Friday, 10 November 2023
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Watt. I refer to the National Farmers Federation's unprecedented Keep Farmers Farming campaign against the Labor government's antifarming policies, including the impact of Labor's renewable energy policy on productive farmland and farmers' rights. How many hectares of productive agricultural land will be impacted through the construction of 28,000 kilometres of additional poles and wires under Labor's policy?
Thank you, Senator Cadell. I am familiar with the National Farmers Federation campaign Keep Farmers Farming, and I had quite a bit to say about campaign a couple of weeks ago. I'd be very happy to share my speech with you, and I suspect you would probably agree with a fair bit of what I had to say in that speech, because you're a sensible man, unlike your colleagues. Credit where credit's due, Senator Cadell. You shine a light that the rest of the National Party could follow.
I promise to address your question, but what I will say also is that in the speech I gave at the National Farmers Federation conference I made the point that of course every peak lobby group will always find points of disagreement with the government of the day. We certainly remember that Mr Littleproud, the now Nationals leader, used to call the National Farmers Federation 'ignorant'. And what was the other one—'sideline critics'. So there's a history of governments not getting along with the NFF at all times. But this government has delivered on so much of what the NFF has asked for. There's sustainable biosecurity funding. Senator Farrell, you might know a little bit about the restoration of trade with China, which has delivered $6 billion in agriculture exports to China—just as the NFF called for and every farm in Australia was calling for. And that's not to mention the other markets we have opened as well.
But, Senator Cadell, you raised a serious issue: the competition for land and, indeed, sea, that we see between different users—agriculture, fisheries industries and renewable energy. Our government, unlike the former government, is taking these issues seriously and is trying to build a framework that allows for the coexistence of these industries going forward. We know—and, Senator Cadell, you've highlighted—examples where particular energy companies haven't done the right thing when it comes to consultation with landholders. That's exactly why we have a review of consultation process underway at the moment.
The Minister for Climate Change and Energy stated in September last year that Australia will need to install 22,000 solar panels every day and 40 wind turbines every month by 2030 to reach the 22 per cent renewable target. How many hectares of productive agricultural land will be impacted by constructing those solar panels and wind turbines?
Are you okay there? You're going to blow a foo-foo valve, Senator Canavan! We could get you a new foo foo valve with renewable energy! A renewable foo foo valve, maybe—
Thank you, President. We certainly acknowledge that renewable energy infrastructure will impact on a significant amount of land within Australia, and that is to generate the kind of clean, cheaper energy that our country needs—including our farmers.
What I would say also is that I can introduce those opposite to plenty of farmers around Australia who have actually developed new income streams as a result of hosting renewable energy on their farmland. That's helping them to diversify their income streams so that they're protected in times of drought and at other times when markets fall. So this isn't an all-one-way equation. We know that we have to have good consultation practices, but we want farmers to be able to make money.
Thank you, Senator Cadell. Of course, all of these matters are exactly what Mr Andrew Dyer, the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner, is currently consulting about. I have encouraged Senator Colbeck, and I think I might have mentioned it to you as well, Senator Cadell, to take up the opportunity to meet with Mr Dyer. We know that we're having an argument about having a Senate inquiry—
That's fantastic that you've taken up that opportunity which we suggested you do. That's the way to resolve exactly these issues going forward.
I will point out that there are members of the opposition who have supported the building of new infrastructure as well. Back in March 2022, when he was then a minister, Mr Angus Taylor said that the development of interconnectors and transmission was critical to bringing new generation capacity into the energy system. I wonder where he thought that was going to be built? Was it going to be built in the sky or somewhere like that? And of course Mr Taylor said that it had to shore up reliability and affordability across state borders.
These are important issues to get right. We want to do them in consultation with the sector and I'd be pleased to work with you on that.