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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 7774

Senator MILNE (10:07 PM) —It certainly does answer my question, because the local rules are useless—you know it and I know it. Take yourself to the Tiwi Islands, where there is massive conversion of native vegetation, or take yourself to Tasmania, where there is also massive conversion of native forests. Local rules are not worth the paper they are written on—you know it and I know it.

The more we get into this, the more we see that it is Rafferty’s rules. There is nothing here. You just get a tax deduction by saying, ‘I intend this to be a carbon sink forest. Yes, I agree with all the local rules because there aren’t any in most cases.’ We know the National Water Initiative will not be in place until 2011. Between now and 2011 you can do as you like in just about any catchment as far as water is concerned. NRM plans are not statutory in most places. People working in landcare who are genuine about trying to restore ecosystems are horrified by this. With a bit of thought and a bit of care, this could have actually done what we needed it to do: to get biodiverse plantings in order to restore habitat connectivity in the landscape and resilience in the face of climate change. But instead of that this legislation has been put together by people who intend to run the sham. The sham is going to turn into a major scam across Australia and we are going to see a disaster.

I think we have asked enough now to establish that none of the things that have been asserted here actually stand. We know we can have monocultures, we know we do not have to have the trees in the ground for any length of time, we know we only have to say it was our intention when we put them in and we can sell to somebody else and they can cut the trees down. We can change our mind over time and we can tax deduct the lot. We can tax deduct the cost of the agent who puts the package together for us, including the cost of the land, and whether the access to water rights is a capital cost or a recurrent cost depends on whether you can put it in the package. This is a complete mess.

I was worried about it before, as Senator Boswell indicated, and now I see this as open slather. There is no enforcement, there is no disincentive and there is no-one coming along afterwards doing any assessment or enforcement. This is just an upfront land grab of a massive kind that will shift landownership in Australia in the most radical way. It will also shift wealth in Australia because those companies that need to offset their carbon emissions will get the taxpayers to pay for it in two ways. One way will be with free permits and the other will be by tax deducting the costs associated with mitigation. It is the farming communities, the rural communities and the community as a whole who will pay. The people who will be grinning are the MIS companies and those resource based companies who are going to exploit this, big time. Whilst you might be sitting here thinking this is just a tiny little tax measure that is a matter of a few million dollars, wait until the Treasury starts to feel the impact, then there are going to be questions asked about how this could have been allowed to happen.

The people who are looking at natural resource management plans and catchment management plans, those who were devastated about what was going on with water, will be horrified to know that under this legislation people can put in a plantation, without any assessment of the groundwater or without any assessment of the interception, and get a tax deduction for having done so. Any attempt to fix it up later in 2011 under the National Water Initiative is going to be too late.

I am disgusted with this and I am disgusted by the people behind it. If this is the best the Greenhouse Office can do then it is an indictment. I cannot condemn it in stronger terms. Having stood here tonight trying to get some answers out of the government, knowing full well that in the Tasmanian context there is a tax deduction for clearing native vegetation to put in a monoculture to exploit a loophole, has been just horrendous for me. We all know it is going on, yet the upshot is that it is probably going to be allowed.

However many tax bills are going to come through this place before the next election, every time they do come through here I am going to move to delete this section. We will have this debate over and over and over again until we get some answers in relation to how these guidelines are actually going to change anything, how people are going to be followed up, how there is going to be enforcement and compliance and how we are going to get the environmental benefits that are claimed to be there. And I look forward to the first case that goes to the courts, which will be at great expense and will demonstrate that the cost of land was always tax deductible, because of the poor drafting of this legislation being defended in here by both the government and the opposition, who actually have not cared enough about the ramifications of this on the ground to go out, talk to people and see what it is actually going to do.

This is one of the great travesties and it is dressed up as a climate initiative when all it is going to do, by creating a carbon price through the ETS, is drive the perverse outcome of seeing plantations kept growing and native forests being logged. The greatest carbon stores and the greatest biodiversity will be destroyed and there will be a perverse outcome because people have not actually cared enough about this. There is not much more to be established here. You do not have any answers for us in relation to these guidelines. I note that, for all the talk about these guidelines, they are completely meaningless bits of paper without any compliance provisions. I look forward to voting on this amendment.