Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


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

Debate resumed on the motion:

That this bill be now read a second time.

12:33 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr President. I start by taking this first opportunity that I have had to congratulate you on your re-election to office. Fort­uitously now, Mr Deputy President, I congratulate you on your election to this office which, as a new holder of this office, is indeed a most worthy and appropriate appointment. I know that all in the chamber welcome your ascension and know you will do a fantastic job.

I rise to speak on the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011, Carbon Credits (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011 and the Australian National Registry of Emissions Units Bill 2011. These bills, as the explanatory memorandum states, seek to implement the Carbon Farming Initiative, which is described as being:

… a stand-alone scheme but would be complementary to a carbon pricing mechanism, which the Government has announced would exempt agricultural emissions.

Clearly we do not yet know what the Carbon Farming Initiative would be complementing, given the details of the government's carbon tax—or their carbon pricing mechanism, as they like to say—are possibly yet to be decided but are certainly yet to be released, and we wait until Sunday for their release.

Indeed, even within the Carbon Farming Initiative legislation we do not yet know much of the detail because, so far as legislation goes, this is one upon which much hangs on the regulations. The regulations are utterly critical to this bill, so I foreshadow that at the conclusion of my remarks I shall move a second reading amendment, and that second reading amend­ment shall be that further consideration of these bills be an order of the day for three sitting days after a draft of the final regulations relating to the bill are laid on the table. That, of course, would mean not only that we would have the opportunity to see the full details of these bills and the commensurate regulations that go with them but equally that we would have the opportunity to consider how this bill interacts with the government's carbon tax, so we would be able to have a full and complete understanding of the picture of this—something, sadly, that is so lacking at present.

I move such a second reading amendment not because the opposition has problems with the overall direction of this legislation. It is, of course, key legislation. It is very important and it complements—or could complement, if drafted correctly—the oppo­sition's own policy when it comes to climate change: our direct action policy on climate change, which does place particular store on opportunities to abate carbon through better land management practices and the like. This legislation could achieve that.

The bill has three stated objectives. They are: firstly, to help Australia meet its international obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto protocol to that framework convention; secondly, to create incentives for people to carry on certain offset projects, being land sector abatement projects, which could be any land manage­ment practices or activities that enhance biosequestration or reduce agricultural emissions; and, thirdly, to increase carbon abatement in a manner that is consistent with the protection of Austra­lia's natural environment and improved resilience to the effects of climate change. These are, we believe, all worthwhile object­ives. That is why our concerns about this legislation do not lie at the heart of its being, are not about the goals which it seeks to achieve or implement, but are about the detail of the legislation and how it will actually be implemented through the regulations and through its interaction with the carbon tax.

We do welcome the fact that the govern­ment through this measure are pursuing a form of direct action, are pursuing an activity that is not unlike the policy of the coalition. I note that, so far as we can pick up any details of what the government are proposing for their carbon tax regime, we see that more and more parts of it start to resemble the direct action policy. I read in today's Age newspaper that in fact there will be a separate clean energy finance corporation established as part of the govern­ment's carbon tax regime. It would be nice if we knew all the details of this and if we did not have to pick titbits out of newspapers and actually could question the government on it, using the full parliamentary procedures of this place to have a real debate about the carbon tax today, tomorrow and Thursday while parliament is still sitting. The government obviously know the details and they are just choosing to hide them from the Australian people and, of course, from scrutiny in this place by this parliament. Only the government know why they are afraid to front up to question time today, question time tomorrow and question time on Thursday and actually answer questions about their carbon tax. Instead, they are waiting until Sunday to release it when they know the parliament will not be sitting for many weeks. They hope, of course, to avoid as much scrutiny of this proposal as they possibly can.

But we learn from these titbits that are dripped out through coordinated leaks to try to make the government look a little bit better—a strategy that I would suggest is not working terribly well at present—that apparently a new clean energy finance corporation will be created to oversee up to $2 billion a year in seed funding loans for projects trialling large-scale renewable energy technology. It is further understood, according to these leaks, that it will include a multimillion dollar tender round to buy out and shut down about 2,000 megawatts in brown coal power generation, an offer that is expected to interest the owners of Hazel­wood and Yallourn plants in the Latrobe Valley.

There we have it; it is going to include a tender round to provide funding to achieve emissions abatement or reduction. What does that sound awfully like? It sounds awfully like the coalition's emissions reduction fund, a tender driven process through the market to find the most efficient means of actually delivering emissions reductions.

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

The command economy!

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | | Hansard source

That, of course, is what we have been proposing for quite some period of time, since February last year. Throughout that time line, as Senator Feeney would well recall, the government has had a policy of flip-flopping on what it is going to do on climate change, a policy that back in February last year was still committed to having an emissions trading scheme under Mr Rudd. Then we saw Mr Rudd convinced, by Ms Gillard, that he did not want an emissions trading scheme. Then we saw Ms Gillard roll Mr Rudd and promise there would never, ever be a carbon tax under a government she led. Then we saw Ms Gillard sit down with Senator Brown and Senator Milne and suddenly say, 'There will be a carbon tax and I am happy to call it a tax', until last week when she said: 'I'm no longer happy to call it a tax. It is not a tax.' This week I think she is back to calling it a tax, but maybe Senator Feeney can clarify for us as to whether the carbon tax is a tax or not a tax. Perhaps he can answer that for us.

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd be delighted to; I'd love to.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the fact that it appears the government are slowly coming round to the coalition's policy. I just wish that the government, through this tender process that they are going to have, through their clean energy finance corporation, through their commit­ment to carbon farming, would actually accept that there is a better way than a carbon tax. It appears as though the only reason for your carbon tax at present is going to be to fund direct action initiatives like this clean energy finance corporation. It would appear as though you are going to implement a carbon tax so you can raise the dollars to be able to fund these activities. Here is a clue: go back to the budget, cut the waste out and fund it that way. Then you will truly be embracing the coalition's alternative policy of direct action. You will truly be imple­menting a policy that then does not cost the Australian taxpayer, the Australian economy, put at risk Australian investment and Australian jobs—does not do all of those negatives and as a result rakes in billions of dollars, which you are now going to use for your own direct action purposes. How about you go back and run an efficient govern­ment? You can commit the money that way to pursue these types of projects.

