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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 7728


Senator WILLIAMS (5:36 PM) —I rise in this chamber to voice my objection to what is being planned here and support the disallowance motion put forward by Senator Milne. I said in my maiden speech on 15 September:

… governments should not take our food producers for granted simply because we have such a huge supply of good quality, well-priced food. We all know what happens if we do not eat.

And that is the point I make here: for the government to have an upfront tax deduction to allow the big end of town to come in and buy up our prime agricultural land, sow it down to trees and hence make money afterwards I think is simply wrong.

I have said for months now that if we want to take the carbon dioxide out of the air we can put it in the soil; we do not have to put it in the trees. If you talk to any soil nutritionist, they will simply say that carbon is the cycle of life. We see people like Dr Christine Jones, at Armidale, and my good friend Nationals MLC for New South Wales Rick Colless, who has worked in the care of land for some 27 years, saying, ‘Get the micro balance right in the soil and it will sequester the carbon out of the air and into the soil and then can be used for more production of food.’ This is the way we should be going in this nation, not allowing upfront tax deductions for the big end of town to buy up our land, plant it into trees, remove it from producing food and take the money out of the local economies that have battled against drought since early 2002.

What happens when our food production reduces? Going back to my days of learning economics in 1972, the story was that if demand exceeds supply then prices rise. There has been one big kerfuffle of late about how the price of food is high. That has been brought about by the lack of supply brought about by the lack of rainfall and negative seasons on the land. So what are we going to do? We are going to give an upfront tax deduction to reduce the volume of food in this nation. This is bad not only for the future of all Australians but for those local communities that rely on the dollars being brought into their districts by the sale of such things as wheat, barley, sorghum, sunflowers, canola; you name it. They are the industries that bring the dollars into those local towns and communities that keep the small businesses going, that keep the working families in a job. Now we are going to make a decision here that will have the end effect of putting those working families out of a job. That will be the end result of this in small communities.

We see that we have a huge problem of a lack of flow of water in the Murray-Darling Basin. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to realise that when you plant trees they actually absorb moisture and prevent in many cases the run-off of water, even in wet times. The more carbon sinks are established, the less water will run down the Murray River. I am sure Senator Xenophon, Senator Birmingham and others are not real happy about that. I am sure that even Minister Wong would not want to see less water running down the Murray and hence more problems as we see in the Murray River. But the allowance of this carbon sink upfront tax deduction is going to have that effect on the Murray-Darling Basin.

It is just so wrong when the big end of town, those with the big chequebooks, can come in and pay the big price for prime agricultural land. The effect of that is simple. Farmers wish to expand their land size, as they have had to do for a hundred years. Going back to the 1950s, in areas such as inside the Goyder line in South Australia, with a property of 500 acres you could make a good living. Then in the seventies you needed 1,000 acres. Then in the nineties you needed a couple of thousand acres. Today to survive you probably need 2,500 or 3,000 acres, simply because farmers have to be more productive, the retail price of products has not kept up with the cost of their production and hence they have had to expand their properties. But when the big end of town come in and pay whatever they want for the land, knowing full well they are going to get an upfront tax deduction, according to Senator Joyce and others here, and go on to make their money, they will inflate the price of land. They will squeeze out the small bloke, and we are just going to see more carbon sinks established. The end result will be less production of food, less exports and worse monthly trade figures.

It is the emissions trading scheme that this is all being prepared for. The Nationals have made it quite clear that unless the big emitters around the world take on the same project we will become uncompetitive. We will shut down industries here; we will move them overseas. I was talking to one person representing the cement industry. In Australia we produce 10 million tonnes of cement a year and we also import two million tonnes. When we produce a tonne of cement in Australia, we produce 0.8 tonnes of greenhouse gases. What will happen if we tax that industry out of existence? It will then be moved overseas or we will import cement from China. In China they produce a lot of cement, around one billion tonnes a year, but when they produce one tonne of cement in China they produce 1.1 tonnes of greenhouse gases. So we would shut down our local cement industry to import 10 million tonnes of cement from China. The result is that, instead of producing eight million tonnes of greenhouse gases in Australia, we will import the 10 million tonnes from China that will produce 11 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. The net effect is that we close down our industries here, we lose 1,850 jobs, we import all our cement from places such as China and we put three million tonnes of extra greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year. That is not very clever at all. That is going to be the effect of the emissions trading scheme unless the United States, India, China and the other bigger emitters come on board with something in the way of this to at least make us competitive and not shut down our local industries. This is where we are heading, and where we are heading is not good for our children’s future in terms of having to make a living, to feed the people, to have exports and to keep our small communities alive. That is why I will be supporting this disallowance motion.