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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3290


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (17:03): I accept the comments made by the member for Lyne earlier that this disallowance motion arose from members and employers in his electorate approaching him with a situation where perhaps there was a small amount of waste associated with their operations that they thought could be turned into renewable energy. But this is much bigger than that. This is a regulation that will not apply simply to the odd employer in the electorate of the member for Lyne; it will apply right across the country. It goes to the heart of the economics of chopping down trees and burning them and counting that as renewable energy.

Firstly, there is nothing stopping the business in the electorate of the member for Lyne, or businesses anywhere else, from putting that material, if it is genuine waste material, to a use that generates energy, but they should not be paid for it. That is fundamentally the question. To quote Judith Ajani, the point about the economics of this that is overlooked in all the contributions we have heard so far is that 'sawn timber stopped driving Australia’s native forest logging in the 1980s and woodchip exports are no longer driving native forest logging'. We have a situation where the export market for woodchips is collapsing. As I said, for hardwood we have had that general shift in the whole economics of the industry away from native forests to plantations.

The only way we could continue the perverse action of burning our native forests and counting that as renewable energy is if people are given a perverse subsidy, and that is what the motion by the member for Lyne would do. It would enable these operators and any other operator who wants to enter the market, and I will come to that shortly, to get paid for what is fundamentally an environmentally and economically unsustainable industry. We are at the point where those two are converging. It has been recognised that this is environmentally and economically unsustainable. Of course, the people who want to make money out of burning down forests and counting it as renewable energy are looking for a lifeline. This motion gives them that lifeline and that is why they are lining up behind it, together with the opposition.

It will be possible for up to 50 per cent of the value of a project to be counted as renewable energy if this regulation is not allowed to stand. It is important to focus on and tackle the myth that it is somehow about some small proportion of waste product. I have heard the member for Lyne and others say that the high-value rules will address that. That is economically simply not the case. It is very possible to have the vast majority of an operation going into pulp or chips to be burnt for waste, to have the vast majority by volume, and still have the majority of value being done through the high value, through the hardwood. For example, the point that the Australian Forest and Climate Alliance make in the letter that they have circulated is that in East Gippsland pulp logs are sold for a royalty as low as 11c a tonne with the top quality regrowth pulp logs being sold for about $2.50. With that value in balance it is very easy to still have a majority of value at the high end, as the member for Lyne puts it, but the majority of the volume would still come from cutting down forests and burning them for renewable energy. That is what this regulation will stop.

It is not only a perverse economic incentive but a perverse environmental incentive, because we will be burning what are recognised as some of the world's most carbon dense forests. That is why some have been led to speculate that this could in fact increase greenhouse gas emissions. As we know—and this is happening in Tasmania and would be allowed to continue to happen if this regulation is not allowed to stand—when you burn high quality carbon stores and carbon dense stores like our native forests it takes a long time to replace that. That is why the plan that this regulation seeks to forestall has been described by Andrew Mackintosh, the Associate Director of the ANU Centre for Climate Law and Policy, as 'Pythonesque'. He says that it is climate policy plan that is incapable of lowering emissions but that could increase them, that will result in no net gain in the amount of renewable electricity generated and that will cost taxpayers millions per year.

We know that there are people waiting to get a subsidy to burn large parts of the Tasmanian forests and count that as renewable energy. We know that because the letter that was referred to by the member for Gippsland is one of the most astounding pieces of evidence to ever have been put before the parliament. It is co-signed by a number of people, including some from the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania. Of course they want this. They are going to get an economic benefit out of it. But we know that it is not going to impact just Tasmania. We know that in Western Australia, as reported in the Australian last week, some Karri trees—Western Australia's tallest and among the world's tallest—are already classified as forest waste and turned into woodchips for a market that no longer wants them. Instead of saying that this is madness and that is a market that should be phased out, this motion will give that industry a lifeline and allow those Karri trees to continue to be burned.

It is simple economics. If you give people a subsidy for something, you will create an industry around it. While I accept that the member for Lyne is acting on the basis of people within his electorate coming to him, there are people right across this country who are rubbing their hands at the prospect of another subsidy, because it will make projects viable that would otherwise have been unviable because the economics and the environment were heading in the same direction. We should not allow the continued logging of high conservation value forest. We should not allow threats to habitats of native species. We should not further undermine biodiversity in areas that are already under stress.

One point that is also critical for me is that, as the minister referred to, this was something in the Clean Energy Future package, which came out of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. It is on page 129 of the document. It says:

The Renewable Energy Target regulations will be amended to exclude biomass from native forest as an eligible renewable energy resource. This includes products, by-products and waste associated with or produced from clearing or harvesting of native forests, subject to appropriate transitional arrangements for existing accredited power stations.

It was there in the deal. We had some talk before about respecting the work of parliamentary committees. That parliamentary committee did some outstanding work. People with differing points of view found a consensus. There are things in that document that if I personally was writing the package would not have agreed to. I would not have agreed to extensive sandbagging of polluting industries. We had a different view on petrol. But the Greens have not come back in here and said, 'We didn't like that bit of the deal, so we're now going to seek to carve bits out.' That is an important principle in this parliament, where we all often come to agreements that are not exactly as we would like but that arise out of people with differing points of view talking and agreeing on what is common. When we do that, we should stick with it. That is why I cannot support the motion of the member for Lyne.