The coalition, of course, does not just welcome where the government is embracing direct action; in this regard we support the principle of carbon farming. The idea of providing incentives to farmers and other land managers to undertake projects which reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a very important one. But we do have significant concerns about this bill. We highlighted a number of those concerns during the Senate committee inquiry process. Coalition senators actively participated in that, and I pay particular tribute to my colleagues Senator Colbeck, Senator Nash and Senator Fisher, who were active participants in that inquiry and indeed have followed very closely the detail of this legislation. Senator Colbeck, in particular, has highlighted a range of very valid concerns about this legislation, many of which were encap­sulated in the report. Even the government in its report made not just the usual passing recommendation that the bill be passed; the government itself made nine recommend­ations in the body of the report. So we see amongst the government's own members and senators a range of concerns about the process for the development of this legislation and about things that actually need to be changed in this legislation. I note that at this stage I have not been provided with or seen any proposed government amendments, but I would hope that the government listens to its own senators on this legislation and that we will see in the course of debate some government amend­ments to complement those that the coalition will be moving and those that the Greens will be moving. We all want to see this legislation work, but for it to work it has to provide an appropriate framework—a framework that, yes, allows the emissions abatement and reductions that are so important but does so in a manner that preserves and protects our prime agricultural land and that has the certainty for those who choose to participate in carbon farming so that they know what the benefits, oppor­tunities and risks will be and can make certain judgments there. In making those judgments they are also, of course, going to need to have knowledge at a level of detail that is not in this bill but will fall within the regulations.

The government has started consultations on what are called the positive and negative lists that will complement this. Those consultations are important, because those lists are critical. They will essentially identify projects or activities that are approved for inclusion under carbon farming and those that will be restricted. But, until those consultations are complete and we see the final set of those regulations, we have serious concerns.

Government senators, Greens senators and coalition senators highlighted issues regard­ing the proposals for NRM groups to be involved. We came at them from slightly different perspectives and we have some concerns on this side about whether these groups have the planning expertise and the like to make sure they can do the jobs that they are tasked with here. We do note that recommendation 6 in the majority report urges that those requirements should be finalised, as a minimum, before the passing of this legislation. We highlighted in the other place during the debate on this legislation particular concerns around state sovereignty and Indigenous land rights issues. These are very serious issues, and I foreshadow that there will be amendments from the coalition in this regard that will be pursued particularly by my colleague Senator Cormann. There are direct concerns that come especially out of Western Australia on this matter. Dr Washer spoke at length on this in the other place, and we will be making sure that we pursue those issues thoroughly in the debate in this place as well.

There are questions and concerns about definitions of 'permanence' in terms of the storage of carbon and how long that storage must be guaranteed in regard to the recognition of those credits and those units. These are serious issues, because the liability created for a party by saying they have created these units but they have to guarantee them for 100 years may in many cases be too great and simply scare people out of participation. This was one of the strange things about the inquiry into these bills. We heard in many ways two conflicting arguments as to why it would not work or why it was a risk. One was a concern that the legislation had too much potential or capacity to open up farming land in a manner that could see it taken over as carbon sinks and in doing so, of course, deprive Australia of some of its key farming lands. On the other hand, we heard from a lot of witnesses during the inquiry into this legislation that the requirements for people to engage in and benefit from the Carbon Farming Initiative were so onerous that you probably would not see anybody participating and that in fact this legislation could be a wasted opportunity. Once again, so much of that will hinge on getting the regulations right as well as getting this legislation right. That is why we see it as so important to see everything and get it on the record before we allow this legislation to pass through this place.

So I foreshadow a range of amendments from the opposition. In particular, I move the second reading amendment that I foreshadowed earlier:

At the end of the motion, add:"and further consideration of the bill be an order of the day for 3 sitting days after a draft of the final regulations relating to the bill is laid on the table".

That amendment would see debate on these bills adjourned until a time three sitting days after the draft of the final regulations relating to the bill are laid on the table. We think this is the most sensible way to go. We do not propose it to be obstructionist. We do not propose it to propose unnecessary delays. We propose it simply because we think that it is important that everyone get to see the full story before we finalise these bills. It is absolutely critical that we understand the regulations, their interaction with the legislation and the overall interaction between this Carbon Farming Initiative and the government's carbon tax. This govern­ment has too much of a track record of approaching these issues in a piecemeal way and has too much of a track record when it has come to implementing climate change policies, be they the Green Loans program, the Green Start program or the Home Insulation Program—climate change policies that have gone terribly, terribly wrong.

It is time the approach to managing climate change in this country is put on a holistic basis and that we actually look at the interaction of one set of legislation with another set of policies. This government says it is committed to having carbon pricing—a carbon tax—whilst we think there is a better way. If it is determined to proceed down that path, we believe we should be looking at this Carbon Farming Initiative in the full context of the carbon tax, how that should eventually turn into an emissions trading scheme, how it will relate and how the potential use of credits could relate. These are not totally unrelated matters. That is why it is important that they be considered together. So I would appeal to the house to give serious consid­eration to the second reading amendment that I have proposed. I would urge all senators to see there is wisdom in waiting; wisdom in ensuring that we actually have all the cards before us; wisdom in giving all of the stakeholder groups—be they the farming groups, the forestry groups, the environment­al groups, the natural resource management groups; all those who are key stakeholders in this process—the chance to see the full package and make their decisions based on that. We should inform our debate based on that. It would allow us to make sure the legislation is right and allow the government to make sure the regulations are right and the interaction with whatever their carbon tax will be—should it, sadly, pass this parliament—is right. That would be the appropriate thing for the Senate to do. I hope that senators will support this amendment.

12:52 pm

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

Mr Deputy President, may I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your election by the Senate to the role you now have; I am confident you will carry it out with aplomb. I now wish to address the matter in hand, and that is the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill and associated bills. I note with interest the contribution of the coalition and recognise that it is actually the government coming to the rescue of the coalition here because, under the coalition's plan, 60 per cent of the effort in abatement to achieve five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020 is coming from soil carbon and yet the coalition has absolutely no methodology and no suggest­ion for the pathway to achieve that. We are now in 2011. There is no methodology; it will not happen unless somebody actually does the work. And that is where the Carbon Farming Initiative comes into play.

The Australian Greens are passionate about reducing greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, and the land sector has a major role to play. Not only do we need to protect our natural environment, build resilience in natural ecosystems and restore them so that we can maximise the oppor­tunity for species to survive the impacts of climate change and for the land to be productive in agriculture, but we also have to make sure that we protect our carbon stores. If you protect the stored carbon in the landscape, particularly in our forests, then you actually reduce the amount of emissions going to atmosphere. That is a critically important component of what we need to do.

