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; Third Reading
When this debate was interrupted by question time, I was just making some final comments on the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011 to express the opposition's concerns about some of the elements of the bill and to express our concern at the unwillingness of the government to listen to what are genuine concerns that the opposition holds that the government is effectively held captive, particularly by the relationships that it has with the Greens in relation to some of the measures in the legislation and in the drafting of the regulations.
As I was saying just before question time, the reality is that there is a very significant likelihood that, as far as sequestration of carbon is concerned, the effect of this legislation will be very minimal because it is so restrictive. According to the National Farmers Federation, you will not even be able to plant a windbreak. That is obviously a common practice, and it will be ruled out under this process. A lot of the opportunities for reintroducing vegetation back into the landscape—which is one of the objectives of this piece of legislation—like the replanting of riparian reserves and putting some native vegetation back around those sensitive zones, because they are common practice will be ruled out by the additionality test. Under the methodologies, they will be restricted.
We are also concerned that the government has not been prepared to listen to what I think were very sensible suggestions of behalf of the opposition around the risk of reversal test. As I have said in a number of contributions on this piece of legislation, a blanket five per cent really does not make sense given the significant variability in the risks of reversal for different forms of sequestration, whether it be through native vegetation and trees or soil sequestration, which is something that is obviously still being developed. The fact that there is a range of risk factors in the risk of reversal process indicates to the opposition—which the government is unfortunately not prepared to take up—that the risk of reversal process should be included in the methodologies for the various plans, because that is where they are best assessed and dealt with.
The other issue is water. For the first time that I can recall, the government has placed in the legislative process a requirement to have a high-security water licence for growing trees, particularly in high rainfall areas. The government has just placed blanket ranges for those required high-quality water rights. Again, that is something that should be much better developed and dealt with in the methodologies because it is very dependent on the species, the location in the catchment and the topography of the land that it is being developed on. Here we have a very fixed approach to dealing with issues that have significant sensitivities and variabilities across different methods. It is really disappointing that we still do not have some of the information that assesses the impacts of this legislation. We expressed concerns about that during the Senate inquiry process. Obviously we still do not have information that we could use to assess the impacts of these measures.
We can talk about what the government is trying to achieve with this legislation versus what it is doing in other policy processes. For example, something that went ahead with the agreement of the opposition was the attempt to ensure that the right things were planted in the right places on agricultural land, but in Tasmania, in a backdoor deal with the Greens, the government is looking to lock up significant areas of Tasmanian native forests and replace that resource with plantations. Under the projections that I have seen, this will take up 100,000 hectares of Tasmania's agricultural land, which is something like 10 per cent of the area.
The government is seeking to reduce carbon emissions but under its carbon tax it is ruling out biomass, which could reduce by 96 per cent something of the order of 8,000 gigawatt hours of electricity generation. Bear in mind that on a life-cycle basis, biomass produces only four percent of the emissions released when generating electricity by using coal. So in one circumstance the government says that it is looking to reduce CO2 emissions but its actions in another are doing the opposite.
We expressed our concerns about the stated intentions of the government versus what its actions really are. As I have said, with the restrictions that are placed around this piece of legislation the opposition is concerned that it will not sequester much carbon at all. Because of the lack of work that has been done and the amount of work that remains to be done to get this particular program operational, it probably will not have sequestered anything by the time we get to the next election, which is a pity. Also, the operation of this mechanism will change significantly if we get to the stage of operating it in conjunction with an emissions trading scheme.
I will conclude my remarks by expressing disappointment that the government seems to be held hostage by the Greens in its decision making processes rather than taking a sensible approach. I think some of the opposition's suggestions in and around the methodologies are quite sensible. We could have a piece of legislation that would be effective in sequestering carbon, be of use to farmers and have some effect, but because of the sensitivities and the impositions of the Greens we are going to have something that really does not do much for farmers at all.
That these bills be now read a third time.
The Senate divided. [18:16]
(The PRESIDENT—Senator the Hon. JJ Hogg)
Question agreed to.
Bills read a third time.