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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 4629

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (11:25): Thank you, Madam Chair. It is a delight to see you in the chair. Congratulations on your ascendancy to that office. I do note that the minister has drawn to our attention that we have been debating this amendment for some time, and I acknowledge that—

Senator Ludwig: You haven't been debating the amendment. You've been talking about a whole range of things.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Minister, I think you will find that my contributions have often come to the point of the amendment with great—

Senator Ludwig: Your nose is growing.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: You do not want to invite me to take that one, do you? You do not want me to take 'the nose is growing' interjection, because that will only lead to discussing one thing in this place at present. If you want to talk about great big liars in this place, we all know where that leads to. It leads of course to talking about the Prime Minister and yesterday's anniversary of her great big lie to the Australian people.

Senator Ludwig: You should not use the Pinocchio defence.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Well, I am not sure what defence the Prime Minister has at her disposal in relation to the lies that she told in campaigning to the people at the last election, particularly on the carbon tax. This amendment is one that, as you have rightly highlighted, we all support. I am disappointed, Minister, that you have attempted in this debate to downplay the significance or the import of this amendment. You have essentially cast it aside to the extent that the amendment is little more than a point of clarification rather than an amendment that should be treated with a semblance of seriousness and that should be recognised as an important issue in how this legislation will ultimately operate. This does not change the opposition's support for the amendment.

Obviously, we will engage with stakeholders, as we trust the government will, about the regulations that pertain to section 56. We will make those engagements as constructive as possible. If stakeholders have concerns that the regulations do not fit or adhere to the amended section 56 and the inclusion of this criteria around the availability of land for agricultural product­ion, then I guess we will be back here at some stage debating the regulations in a disallowance motion. Hopefully, it will not come to that. Hopefully, the government can refine these regulations into something that adheres to not just parts (a), (b), (c) and (d) of section 56 but also part (e), which is around land access for agricultural production.

Whilst the minister at the table, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, should have a particular vested interest in the amendment before us, the operation of this bill or act, if it is passed, will be with the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. I urge that minister to make sure that, as the regulations are finalised, serious consideration is given to whether they are adhered to and that if stakeholders, in particular the farming groups, have continuing concerns about the possible impact of this bill on land for agricultural production then those concerns are heeded so that we get a win-win outcome, so that we get the outcome where farmers actively participate in a market, in an environment, to sequester carbon in their soil and, in doing so, we have the potential benefits of increased water retention, of increased productivity on their land and of the potential for Australia to grow its food production but at the same time we get the other win of certainty that those farmlands will be protected, that we will have agricultural production on all of our potential prime farmlands and that there will not be any adverse outcomes or consequences to that under this bill.

That is what I hope will happen as these regulations are finalised. Notwithstanding what the minister at the table has had to say in downplaying the significance of this amendment, I hope most sincerely that the government will take this amendment with all seriousness and will ensure that it is complied with and reflected in the regulations, not just to the letter of the amendment but to its spirit. Should the stakeholder groups, and farm groups in particular, have concerns about the application of this clause in these regulations in constructing the negative list of activities, I hope that is reflected seriously and those concerns are picked up in these regulations.

Minister Ludwig, obviously you are not going to give any greater comfort at present that we can expect to see anything stronger in the regulations. Obviously, you are not going to give us any greater detail as to how this amendment may operate in the regulations. After some period of debate, I have come to accept that. I have heard your answers; I understand the points that you have made. I am disappointed, but I certainly hope that the minister who will have responsibility for the operation of this law, if passed, will have a different attitude about the significance of this amendment. The opposition certainly does. I hope that, in time, we will see it thoroughly reflected in the regulations that I wish had—and should have—been drafted long ago in tandem with the presentation of this bill, because they are so critical to how it works and because they can set aside so many of the concerns and misgivings that people have. That has not been the case. Nonetheless, as we now move forward on this, I hope that the government will show a different attitude to this important amendment than the minister has suggested to date. That does not, of course, change the opposition's support for this amendment.