When the government announced the Carbon Farming Initiative in August 2010, just prior to the federal election, it was really an attempt to address the vacuum created when the Greenhouse Friendly scheme ended in July and left businesses in the voluntary carbon market in limbo. So what the government did in the last week of the election campaign was go to Queensland and announce the Carbon Farming Initiative to effectively plug that gap. It was an announcement that included very little detail about the scheme. There was no proposition at that time for either Labor or the coalition to introduce a price on carbon emissions prior to 2013. The Carbon Farming Initiative was just envisaged as a policy measure to give modest support to projects and businesses in the voluntary carbon market, and I am confident that neither government nor the coalition thought it would play any role in a domestic compliance market for many years.

After the 2010 election that all changed after the Greens secured an agreement with Prime Minister Gillard to provide her government with confidence and supply. One of the concessions, if you like, that we achieved in relation to that was the agreement to establish a multiparty commit­tee to deliver a carbon price mechanism in this term of government. Subsequently, the government decided to expand the role of the Carbon Farming Initiative by linking it to an emissions trading scheme much earlier than had been anticipated. Hence, the complexity in this issue took on a whole new meaning because we are dealing with carbon in the landscape in a very uncertain global environ­ment.

First of all, we have got the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the first Kyoto commitment period ends in 2012. Is there going to be a second Kyoto commitment period? And what happens to the land use, land use change and forestry rules if, indeed, there is not a second commitment period? What if the REDD scheme, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, gets up and what are the rules that are going to apply? What does that do for the compliance market? Let us assume for a moment that the Kyoto protocol does have a second commit­ment period or that the land use, land use change and forestry rules continue. There is then the option for Australia to opt in to article 3.4, making what are now non-Kyoto-compliant credits compliant. That would create a whole lot of new credits that would be available under this scheme to be sold into a compliance market, either domest­ically or globally when you go to a flexible trading environment.

We ended up with the situation where the questions were: what is going to happen internationally; what is Australia going to do in relation to article 3.4; what is going on with the national scheme and a fixed-price period; how many of those permits would be available, either Kyoto compliant or non-Kyoto compliant, to be brought into this scheme; and what would that do to an overall market mechanism? We also had, at exactly the same time, the forest principles process going on in Tasmania, determining what those arrangements might be in protecting forests and how that might relate to both the global and national scene in terms of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and also the emissions trading scheme.

So this became one of the most comp­licated areas to think through in terms of how you maximise carbon abatement in the landscape. How do you do it in such a way that you promote biodiversity outcomes? How do you do it in such a way that you get benefits into rural and regional Australia? And how do you do it to prevent perverse outcomes? The Greens have been very strongly on the record in this parliament saying that we want to prevent perverse outcomes. That is why we voted against the carbon sink forest 100 per cent tax deduct­ion: it was following on from managed investment schemes in creating an uneven playing field in terms of land prices and in setting up the whole scenario that I described at the time as 'managed investment schemes on steroids'. I am glad to say that the 100 per cent tax deduction will end next year, and so we can get that out of the way. Nevertheless, we have a crisis in Australia in terms of climate change. We have an energy crisis, we have a food security crisis globally, and we have a water crisis, and we have to make sure in addressing any one of those, whether it is food security, water, climate or energy, that we do not treat them as silos and end up with perverse outcomes, so you incentivise one part of that equation and end up with adverse impacts in the others.

One of the good things about the fact that the Carbon Farming Initiative is now linked to an emissions trading scheme and to a global regime is that there has had to be a huge amount of rigour in thinking through how you prevent those perverse outcomes, how you maximise the benefits for rural and regional Australia, how you maximise the biodiversity outcomes, and how are you maximise the benefits for Indigenous Australia. One of the very good outcomes of this deliberation is that it will enable Indigenous people to be able to take advantage of carbon farming through some of the already established methodologies—for example, savannah burning, which has already been recognised as a methodology to qualify under this particular legislation.

Senator Birmingham talked about the regulations. The regulations are not the critical issue here for the community; it is the methodologies. There will be no permits issued until there are methodologies proven in terms of the carbon abatement, and those methodologies may take years to develop. I do want to issue a word of caution in terms of soil carbon, because I know that the coalition has been out there promising people in rural and regional Australia that they will be able to make a great deal of money out of soil carbon. There is no methodology established for it as yet. That will come. Work will be done on this. It will take a while to do and it is not going to be something that necessarily happens in the very short term. Apart from the financial benefit that might come in relation to soil carbon if that methodology is proven, the good thing about it is that by improving soil carbon you also improve water retention and agricultural productivity and you reduce dependence on petrochemical fertilisers and inputs. So your marginal cost of production ought to go down and at that level it is a very worthwhile thing to do quite apart from its biodiversity impacts.

So in thinking all this through, the Greens are taking on this issue of how you prevent the perverse outcomes and how you prevent a whole lot of good agricultural land being taken over by tree farming. One of the problems we had with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme was that it only recognised reforestation and afforestation for which there were established methodologies. It did nothing about biodiversity and it could have led to quite significant perverse outcomes. This time around we have thought that through very carefully. That is why I am pleased to see that under the Carbon Farming Initiative biodiversity starts to come into its own. It is key that we have investment in rural and regional Australia in biodiversity that is not just about tree planting.

One of the problems that we did foresee in terms of the Carbon Farming Initiative was that it relied to a large extent on local and state government land use planning laws to avoid negative impacts and, as was evidenced by the Managed Investment Scheme fiasco, you could not assume that local or state governments have got anything half decent in terms of land planning laws. So the Greens were very keen to see that natural resource management groups and NRM plans were brought up to scratch in terms of getting a uniform level of criteria for what constitutes the basics for an NRM plan and getting some capacity building. In our discussions with the government, I am confident now that there is going to be a real effort to bring NRM groups and NRM plans into the land use planning scenarios when we talk about what can be on the positive and negative lists.

The Managed Investment Scheme is an absolute anathema to me and I am glad that when talking to the government we are now able to clearly rule out the possibility of crediting MIS projects under the scheme. We are also confident that plantations for harvest will not be in this scheme either. That would have been an absolute disaster, but we now think that the common practice test will significantly reduce the risk that large areas of prime agricultural land will be lost.

