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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 7742

Senator NASH (7:43 PM) —I rise tonight as a National Party senator to make a contribution to this debate, and I say as a National Party senator that this is an issue that goes right to the heart of a sustainable rural and regional Australia. To my mind, there is absolutely no doubt about that, which is why I am standing here today. It is an interesting situation to be in with my National Party colleagues, knowing that to stick up for what we believe in we actually have to cross the floor. It is not something we have taken lightly. It is something that we have given a great deal of consideration. To us, it shows how important this issue is.

During the week somebody referred to it as a 100th-order issue. To me and to my colleague Senator Joyce, sitting in front of me, it is anything but a 100th-order issue. For anybody to think this is a 100th-order issue shows just how disconnected they are from things that are important to rural and regional Australia. This is not a 100th-order issue; this is a top issue. It goes right to the heart of how we make a sustainable rural and regional Australia. That is the question that this country needs to ask.

Just last week I was on the North Coast talking to a farmer, and they said: ‘Does this country actually want a sustainable rural Australia? Does this country actually want farmers to keep producing? Does this country want farmers to keep feeding the nation? If they don’t, come and tell me, because I’m quite happy to pack up now and go and do something else.’ The view was that they are getting sent from pillar to post, because there is no support and they are coming up against things exactly like this carbon sink legislation. They are out there working their guts out and have done across most of Australia for the last seven years. They are up against drought and all sorts of other difficulties, yet they keep soldiering on. And what do we do to them? We give them no support. Then they turn around and see something like this carbon sink legislation put forward, which is going to give potentially huge tax breaks to the big end of town. What does that say to them about how much we care and how important they are to this country? I think it says we do not care at all. But I can tell you that we care about it. The Nationals care about it. That is why we are prepared to cross the floor to stick up for the people who need us to stick up for them.

I recognise the others in this chamber, the Greens and the crossbenchers, who are also prepared to stand up on this issue and say how important it is. This is about the protection of prime agricultural land. Do you know what that prime agricultural land does? It feeds and clothes the nation. To stand here and support a piece of legislation that potentially is going to rip that security away—take that productive agricultural land out of the system and replace it with carbon sink forests through a tax break—is simply wrong. It is flawed legislation, bad legislation, and it should not be going forward. It is unfortunate that the only way we can address this is through a motion to disallow the regulations. We believe by knocking the regulations out we will disable the legislation itself. Coming up later this evening is a piece of legislation through which we will again address the issue. But isn’t it unfortunate that we have to come in here and address this issue through a disallowance motion on a set of regulations?

This legislation goes right to the heart of food security in this nation. It is a debate this country needs to have and needs to have pronto. We need to decide if we, as legislators here in Canberra, are going to provide the tools and mechanisms to ensure that we have food security—not only in the food we provide for this nation but in the food we provide to the least developed nations and the work that we do here to assist them. That is part of our role as a developed nation—to ensure that we help where we can. Yet this legislation directly places that food security at risk. What we are going to see, with the reduction of prime agricultural land, is a reduction in food production capacity. What we are potentially going to see, through that reduction, is an increase in the price of food, not only hurting our country but potentially ensuring that we will have to rely more on imports. Once we start to rely more on imports—apart from the fact that we are not doing what we should be doing and producing the food and fibre that we need—there is the issue of quality. We have tremendous quality standards in this country. The minute we start importing we will have serious quality-control issues about the food that we provide for the people in this nation to eat. The issue of food security is one that we need to address, and this piece of legislation does exactly the opposite—it takes away that security.

We do not have a problem with the planning of carbon sinks. We have an issue with the government giving a tax break for doing it. If there is going to be competition for prime agricultural land in this country, there should be a level playing field for farmers and corporate entities alike. Why should corporate entities get a tax break to do something when farmers do not get one? Farmers do not get a tax break to graze their properties. Farmers do not get a tax break to plant a crop—

Senator Joyce —Build a shed.

Senator NASH —Build a shed—I will take the injection from Senator Joyce. We—and I should say this as a farmer from the central west of New South Wales—do not get those tax breaks. But what is being proposed here is a tax break for the big end of town to deal with their carbon emissions by putting in carbon sinks on our prime agricultural land—on the very land that provides food and fibre for this nation.

Earlier today we heard a discussion around whether or not, under this 100 per cent upfront tax deduction for capital expenditure over four years, the land itself or leasing of that land is going to be classed as capital expenditure. We are standing in this chamber months and months after this was first raised, as my colleagues Senator Milne and Senator Joyce said earlier, and we still do not know what capital expenditure is going to be included in this.

I can only ask the Senate, with respect to the potential situation of a 100 per cent upfront tax break for large corporate entities, whereby they may purchase land and get 100 per cent tax deductibility for doing so: what does that say about our support for rural and regional communities? What does that say about how wrong we are getting it, how wrong this government is getting it in terms of providing that security? The issue of the lack of certainty alone should be getting every senator on this side of the chamber to cross the floor and make sure we knock out these regulations to disable—

Senator Jacinta Collins —Is Julian going to join you?

Senator NASH —you would have to ask him, Senator Collins—this legislation, because it is not right, it is not fair, it is not on and it should not be going forward.

