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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4536

Mr TRUSS (Wide BayLeader of The Nationals) (12:41): The coalition have been active supporters of carbon farming initiatives for many years. Implemented correctly, carbon farming initiatives can help to sequester or abate carbon and address concerns arising from global CO2 emission increases. They can also deliver a new income source for farmers but also deliver broader environmental objectives, including improved water quality and reduced salinity and erosion. They can promote biodiversity and regenerate landscapes as well as improve productivity.

Carbon farming was a key ingredient of the coalition's direct action plan, and still is. We highlighted the potential for carbon farming. We demonstrated its practical ability to deliver results. We announced a direct path to fund real action to make sure that the initiatives put in place delivered broader results.

Farmers have been saying for as long as anyone can remember that the climate is changing. They have noticed the differences in the weather cycles and often comment about how things are not the way that they used to be. It is true that most of them are sceptical about the doomsday predictions of the so-called experts. They certainly strongly oppose Labor's carbon tax and CPRS. They say quite bluntly that they cannot see how a new tax or a trading scheme can change the temperature. They are angry with the Prime Minister, who did not tell the truth before the election about her intentions in relation to the carbon tax. They do not trust the government. They despair that Labor does not respect the vital role that agriculture plays in assuring our food supply and at the cavalier approach that it takes to protecting and supporting our nation's food security.

The carbon farming initiative can be a win-win. It can meet the expectations of those who want to address concerns about global warming. And it can help farmers to improve productivity and profitability and help improve our environment. But these bills are fundamentally flawed and cannot be supported at this time. They are quite lengthy bills. But most of the fundamental detail will be revealed only in the regulations. And the previous speaker acknowledged that the regulations have not even be drafted. This will be the world's first nationally legislated carbon farming initiative. Attempts to implement farm carbon trading in places in Europe and even in Australia have failed in the past. The Chicago Climate Exchange closed late last year. There is no example anywhere in the world, no international experience or proven model, for this legislation. But this parliament is being asked to vote for the bill without even seeing the regulations, without even knowing how it is going to work.

The House of Representatives are being asked to vote on the bill before the Senate have even reported. The Senate have received a lot of information, raising significant concerns about how this legislation would actually work, but the House of Representatives have not been given the opportunity to even see the Senate committee's report. We are being asked to vote on and deal with this issue right now. And this is happening in an atmosphere where the government have no credibility in this area. Their carbon tax and their emissions trading scheme have been on-again, off-again, on-again. Indeed this bill does not stand alone; it presupposes there will be a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Yet we do not have the legislation to deal with that either.

Farmers are concerned that they have been let down by the Labor government in the past and now they are being asked to trust the government with the regulations at some stage in the future on the understanding that Labor and the Greens will put together a deal that will not shaft the Australian farming sector. Frankly, farmers do not have that confidence. Labor have not won their confidence because they have not behaved honourably in the past. We have been told by the Prime Minister that farmers will be excluded from Labor's carbon tax. But they will have to pay much more for fuel, transport, fertilisers, chemicals, manufacturing and machinery, and the processing of their products. All that is going to add to their costs. Indeed, I note that in New Zealand, where farmers are exempt in that country's scheme, the local dairy industry are saying that they already pay $2,700 a year extra and that they expect the cost for every dairy farmer in New Zealand to rise to $17,450 by 2015. That is from a farming sector that is exempt.

Can we believe a government that say they are going to exempt farmers when they also said that there would be no carbon tax in the first place? They have no credibility. Farmers do not trust Labor and the extreme Greens to honour their promises to exclude agriculture let alone to deliver a new carbon farming initiative which treats them fairly. The only reason that Labor are not imposing these penalties on farmers now is that they know it is technically impracticable to measure emissions. It cannot be done, and that is the finding of nearly every country in the world. But as soon as Labor find a way, even if it is done slapdash, there is not much doubt that they will want to make sure that farmers are included in their tax. Surely farmers have a right to see what is being proposed before being asked to vote. This is an initiative about farming but most of the consultation has occurred in the cities. There has been little willingness to take on board the concerns of practical people involved in industry.

Soil carbon stocks currently are estimated at about 2.3 trillion tons—that is, three times the amount of CO2 that is in the atmosphere. The Rodale Institute says that regenerative agriculture globally has the potential to sequester up to 40 per cent of the world's CO2 emissions. This is important. This is potentially a significant initiative. Carbon farming techniques like the use of biochar, no-till farming, changed grazing practices, perennial pastures, feral animal management, new genetics that produce plants that sequester more carbon and plantstones on sugar cane and a whole range of other products offer real potential.

