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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 3495


Senator HEFFERNAN (12:24 PM) —I would like to have an answer to the question on capital. The young fellows in the box, near the minister, might be able to provide that to him. As I said yesterday, it is regrettable that, last week, a piece of seriously flawed legislation slipped under the radar of this parliament. We are in a difficult position, but I am confident that the government, the opposition and the other parties in the Senate are aware of the flaws in the bill. I am hopeful that, with some goodwill and in the interests of a better Australia, we can fix this legislation by giving oxygen to the issues of concern. There are fundamental issues to be dealt with here. This is a classic example: the idea of a carbon sink rings the bell. We have rung the bell before we have sorted out how to implement it. The legislation in its present form is, without a doubt, putting the cart before the horse. We do not know the price at which carbon will be traded in the offset market. Also, the higher the price for carbon, the better the class of land that will be used for it. As a practising farmer, I am not going to bother growing a crop of wheat when I can get as much as I would from that from leasing my land to someone who will get a carbon offset from the gross emissions of a power station somewhere; I will go off to the Gold Coast and lie on the beach. That would be the attitude of farmers. You try and make the most out of your land, and, if it is not growing food, why worry about food?

This is just crazy. The legislation in its present form is a raid on the prime agricultural lands of Australia. I remind the chamber that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in black and white that, in 50 years time, 50 per cent of the world’s population is going to be short of water; one billion people will be unable to feed themselves; and—note—30 per cent of the productive land of Asia will go out of production due to climate change. Also, 1.6 billion—not million but billion—people could be displaced on this planet, including a large slab of central Africa and northern Asia, and the food task will double. For many years the world has modelled energy but it has not been modelling the food task. The world population is growing from 6.2 billion people to nine billion people. Everyone has been focusing on energy. No-one has been focusing on how you feed them. It is an interesting price signal in the market that in the United States, where everyone expects to fill their Hummer and go down to the supermarket and get the tucker, Wal-Mart have put a restriction on what rice is available. In the future, you will not be worrying about filling the Hummer; you will be worrying about what is in the fridge. Today we are flying in the face of understanding that problem.

This legislation is an attack on farming land—but it can be fixed. This is very distressing for me and for people out there. I have had phone calls about this from people all over Australia. To the people in this chamber, we are pleading with the government to use the democratic process in this parliament to fix this legislation. This legislation is an attack on farming land. We cannot afford to do that. The legislation is full of flaws. I will not bother going through the technical questions—and I see that the minister is tied up in another discussion with his advisers. There are a whole lot of basic questions, and I do not know why they have not been asked. This legislation went to a lot committees and was given the flick because it was considered non-controversial. No-one really looked at it until it turned up here.


Senator Milne —I did. I said it was controversial.


Senator HEFFERNAN —I have not even been told what the definition of a contract is between the lease owner or the landowner and the person who is looking for a carbon offset. What is the definition of the carbon sink? How long do the trees have to stay in the ground? The land use will relate to the market in carbon offsets. Everyone ought to listen to this: at $17 a tonne—and people are talking about $80 a tonne—every irrigated dairy farmer will be insolvent if we have to participate in such a market. This is serious.

There are a lot of academics out there in academia who would listen to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and I believe there would be some vagary in the science of its predictions. But, even if those predictions are only 10 per cent right, and 160 million people, not 1.6 billion, are displaced, it is still serious. I note that is starting to hit the news now, Senator Milne. The news this morning reported that people are worried about displacement on the planet. Mick Kelty said nine months ago that one of the greatest threats to Australia’s sovereignty is climate change, and that is about displacement. I said something about it and it was misconstrued in the press, ‘Heffernan: Asian invasion’. This is not about some lunatic; it is about reality, and this is an attack on the capacity of Australia to provide for the food task.