It is what essentially happened with the managed investment schemes, and we absolutely do not want to see that happen again.

Equally, we do not want to see food production pushed out of the way by energy crops. We do not want to see a massive investment from managed investment schemes mark II with the planting of carbon sink forests in areas which should be maintained for food production. Equally, we do not want people going into a gambling framework where they basically say they will put trees in, they will get the carbon credits for 25 years and then at the end of that the next generation can cut the lot down, rip it up, do what they like and go back to a different regime. By putting in 100 years, we are acknowledging that the task here is to put in the carbon and maintain it for 100 years. Every farmer will sit there and say, 'Right, I am going to look at this piece of my property and determine that.' That means there will be parts of people's properties that they cannot use for anything other than, for example, putting in a biodiverse planting. It will improve their property; it will improve the biodiversity on their property. It will not take anything else out of production. It is a good thing to do and it will store carbon, and it is being planted as a biodiverse planting because it is meant to be there for 100 years. That is what you would do if you were planting something to last 100 years—you would build resilience, get local seed and local species, and actually have that part of your property like that for 100 years. But it is not going to be a substantial part of your property if you can make more from doing other agricultural pursuits on that land.

Similarly with soil carbon, one of the issues—it is an issue that Australia is engaged with daily in the talks in Durban, and has been over the last several years in negotiations—is drought. Every time we have a major drought in Australia we lose massive amounts of carbon to the atmosphere. Australia is saying we are not going to sign up to the forest management provisions of the treaty because we run the risk in a major drought of having to pay a massive amount on loss on our target because of the carbon we lose to the atmosphere. So Australia has been arguing that we want force majeure provisions so that in the event of extreme events that are beyond what would be classified as normal Australia would not have that immediately taken off the target. There are a whole lot of complexities in the UN negotiations around permanence. One thing we have succeeded in doing here is sticking with the spirit of the international agreement and understanding on permanence, but this is also a very clear signal to rural and regional Australia that permanence means permanence and if you make these decisions they last for 100 years. That will lead to more balanced land use in rural and regional Australia.

We have also put in this bill the need to consult natural resource management plans and the natural resource management groups in any particular catchment to make sure we do not get perverse outcomes where too much of the catchment is turned over to one carbon farming alternative or another. We are trying to give rural and regional Australia the opportunity to take up the benefits of creating permits by putting carbon in the landscape on a permanent basis or restoring carbon in the landscape if they have a degraded bit of forest on their land that they want to restore or a piece of forest that they can bring up to its full carbon carrying capacity with assistance in various ways. We are providing people with the opportunity to do good things and giving them an incentive to do so, a payment to do so. But we are making sure that we do not end up with the perverse outcomes we see when we incentivise something in a way that does not take into account all the other issues like water, food production and energy. We are dealing with all these crises at once.

I wholeheartedly support the notion of permanence being 100 years. I recognise there is an ongoing discussion in inter­national negotiations. I am also cognisant of what the minister is saying, that that advice coming back through the international negotiations will obviously be taken into account by the government, is being taken into account every time there is one of these international meetings and will continue to be taken into account—but the DOIC is not the place to do it. Having said that, I think this is the most sensible way to proceed because it will give people a reality check. As the minister said, if they proceed on the basis that it is 100 years and then determine that there is more money to be made or there is a separate issue of ownership or for whatever reason they decide to get rid of the carbon that they have stored in this way, they will have to give up the permits. The reality is that that will be the consequence. It does not prevent them using that part of their property in the future in a different way but there will be a financial penalty incurred just as there is a financial benefit gained because you have done this in the first place. So that is going to be a commercial decision for people on the land, but I am confident that under this provision what we are going to get at last is a whole lot of biodiverse plantings on properties in places where it is appropriate to have them, where there will be decisions to avoid land clearance, where there will be decisions to restore degraded systems and improve biodiversity at the same time.

I actually think this carbon farming initiative bill in the way that it has now been developed is an extremely good thing for rural and regional Australia and I think farmers are pretty desperate to have it out there because it is the first time that marrying concepts of stewardship with the financial outcome is going to be able to happen on the ground. I think that has been one of the really positive things we have achieved through this negotiation.

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