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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3294

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (17:27): I must say that I am disappointed that the member for New England cannot support this disallowance motion because I think that it is very much in the national interest. Because we still have issues with what the carbon tax will do to the dairy industry and the meat industry, I would have hoped that the Independents would have been doing all they could to ensure especially rural and regional Australia are not severely disadvantaged by these bills. I would have thought that there would have been the ability for the member for New England to support the member for Lyne on this motion, because I feel it is going to be extremely difficult for the committee to do anything.

The committee, of which I was a member, produced the report Seeing the forest through the trees: inquiry into the future of the Australian forestry industry. As a new member of parliament, this is really the first committee report that I have been involved in. In many ways it was incredibly refreshing because the bipartisan way the members of the committee went about producing this report was something that should be commended. It shows that all members can work together to achieve a report that everybody agrees on. I take this opportunity to commend the chair, Dick Adams, for the fine job he did in chairing the committee while we went about this report, the deputy chair, Alby Schultz, and the member for Corangamite, Mr Cheeseman. We also had a member from Tasmania in Geoff Lyons. We also had George Christensen, Rob Mitchell, Tony Crook and me. We did a lot of work. We visited a lot of places. We also took evidence here in Canberra from a lot of people. One of the things that struck me throughout the hearings was that those on all sides were prepared to ask questions on all types of evidence, and we were then able to bring that all together and agree on recommendations. We covered diverse issues in this report, including managed investment schemes. I would recommend that all members of the House look at the committee's recommendations on managed investment schemes, because I think they show a very good way forward.

I think everyone on the committee was struck by the evidence we received on the use of forestry biomass. I am pretty sure that we took that evidence on a Wednesday afternoon, when constituents of the member for Lyne and members of the forestry industry appeared before us. We asked about what would happen with the off-cuts from native timber, given that the approach seemed to be that those off-cuts would not be able to be used for biomass. We were told that the majority of it would be put into landfill and that, over time, as it decays, it lets off nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is one of the most harmful CO2 gases. Here we were, looking at a piece of legislation that is meant to reduce CO2 emissions, yet by its very nature it was actually going to increase it.

Mr Windsor interjecting

Mr TEHAN: That is the evidence that we heard. I would be happy to provide that evidence to the member for New England. We were all struck by the absurdity of what will occur unless we can get the parliament to agree to this disallowance motion.

I recommend that honourable members and anyone who has an interest in this matter look at this report, Seeing the forest through the trees, particularly chapter 7, which addresses using forestry biomass. It is quite a detailed chapter and it outlines the type of evidence that we heard. For instance, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry told us:

Biofuels and bioenergy can play an important role in expanding the range of renewable energy sources available in Australia. Australian state and territory governments have adopted comprehensive frameworks to ensure that environmentally responsible forest management practices underpin the use of wood residues for bioenergy.

So there are good practices in place. We also heard from Bioenergy Australia, who said:

During the energy recovery process, the carbon dioxide bound in the biomass is released to the atmosphere. Bioenergy is regarded as renewable, when the biomass resource consumed in the energy conversion process is replenished by the growth of an equivalent amount of biomass. Under the Kyoto Protocol bioenergy is regarded as carbon dioxide neutral.

The Institute of Foresters of Australia on cogeneration stated:

With most mills lucky to recover 40% of log volume, generating power using mill residue as a fuel source creates two economic solutions to what would otherwise be expenses. An expensive aspect of processing in the softwood industry is seasoning and drying, using kilns. The heat generated in cogeneration can be used to drive seasoning plants while augmenting power supplies.

We also visited my electorate and met with Mr Andrew Lang of SMARTimbers Cooperative in Lismore. Andrew is very much an expert in this area and is leading the way. He was able to give us a small demonstration of how native timber can be used to generate renewable energy. He told us what occurs in northern Europe:

The pattern in the Scandinavian countries is to use the heat energy for district heating (and for district cooling in summer). In Brazil and India the heat energy is commonly used by the generating industry, as well as some of the electricity.

So it is common practice in particular in Europe and it is a growing practice in India and Brazil. Other countries in the world are using this source of renewable energy, so it seems absurd and ridiculous that we would not do the same.

Australian Forest Growers suggested that funding be made available for:

… research, development and extension into biofuel, bioenergy and Biochar technology, including upscaling the technology to a commercial scale. This upscaling must include options for regionally based utilisation of biomass at sufficient scale to be economically viable yet small enough to be effectively utilised locally.

They would like to see more funding put into this area, because they see enormous long-term benefits in it. So it is not just a matter of renewable energy credits being available; if we can get the technology right we can use it a lot more, particularly in regional areas, because it can be done on such a scale that regional areas can capitalise on it.

As outlined in its report, the committee believes that bioenergy from the forestry industry presents a promising opportunity. The report states:

Using the principle of cogeneration, it is also possible to ensure that as much energy as possible is captured and used from the use of biomass.

…   …   …

As noted above, there remains a significant amount of work to be done by the industry, in order to identify the barriers to expansion of bioenergy, and to ensure that a secure fuel supply is maintained.

The report further states:

As for the question of native forest waste products being used to produce energy, the Committee is aware that recent policy change is yet to be fully implemented.

We were not quite sure which way the government would end up going on this issue. The committee then recommended that it was of the view that:

… under any version of the RET (or similar scheme), bioenergy sourced from native forest biomass should continue to qualify as renewable energy, where it is a true waste product and does not become a driver for harvesting for native forests.

All sides of the committee, once again, were of the view that:

… under any version of the RET (or similar scheme), bioenergy sourced from native forest biomass should continue to qualify as renewable energy …

That is the bipartisan report's recommendation and is spelled out in particular in recommendations 15 and 16 of the report. I ask all members to look at those recommendations.

I wish that the member for New England could be right in that there would be a way, other than this disallowance motion, for this to be brought into the parliament. The sad thing is that I cannot see a way forward. My view is that all members of this committee put these recommendations on the table and this was as far as all members could go. The hope was that this would lead to a very sensible approach and, in particular, might support the member for Lyne in bringing forward this disallowance motion. So, if there is another way forward, we on this side would like to hear about it and I think the committee would love to hear about it. My worry is that politics will get in the way and that we will not be able to achieve what will be a very sensible outcome.

I do not always agree with the member for Lyne and I do not always agree with the member for New England but on this issue it would be very good if they could put their heads together and come up with a way where we could ensure that common sense did prevail, because at the moment it is not going to prevail. There are a lot of people especially in rural and regional areas who are looking at this as a way forward. It enables those people who like to put plantations on their agricultural land to use the wood waste from those so that it adds to the income of family farmers. If the member for New England would like to talk to Andrew Lang I am sure he would be glad to show him around and show him the innovative work that he is doing in this area in adding to his farm income by using this and trying to develop it as a second income to his family farm.

Mr Windsor interjecting

Mr TEHAN: It does not make the economics add up. If he can get the RECs it does. That is the important point on this. I would like to see a common-sense way forward on this. The last thing we want to see is this timber end up in landfill. I will conclude there. I am disappointed that it looks like we will not get a common-sense outcome on what I think is a very sensible proposal put forward by the member for Lyne. I would like to take the time once again to commend my fellow committee members who put forward this report. It was a very good bipartisan report and I call on the government to look at the recommendations in it and to act upon them.

The SPEAKER: The question before the chair is that the motion be agreed to.

The SPEAKER: In accordance with the principle that decisions should not be taken except by a majority and the principle that legislation should be left in its original form, my casting vote is for the noes.