As to the other issues, I am concerned about the risk of reversal buffer—the five per cent—and whether that is enough. Whilst at the moment you might think that a five per cent risk of reversal buffer is sufficient, if you look at the climate science, by midcentury it may well be totally inadequate. But I do take heart from the fact that the government has agreed that the CSIRO will be specifically tasked with examining this question in the first review of the scheme in a few years. The same applies to the fact that because unforested land reflects more radiation into space than dark forested land, the climate benefits arising from sequester­ing carbon in new forests may be at least offset by the fact that they absorb more heat. The government advice is that that will not be a problem but, as with the risk of reversal buffer, the CSIRO, we think, should be formally asked to report on this question of albedo.

On Indigenous participation, I was very impressed by the evidence that Indigenous communities gave to the Senate inquiry. I recognise that there are two main issues for Indigenous people. First are the legal issues relating to who will be able to access the benefits of the Carbon Farming Initiative in terms of whether they have exclusive or non-exclusive native title, and I can foreshadow that the Greens have an amendment in relation to that to extend coverage to non-exclusive native title land. But we also want to make sure—and I have been very strongly advocating this—that we get some capacity-building happening in Indigenous communities so that they may not only have the legal ability to access this scheme, but also the capacity to do it. The Greens want to demonstrate that rural and regional Australia can effectively not only improve their agricultural productivity and reduce the risks of perverse outcomes but also enhance biodiversity and take on the weed challenge and take on the feral animal challenge. Whilst some in the coalition have been extremely critical and sarcastic about the camel cull, the issues of weeds and feral an­imals are critical to maintaining biodiversity and building resilience in landscapes.

Under the CPRS we simply had 'Tree planting—tick' and there was no concern raised about perverse outcomes. Our chall­enge has been to maintain agricultural land, to use natural resource management plans and groups to have real input into positive and negative lists down to a localised level and to offset the lack of concern that has often been shown in local communities with local government and/or state government.

There are issues as to exactly how much abatement is out there. It is fair to say that the Greens have a very different view. We think there is a huge amount of abatement to be had through protecting forests, restoring degraded forests and recognising avoided land clearing. The real question is: how quickly can farmers take up these oppor­tunities? What are the competing interests for farmers and how can they best manage their land to maximum advantage in profit­ability terms and how can they restore their land in order to continue to be profitable? It is uncertain how quickly the rollout will be taken up. How rigorously and enthusiasti­cally Australians engage the methodologies will determine that.

I see this as a big opportunity to save forests, to avoid land clearance, to deal with weeds and feral animals and to get a real focus on biodiversity in Australia that has been lost in recent years. Creating credits out there in rural and regional Australia to engage in market based mechanisms is one aspect, but this is an opportunity for rural and regional Australia to think about how they can positively engage with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting the global challenge.

I do not agree with Professor Garnaut when he says that this is the new wool industry—that wildly overstates the likely uptake in the time frame—but I do think this is a landmark piece of legislation in connect­ion with an emissions trading scheme. The fact that the two are being considered together in the context of global agreements means that this legislation has had examination with a level of rigour that is rarely seen in this parliament.

I thank the departmental officers with whom I have spent many hours talking about these issues: how you avoid these perverse outcomes, how you protect agricultural land for agricultural production and how you make sure that you are looking at the energy challenge, the climate challenge and the water challenge at the same time as guaranteeing food security. It is complex, it is difficult, but it is a worthy challenge. This is an opportunity for the land sector to really make it onto the climate agenda in Australia.

1:12 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution to the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011. If ever there was an example of how not to progress a piece of legislation or how not to progress a policy, this is it. It is a great demonstration of how not to do something. I remember thinking, and I might even have tweeted, on the morning of the hearings by the Senate Environment and Communi­cations Legislation Committee into this legislation that this government could not organise a lolly scramble in a candy store. The lack of information, the lack of preparation and the lack of final prepared­ness of this legislation—along with all of the other very important things, as Senator Milne has just said, that go with this legislation—could not be more stark.

There was some critical documentation that was not available to the committee. CSIRO and ABARES were tasked by the government to do some work on the impacts of this legislation, which was very important for the committee in preparing its deliberations. Senator Milne is correct in saying that we spent a lot of time on this legislation and we tried to give it due deference, because it is important legislation and it provides enormous opportunities for carbon storage in our natural environment, if it is done right. Those two critical pieces of information from ABARES and CSIRO were not available to the committee. The CSIRO information was released the day before the committee reported. This gave very little time for the committee to properly consider how this legislation, this policy, might impact on rural and regional Australia. The ABARES research is still not available and is subject to Treasury's discretion. Treasury commissioned the work, so we do not have access to that work. ABARES have done some very good work in the past and been very cooperative with the Senate and its committees in working towards some indications of the impact of some of these policies. During the debate on the CPRS they did some work and when some concerns were pointed out about it ABARES went back and did some additional work to clarify their information. They have been very cooperative. Yet none of that data is yet available to the Senate or to the parliament in considering this very important legislation. It provides enormous opportunity for rural Australia, regional Australia, to participate in a carbon market. But you would think, when you go through this legislation, that the government are actually frightened to really allow people to store carbon in the landscape. What they have done is effectively taken every single sensitive element and regulated it out of the legislation.

In fact, the most telling thing as part of this piece of legislation is a response from the National Farmers Federation. They talk about the fact that, under the proposed ineligibility criteria, a windbreak on a farm is regarded as common practice. Therefore, as something that is common practice, it is not a new way to store carbon in the environment and it is ruled out. I would have thought that encouraging farmers to plant trees as windbreaks to break up their farms and to put some native trees back into the environment would have been one of the things that we would be encouraging. That is the coalition's view.

There is enormous potential for carbon storage in the natural environment through things like windbreaks and hedgerows on farmland to bring back the percentage of vegetation in these areas that have been largely cleared over the last 100 or 150 years in the face of agriculture. We know, the science tells us, that we can do this without having a huge impact on our agricultural capacity. In fact, in some cases it will improve our agricultural capacity because it has the impact of lowering salt pans and salt levels in the environment and reviving land that is degraded because of our past agricultural practices. Those sorts of things are ruled out by this legislation and quite rightly the National Farmers Federation cannot understand why. I certainly cannot. But that gives a clear demonstration of how timid the government have been in preparing this legislation in that they have effectively ruled everything out as part of the preparation of the bills.

We then go on to some other elements of the legislation that Senator Milne and Senator Birmingham have covered that also again give no reason for the rush to pass this legislation through the parliament. As Senator Birmingham has said, we have a second reading amendment to say that this legislation should not be finally considered before the regulations are laid on the table. In the context of the development of the regulations—basically, the positive and negative lists—that is a very sensible amendment that we are proposing. Effect­ively, this legislation is nowhere near ready. Those lists are a long way from being finalised because the negotiation process is still ongoing, but also some of the work that underpins them is a long way from being prepared.