One of the other issues that is of particular concern to me and my Nationals colleagues is the fact that there have been no hydrological studies done on the impact on the water system and on the impact of interception. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that if you go out and plant a stack of trees they are going to have an impact on that water system. As my colleague Senator Milne said earlier, they are going to be taking water without paying.

We saw just last week in this chamber hours and hours and hours of debate around the Murray-Darling Basin system and what we should be doing to protect it to ensure that it is sustainable in the future. Yet this particular piece of legislation allows goodness knows how many acres of land to be planted with trees. We have no idea, because there have been no studies done; there has been absolutely nothing—

Senator Boswell —Forty million.

Senator NASH —Potentially 40 million—thank you, Senator Boswell. And not a single jot of work has been done on the potential impact on the water system. So here we are, on the other side of the chamber, hearing from the government week after week their words of dedication to making sure we fix the Murray-Darling Basin system, and yet they are allowing legislation to come into being that is potentially going to have an enormous impact on that water system. It is not right. It is not on. I do not see how anybody in this place can agree that that is an appropriate way forward for the management of the water system in this country.

The other issue that is of course of enormous concern to us particularly, as Nationals, and the reason why we are standing here and are going to cross the floor, is that there has been absolutely no work done on the potential social and economic impact on rural and regional communities of these plantations being put in—absolutely none. What we are so concerned about is that those who understand rural and regional communities know what the flow-on effects from the productive capacity of land in our rural communities generate for the economic wealth of our rural and regional communities. You take that productive capacity away and it is not only that farmer who is affected; there are the flow-on effects on businesses in all those towns—the chemical distributors, the newsagents, the professionals who come to town, the local doctors—

Senator Williams —The schools.

Senator NASH —The schools. Thank you very much, Senator Williams. It is the schools; it is the teachers; it is those who start leaving because the population starts declining. If you take that productive capacity away, you do not have the economic sustainability of that regional town. And that is exactly what this legislation is going to do. If allowed to go forward it is going to remove that productive capacity, because we know that the minute those carbon sink forests are planted on that land, that is all that will happen.

Senator Joyce —The biggest threat is the government.

Senator NASH —The biggest threat is the government, says Senator Joyce, and I completely agree with him. That is what will happen. Can I reiterate, as I said earlier: we do not have an issue with carbon sinks being planted. What we do have an issue with is the fact that companies are going to get a tax break to do it.

The future of rural communities is at stake here. It is interesting to note that we are seeing the same approach from the government as we saw in the water debate last week. They have no idea about the impact their decisions are going to have on rural communities. I recently travelled from one end of the Murray-Darling Basin to the other, and every community along the way said how dislocated and disconnected they felt because the government were not taking them into consideration, because the government did not know, did not understand, the impact that their decisions on water were going to have. So we are seeing the broad approach from the Labor government and the complete disconnection from the impact their decisions are having on rural and regional communities. This shows up nowhere better than the fact that we are looking at this piece of legislation on carbon sinks. There have been no socioeconomic impact studies at all done on the effects on the communities. Look at water. Look at the buyback program potentially taking a huge amount of water out of communities. And guess what? There has not been a single bit of socioeconomic work done on the potential removal of that water. There has been an ABARE commissioned study. That is not going to report until the middle of next year. Guess how much entitlement is going to be bought back between now and then. It is indicative of the lack of respect that the government show rural communities and their lack of ability to understand the potential impact that their decisions will have on rural Australia. It comes back to the question: do we or do we not want a sustainable future for rural and regional Australia?

I come back to the farmer I referred to in the beginning. They will pack up and do something else if we are not prepared to support them. They will pack up and somehow find some other way to live their lives. Our role has to be to support those people who are providing food and fibre for this nation—and, if it is not, then it should be. If it is not, we need to address that. We need to make sure that that is one of our prime concerns, because all they are seeing at the moment is a whole lot of disconnection and a whole lot of dislocation from what they are doing and from what is being provided by way of support through government policy and programs to try and assist. They deserve to be assisted. They do not deserve to see a piece of legislation that is going to give a tax break to the big end of town that can afford it. I do not care how many speakers there are against this; there is no way you can get away from that statement. It is fact. This is going to give a tax break to the big end of town.

I do not see why mum-and-dad taxpayers, working families who work hard in this country to pay their tax, should subsidise the big end of town to put in carbon sink forests so they can deal with their carbon emissions. It is wrong. It is not their responsibility and they should not be asked to do it. The big end of town have enough capacity to do this without a tax break—it is as simple as that. They do not need it, they should not get it and they should not be having it. Why should the mums and dads of this country subsidise the big end of town under a Labor government? There is no reason for it.

The government knows that it can reverse this. It knows it is bad legislation. The only people who are prepared to actually say that it is bad legislation are those who are going to be sitting across on the other side, on the side supporting this, when we get to the vote. All I can say is that those sitting on this side and not joining us are doing the wrong thing by rural Australia, who so desperately—now more than ever, after seven years of drought—need our support, not a kick in the teeth. They need our support now. We are going to continue to stand up for them. My colleagues Senator Joyce, Senator Boswell and Senator Williams and I will continue to do that, not only through this piece of legislation but every time we turn around. We will do everything we can to support rural and regional Australia because we know how important those communities are to this country. They deserve our support, and we will be supporting this disallowance motion.