Senator Milne talked about the relationship with NRM groups. The NRM groups potentially play a very important role in this legislation. This legislation effectively makes them pseudo-planning authorities. We know that the NRM plans vary enormously and there is no consistency across the country. They are developed at a local level, albeit under national guidelines, and there is enormous variability across them. There is enormous variability in the structures of the NRM groups, and what we are doing in this circumstance is effectively making them pseudo-planning authorities with powers that they were never set up to have. The negotiations with those groups, as I understand it, have not even started yet and yet here we are trying to pass a piece of legislation that would enshrine this responsibility on those groups.

It may be that they are the best organisations to deal with this. I am not sure that that is the case. This is really the minister fobbing off his responsibilities down the chain so that he has a bit of deniability, in my view, but what should be happening is that those negotiations, those processes, should be taken into account as part of the development and passing of this legislation. It is going to take a considerable time to deal with those particular groups in the way that they are structured and the way that their plans are designed. One thing that could very well happen is that you could get interest groups inserting themselves into the NRM groups and creating even more perverse outcomes.

Senator Milne talked about perverse outcomes and protection of agricultural land and yet it is the Greens that are actually providing a lot of the threats to that by trying to push forestry out of our native forests and into plantations. Those plantations have to be grown somewhere. There is only one place for them to go and that is on agricultural land, and yet the science is very clear. If you want to store more carbon, if you want to protect biodiversity, if you want to have better water quality, if you want to use fewer chemicals, if you want to mitigate bushfires, if you want to protect scenic landscape values then you will have long-term rotations in your native forests and you will store more carbon over time. You will store more carbon in a native forest than you will in a plantation. The science is very clear.

Yet here we have the Greens trying to push our forest industries out of our sustainably managed native forests and into our agricultural landscape, and there they are at the other end complaining about the plantations that are going to be developed as part of that process. You cannot have it both ways. I know the Greens often try to do so but you cannot have it both ways and the science, I repeat, is very clear. In fact a report released only a couple of weeks ago by Forest and Wood Products Australia gives a clear demonstration of that very fact. It would be very interesting to see whether the Greens might read that. In respect of the positive and negative lists, I have great concerns about the way they are currently structured. For the first time that I have seen, on the negative list is a requirement for a plantation to have a full high-security water licence. That introduces something very new into the overall process for growing plantations in this country. I know there is a range of views on that, but it is, in my view, the thin edge of the wedge. It potentially sets the agricultural sector up to have to have high-quality water licences, high-reliability water licences for a whole range of other dryland crops. I know this is a contentious issue, but it is something the farming sector should be very concerned about. Too often we have seen the farming sector sit back while the forest sector is pushed around by the environmental groups, only to find out later that they are going to get hit down the track with exactly the same issues. We have seen it with agricultural chemicals on a number of occasions, and this is one that needs to be looked at very carefully.

I have mentioned before the terms about common practice, and the complete stupidity, in my view, of effectively ruling out windbreaks on farms. I cannot understand why perhaps the most viable way for farmers to gain an income—and for this country, if it wants to, to store some carbon—is effectively ruled out by the regulatory process of this piece of legislation. It just does not make sense. And it shows how timid this government has been in trying to remove any sort of concern that might be raised, particularly by the Greens, who we know are now wagging the dog. This legislation effectively will not do anything. That is the really disappointing thing about this piece of legislation. It rules out access to native forests, and yet the science is very clear: responsible long-term management of native forests will, over time, store more carbon. There is no question about that. Okay, you get a loss at the beginning, but you get a return. And things like the fantastic furniture in this place are all carbon sinks. The carbon stored in those products is locked away for the life of that product. Then the next incarnation of the native forest is regrown, which is the way that we do it here in Australia—you do not just cut it down and leave it or do something else with it; you regenerate the forest and you store more carbon. Those are the sorts of things that should be considered as part of this legislation, and yet they are locked out because of the timidity of the government.

There is also the issue around state sovereignty and land rights. Senator Birmingham has mentioned this, and even Senator Milne has mentioned it, and there will be amendments about it. Again, there is a failure of consultation in relation to this piece of legislation. I, too, was impressed by the presentation of the Indigenous groups, who want to participate in this process but feel that they are not able to. But I am equally concerned that states like Western Australia feel obliged to challenge the design of this legislation because it impinges on their state rights. Again, the government wants to pass this legislation in a rush, perhaps to give the impression that it is doing something, but there is so much around this legislation that has not been resolved. That is one of the major concerns the opposition has about this legislation, and it is why our second reading amendment asks to delay it until all of the information is on the table so that we can properly consider it. I think that is reasonable. The government talks about quality legislation based on quality information, and yet we do not have the information. We do not have the modelling from ABARES that talks about the potential impacts of this because the government, through Treasury, will not release it. We got the CSIRO information only the day before the committee reported.

I want to move on to the issue of permanence. It is a complex issue and one that needs modification as part of this legislative process. It is interesting that some farmers who came in to talk to us, who are all about storing carbon in their landscape, brought in to us presentations demonstrating how they were changing their farming methodologies to store carbon in their landscape. They talked about the improvements in productivity. They discussed with us the carrying capacity of their land as a result of their different management practices. And yet Mr Kiely, who came before the committee to give us evidence, says that permanence is 'the deal killer'. He said:

No farmer would be silly enough to agree to 100 years for soil carbon or 100 years for anything. A finance lender would want to know seriously the impact on the value of the property of agreeing to such a thing. We did some research into the 100 years thing and discovered it was a policy decision, not a scientific measure …

These are people who are committed to carbon storage, who are practising the sorts of things the government wants to encourage, and they are saying that the government processes are a 'deal killer'. And these are the sorts of people who the government should legitimately be listening to as part of this process. It is only common sense that practitioners, who have spent time and effort in trying to develop their farms and who actually practice these things, and have some expertise, should be listened to by the government.

I want to talk for a moment about the risk of reversal. Senator Milne raised some concerns about this and said she is comforted by the fact that the CSIRO will look at this in its review of the legislation. That work should be done now, because I believe that the five per cent in the legislation is a real risk and that the risk-of-reversal process should be a risk based approach, because we know that different forms of sequestration in the landscape bear different risks. It should be designed in as part of the methodologies. Senator Milne has mentioned those. I would like to see the government make some amendment to this legislation to reflect that.

We know that with, for example, sequestration in forests, there is a higher security in those, although there are risks—bushfire, drought and those things. But there is a much higher risk in storing carbon in the soil itself—in the landscape. There is a much higher risk of reversal. So rather than having just a blanket five per cent, in my view there should be some changes to the way that the risk of reversal is dealt with so that it can be a genuinely risk based process. There are some reasonable proposals that are being suggested from industry in relation to this. I think the government should consider them.

The other issue relates to additionality. The unfortunate part of this legislation—and I suppose whenever you commence something you go down that track—is that early movers are effectively disadvantaged by this process. Those who have in place methodologies that are already storing carbon in their landscapes are effectively locked out because it is not regarded as being additional. I accept that there is a need for an additionality process, but there needs to be some consideration given to people who, because of the way they like to look after their landscape, might already have, for example, a 25-year farm management plan in place. They should be able to access some of the process under this legislation. But, again, because of the additionality clauses, they are effectively locked out. I am not saying, 'Do not have additionality clauses,' because that is a reasonable requirement. But when you get the situation, as I indicated earlier, that planting a windbreak on your farm, which is a win-win for everybody, is effectively locked out of this legislation, it shows, as I have said a number of times, how timid the government has been in preparing this legislation and how poorly it has prepared for passing this legislation at this time. In closing, I again urge the chamber to seriously consider the coalition's second reading amendment to put this legislation off until after the regulations are available. (Time expired)

1:32 pm

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this legislation and support my colleagues, especially Senator Colbeck after the points he made in his presentation just then. Why do we have this legislation in front of this parliament now when we have not got the details of the carbon tax? Isn't it a case of having the cart before the horse? We know that wonderful things can be achieved by carbon. Many on that side refer to carbon as a 'pollutant'. It is amazing; when you actually google the list of pollutants, you do not find carbon dioxide or carbon listed as a pollutant. You might find 120 or 130 chemicals et cetera on that list of pollutants. You find carbon monoxide; we are very familiar with that from the exhaust fumes of motor vehicles. You find carbon tetrachloride and carbon disulphide. We do not actually find carbon as a pollutant. I can understand that, because 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the food we eat is actually carbon. So, under the theory that the government puts out about 'carbon pollution', that would mean that each evening we are having a meal of pollution. I do not think we eat pollution; we actually eat something that is healthy and good for us and keeps us alive. No doubt many people see the smog over cities at times. That is not carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is actually invisible. It is an odourless, colourless, non-toxic gas invisible to the eye. When we see that carbon is not even listed as a pollutant, we understand the spin in this whole debate about the carbon tax et cetera.

How do we know how many dollars a tonne the tax is going to be under this legislation? Obviously the government knows, because on Sunday—when parliament has risen, when they are away from scrutiny or questions from the opposition—they will release the details. We have had the very good details, the popular details, leak out, like no carbon tax on petrol for family vehicles and for the tradies' and smaller vehicles. We are still yet to find out about diesel for the transport industry. No doubt it will go on to diesel, to the bigger businesses—those very people who carry our nation. In the town where I live we do not have railway lines. We used to, many, many years ago. Everything comes into the town by road, everything goes out by road—whether it be the export of beef from our abattoir in Inverell or groceries, food and clothing for the stores in Inverell. But we are yet to know the detail of this tax. We will know on Sunday. Why can't we know now? Yet here is this bill being brought forward on the Carbon Farming Initiatives.

Carbon is a great ally to the soil. In fact, the greatest carbon sinks on this planet are the soil and the oceans. That is where the most carbon is stored. I see it in farms I visit out in the Moree and Wee Waa areas—that magnificent rich, black farming soil. Many years ago that soil contained five per cent carbon. In many areas now it has been reduced to just 0.5 per cent carbon—a huge reduction—and we know why. There were farming practices such as fallowing, and digging and working the soil back to kill the weeds before chemicals such as Roundup arrived. We know that nitrogen has been poured on the soil and when you put nitrogen on the soil that makes the microbes hungry and they eat the humus. And, of course, 60 per cent of humus is carbon.

You would be well aware, Acting Deputy President Marshall, that the coalition's policy is to build soil carbon. I gladly took opposition leader Tony Abbott to Spring Ridge on Australia Day last year. We visited the property of Cam McKellar. In just 12 months Mr McKellar has raised the carbon in his soil in one of his paddocks by one per cent. Doing some figures, one per cent of carbon in the top six inches of a hectare is about 15 tonnes of carbon. Cam McKellar increased the carbon in the soil by around 15 tonnes per hectare. That is equivalent to around 50 tonnes of CO2—there are about 3.77 cubic tonnes of CO2 to one tonne of carbon in the soil. So he stored 50 tonnes of CO2 per hectare when he raised his carbon by one per cent. If we were to raise that carbon by three per cent over a hectare of land, 150 tonnes of CO2 would be sequestered per hectare. We have 450 million hectares of agricultural land in Australia. If we raised the soil carbon over that 450 million hectares by three per cent, that would equate to the sequestration of 65 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. Here is the win-win situation: the more carbon in the soil the better and less reliance on chemical fertilisers. I can take you back 30 years ago to Moree where they farmed the country for years and never put fertilisers into it. It was just good country. But, as the carbon reduced, they then had to put fertiliser in.

Think about 65 billion tonnes of CO2 sequested in the soil. Australia produces around 560 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. That sequested carbon would neutralise 100 per cent of Australia's emissions for more than 100 years, not five per cent by 2020 or 10 or 15 per cent as proposed by the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme—the emissions trading scheme that the Senate thankfully voted down. There are these mistruths and false statements out there that this would cost $30 billion a year. It would not cost that at all.

The incentive for farmers to build the carbon in their soil is simply the cost of fertilisers. Two years ago MAP fertilisers cost $1,700 a tonne. Currently, MAP fertilisers cost $1,200 a tonne. The more carbon in the soil, the less chemical fertilisers you need. That is the incentive. As you know, we have also put up a tin of money, $800 million a year, as an incentive for people to raise the carbon in their soil.

My big concern is that when this carbon tax package comes out on Sunday—and, as everyone knows, we are not allowed to know about it this week; we are only allowed to know about the good parts: the compensation and the increase to pensioners above the actual costs—as Professor Ross Garnaut said, families will pay for it. That is who it will eventually come back to. The government is going to tax 1,000 polluters. Can you imagine if Caltex diesel is taxed. If Caltex is taxed on its diesel, is it going to say, 'That is fine, that is a couple of billion dollars tax; we will cop that in the neck and we will not pass that onto our consumers'? No, it will not work like that. We know full well it will pass the cost of diesel onto the farmers, to the transport industry and to everyone using diesel.

We do not know any of the details of the carbon tax. We will find this out on Sunday after the parliament has risen. The costs will be passed on. Macquarie Generation in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, between Singleton and Muswellbrook, produce 40 per cent of the electricity for New South Wales. Each year they produce around 25 million tonnes of CO2. When they get hit with a price of $20 a tonne, it will cost them $500 million. It is a government owned enterprise, so do you think the New South Wales government is going to say, 'Well, we will just cop that $500 million cost to that generator there in the Hunter Valley'? No, they will pass it on through the electricity prices to the consumer. Some consumers may be compensated under the package, but what about the businesses, what about the abattoirs, what about the ordinary businesses going about their work, what about the engineers running their mid-welders or stick welders and what about the farmers running their businesses? They will pay. Someone will pay.

We come back to this legislation about the Carbon Farming Initiative. There is a great incentive to build carbon in the soil if we do it properly over a 10- or 15-year period working with our landowners. I say our landowners because, when you look at a map of Australia, I would guess 50 per cent or 60 per cent of this whole nation, the whole landscape of Australia, is in the hands of farmers and graziers. That is the environmental issue. That is where we have to look after our environment, to protect our soil for future generations. Our greatest asset of all is our soil—it grows our food.

This is a health issue. If you do not have healthy soil, you do not grow healthy food and you do not have healthy people. This comes back to health in the soil. I know what we have done to the soil. I have been a part of it. I can take you back to the 1970s when I was driving transports in South Australia. I would take a load of sheep from Peterborough across to Donald in Victoria. Driving through the Mallee country, I would see a wheat crop two inches high with a good germination rate where it came up well. When I went back two weeks later it would have been blown away. Why had it blown away? Overclearing—there were no windbreaks left. They were fallowing the light, sandy-soil country. I am sure Senator Back is familiar with much of that country in Western Australia. To sow a wheat crop in May, we would farm it in October the year before. It was left bare and open to the wind. The soil would blow away. It was bad practice. Now farmers use direct drilling and use chemicals to kill the weeds, which keeps cover on the soil so that it does not blow away. The farming practices were so wrong for many years, but now it has all been turned around. The farmers are now the environmentalists and they look after the soil to the absolute best of their knowledge.

Under this legislation, it is amazing that you cannot claim carbon credits if you plant a row of trees around every paddock on your property to block the wind, which causes dryness across the countryside. A windbreak tree that sequests carbon is different from a tree that you grow in some forest or somewhere else. That is simply wrong. The issue here is the price of carbon and how much farmers are going to be paid for growing trees. What farmers do on their property, in my belief, is their business. There are many farms in Australia that have a lot of good country and some rough country on them. The farmers might choose to plant trees on the rough country. It will not affect their gross production at all. That is their business. But it will be a sad day when a farmer gets paid more to plant a tree than he does to grow a tonne of wheat or to produce beef, mutton, lamb or whatever. It will be a sad day when farmers say to the bank manager, 'I can make more money out of planting trees on my country than I can out of farming it.' We simply cannot live on trees. We actually have to grow food.

Professor Garnaut has had a lot of input into this whole policy. This is the very man that suggested that farmers do away with their sheep and cattle and run kangaroos. What a farce. I can just imagine trying to muster a paddock of kangaroos, putting them in the yards and putting them on a truck. Hypothetical and simply outrageous are how I would describe it. Senator Milne referred to this legislation as a way of saving our forests. I see the national parks in our country; one of my pet hates is country locked up and left, not managed, not grazed, with fuel levels just building up higher and higher. We cannot control the temperature of the day. We cannot control the wind speed or the strong winds of the day. We can control the fuel levels on the ground. But we are not allowed to graze in national parks. Just recently we saw Senator Ludwig kowtowing to the Greens when the new Victorian government put grazing up in the alpine regions to reduce the fuel levels to prevent savage bushfires in Victoria. They had enough on Black Saturday two years ago, where roughly 50 per cent of the country burnt, and it just happened to be national park. I do not know if the Greens are out there helping to put the bushfires out. I have certainly spent a fair bit of my time at bushfires in my life, especially in South Australia. We had 90 million tonnes of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere in the Black Saturday bushfires.

The message here is that we must manage our country. We must keep the fuel levels down. While the Greens have this policy of locking up country, leaving it and not allowing grazing, they will simply destroy the country, destroy the forests and destroy the animals that live in that environment. If you have ever seen a koala on the ground, you will know that they are pretty hopeless at moving. I have seen them there around the paddocks at Inverell and where I was grazing up there. They are good up trees but very slow to move on the ground. We saw the Pilliga burn from one end to the other. I wonder how many koalas were sizzled in that fire—like in the Goonoo fire the year before; we are going back a few years now, probably four or five years ago—and how much carbon dioxide that put into the atmosphere.

The point I make is that building carbon in the soil is a win-win situation, and I cannot emphasise enough the importance of our soil. We have seen over many years the state governments wind back on land conservation programs and funding for the Soil Conservation Centre. I know that many of them were running bulldozers around, doing earthworks with 20,000 to 25,000 hours on the bulldozers; they have not even been able to afford to upgrade them or replace them, to put in proper contour banks and soil conservation. That has been the neglect that New South Wales has had for many years. Hopefully, with the new government in New South Wales, things will change and they will actually get to address the important issue of our land and looking after it.

The soil carbon is not expensive and not difficult to do. The main thing you have to do in raising the carbon in your soil is to balance your magnesium and calcium levels. Most of our farm land has lower levels of calcium. Simply spread lime on the country. Many farmers are doing that. Once you build your calcium levels and you have magnesium and calcium in balance, those little microbes in the soil break down the humus into carbon and they multiply, to huge numbers that actually do the job better. That is what it is about: balancing the magnesium and calcium in the soil, building that microbe population, and good farm management. That is where we can store the carbon.

As I said—and even Senator Milne agrees with me—more carbon in the soil means less reliance on chemical fertilisers. Take some of those chemical fertilisers: sulfate of ammonia is one—a chemical for nitrogen. It was actually used in the Second World War to put on the countryside to harden the soil to make airstrips. Now it is a common fertiliser. Perhaps we need to revisit what we are putting into our soil. That was the original use of sulfate of ammonia: to spray on the countryside to harden the soil so they could use it for airstrips during the Second World War. Now it is a fertiliser.

We need to get off the reliance on chemical fertilisers and get back more into nature, and building the carbon in the soil is one way to do that. These days we manage the soil using Roundup, a magnificent chemical that is not resilient in the soil but has good control over weeds. The simple fact is that you cannot grow a crop of wheat and a crop of weeds together; you grow one or the other. For your crop to yield and be profitable, it must not have weeds in it. With the chemicals now, which are much safer in many regards, we can manage the country better, we can store the carbon in the soil and we can keep our soil on a road of improvement, if I can put it that way, increasing the productivity and the quality of our soil so that future generations can benefit. We do not want to leave this country to the next generation and say: 'Well, what a mess we made of that. We destroyed our soil, our greatest asset.' Australia with its growing population has to keep its food production up, and even growing. That is why we were so critical when the government cut back funding in the federal budget to the CRCs, who do a magnificent job in many industries, whether it be red meat or poultry or whatever.

This bill is rushed. It should not be here yet. Surely we should wait until the next sitting of parliament, when we actually know the details of the carbon tax, until we know what is going to come before parliament, and then bring this forward. But this bill is about a Carbon Farming Initiative, when we do not know the details of the carbon tax that is going to supplement or pay for it. As I said, my greatest concern is that we will have farmers earning more money out of planting trees than they will out of growing food. Then, we will have a serious problem.

1:50 pm

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise also to speak on this bill and to put on record the coalition's very strong support for the practice of storing carbon in our soils and in the landscape. For those who did not have the benefit of listening to the data provided by my colleague Senator Williams, with his permission I am going to repeat it. For every one per cent that we can increase the carbon in soils in Australia, in our soil profile, in our low-phosphate soils, we capture 15 tonnes per hectare of carbon, which is the equivalent of 50 tonnes per hectare of carbon dioxide. As Senator Williams went on to say, there being 450 million hectares of arable land in this country, if we could raise the level of carbon across that soil profile by three per cent, we would be looking at 65 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. That is 65 times 109 tonnes of carbon dioxide stored in our soils. If ever there was a time when we needed to improve the fertility of soils across this country, it is now. Senator Williams went on to say that 560 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are produced by Australia each year and that if we could achieve merely that three per cent figure of which he spoke we would be dealing with this issue for the next 100 years.

I come from a family of pioneer farmers whose clearance practices were by today's standards radical; but at that time, of course, the farmers did not know that. Most of Western Australia is light land which is deficient in trace elements in many areas, and I and my colleagues during my young days as a veterinarian in the department of agriculture watched soil fertility decline in the wheat belt areas of our state. We used different tilling techniques then that, whilst appropriate for the killing of weeds, were clearly leading to a decline in soil fertility, mainly because we were killing soil microbes. We then saw, through the late 1970s and 1980s, the introduction of minimum tillage. I was part of the Muresk Institute of Agriculture at Northam, where there was a process of research over some years, during which we watched the improvement in the quality of the soils as measured by soil microbes and earthworms. In control areas in which tillage was still conducted according to the old, traditional means such as ploughing, scarifying, seeding and scarifying back, we saw soil fertility continue to drop. For example, the number of earthworms, an indicator of fertility, dropped. But in other paddocks and plots, through the use of minimal tillage along with chemicals such as Roundup and through sowing into areas that had not previously been disturbed, we saw a radical increase in soil fertility.

What an opportunity we now have to work collaboratively—imagine that!—across this parliament to achieve an outcome. If ever there has been validation of the direct approach to the question of carbon in soils and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it has been expounded today in this place by Senator Williams, and I support it. It is the common-sense approach, and it is going to achieve an outcome.

Why am I so distressed that this legislation is coming before the chamber today? It is deja vu; in October and November 2009 we were debating the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme prior to the then Prime Minister and his then climate minister going to Copenhagen. We pleaded on this side of the chamber—and a colleague sitting in front of me made this point last night on national television—for there not to be a debate on the issue until we knew what the world was doing. We were ignored—our plea was not listened to—and, of course, the rest is history. If only we had been able to defer any further discussion of the topics raised by that legislation until we knew the outcome of Copenhagen and until we knew what the rest of the world was going to do, including our competitors and those in our region, how much better would this place be today?

I plead that we not go forward with this legislation until we have heard from the Prime Minister on Sunday about what her carbon taxing program is. We are being asked in this legislation to address one element of her program—that is, carbon farming—which is critically important and could have a very significant effect on our country. Dare I say it, this is an area in which Australia has always excelled. As I said in the CPRS debate, we have always excelled in undertaking research and development to prove up our technologies in this country and then make them available to others. We make technologies available at a price that developed countries can afford to pay and give to developing countries the technology and the wherewithal so that they themselves can utilise this technology in a way that can benefit them. Having worked in the Middle East and in India, I can assure you that there is a demand for knowledge in those places—there is a demand for the results of research and development—and any positive impact that Australia has, producing as it does a mere 1.5 per cent of the world's carbon dioxide, will be through the research and development that we undertake in this country and pass on to others, whether for fee or for free. But anything we do to the exclusion of other countries will be negative—in fact, it may even add to world carbon if you believe the leakage issue—and may place our industries and the employment prospects of the workers of this country at a significant disadvantage because we will be at a loss compared to our trading competitors, who will continue to be able to put products onto Australian shelves without having to reckon with the imposition of a carbon tax.

We have heard it said here this afternoon—and I repeat—that we do not yet possess sufficient information on the basis of which to be able to make decisions attendant upon this legislation. The point was made that we still do not have access to, for example, the ABARES information which was so important when this issue came before a Senate inquiry. Most importantly, we do not yet know what will be in the Prime Minister's carbon statement on the weekend. She must know what she is going to say—surely she is organised enough at this stage on Tuesday afternoon to know what she is going to say on Sunday—and she should therefore stop treating the Australian people and this chamber with the arrogance with which she is treating it and come out and tell us what is in this legislation before we are asked to judge, act and vote on carbon farming, which is a very small element in it.

Again I say that the coalition is strongly supportive of the practice of storing carbon in our soils and in the landscape. We want to be part of that process. The Greens are engaging on it and the Australian Labor Party—the government—is acting upon it. But do not treat this place like a mushroom; do not treat this place the way that the government of the day treated it with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in 2009. We begged Senator Wong to not bring that legislation forward until you had been to Copenhagen. But you came home with your tails between your legs, having failed. If only that legislation had come before this place early in 2010 you would not have been made to look so foolish and, more to the point, you would not have made Australia look so foolish.

Debate interrupted.