There are many reasons that Australian farmers will not participate in this scheme. The first issue concerns the introduction by the government of the word 'additionality' into this. Unless what farmers are doing is additional to what is happening at the present time, it does not count; it has to be extra to normal practice. Things like no-till farming and perennial pastures et cetera are common practice, so farmers will not get credit for the things that they can actually do to deliver real results. It cannot be something that is already normal practice within their farming operations. It all has to be extra. So only the risky ideas will be left—the things that are not proven—for farmers to be able to participate.

The scheme will be incredibly bureaucratic and will take days and days of office work to register something for the scheme. In addition to that, farmers have to sign up for 100 years—that is, three to four generations. What new techniques might come along in 100 years? What new varieties will there be? What things will be done better than they are being done now? Farmers will be locked in for 100 years. There may be new ways to address climate change. Surely over 100 years we are going to make some progress, but farmers will be locked in for a hundred years. I have not yet heard of a forest that has not been burnt or flooded once in a hundred years, but farmers have to take responsibility for keeping fires and pestilence—for example, myrtle rust or whatever other diseases might come into the country—out of their farming operations for a hundred years.

The Kyoto commitment is about to expire. What is going to happen next? It is quite clear that other nations are showing no interest in being involved in trading schemes. China, the US and others are more interested in direct action schemes. Let me quote from Michael Kiely from Carbon Farmers of Australia, a group strongly supportive of carbon farming. He said:

We think permanence is a major barrier ... I personally don't know of any farmer who would be willing to sign up for a hundred years.

That is clearly a major issue which has not been addressed in this legislation. Also, real and practical on-farm measures will only be entitled to second-class credits. Under the Kyoto protocol clean development mechanism, only afforestation and reforestation are eligible to be certified as emissions reductions. Avoiding deforestation is not eligible and agricultural carbon sequestration is not recognised. So under Labor's legislation only tree planting credits will be supported by Kyoto, which is also consistent with Labor's proposed carbon tax.

Farm based credits will be restricted to voluntary, non-mandatory markets and will be essentially worthless. The real things that farmers can do will not be credited. The truth is that this is just another subsidised tree planting scheme—an MIS on steroids. Do not take my word for it; let me refer to some of the experts in the area. In a recent article in its ECOS magazine, the CSIRO writes:

Forestry and forest-related options are well placed for inclusion in the CFI, according to Dr Michael Battaglia, a scientist with CSIRO Sustainable Agriculture Flagship. Modelling done by Dr Battaglia and his team for the Queensland government found that forest carbon sinks make up about 75 per cent of the total figure attainable for agricultural carbon abatement in Queensland from 2010-2050.

The article goes on to say:

Andrew Macintosh of the ANU’s Centre for Climate Law and Policy says ‘Most rural land managers are concentrating on soil carbon and reforestation projects, but personally I think that credits for preserved regrowth on deforested land units … and forest management credits will dominate the Australian scheme.

Charles McElhone from the NFF, who was quoted by the previous speaker, said:

Based on experience with managed investment schemes, we’re urging particular caution around new forestry impacts on food provision, biodiversity, water supply, employment and other community effects.

So it is quite clear that the MIS tree planting schemes have been a disaster for many rural communities. They have cost jobs in the agricultural sector and they have damaged regional economies. These often bankrupt and uneconomic tree plantation schemes are dreadful next door neighbours. They are a haven for pests and diseases. There is no management. They are a likely source of future bushfires. They affect the water table and the run-off into local streams. These mass tree planting schemes have been an environmental and economic disaster for many parts of Australia.

Yet the CSIRO tells us that a carbon price of just $36 a tonne would be high enough to convert Australia's best farmlands to forestry and $11 a tonne would be enough to trigger widespread planting, which will therefore reduce food security. So this is a scheme that will promote widespread tree planting on some of the best farming lands in our nation. The government is talking about some kinds of protective measures to preserve farmlands for the vital purpose of guaranteeing our nation's food supply, but the regulations have not been written. The government is asking us to trust it to put up something that will really work. But farmers have lost their trust in this government because of its failure to consult with them, to act with them and to listen to them when issues of concern are raised.

I support carbon farming initiatives, I believe that they have great potential for the future of our country, but I cannot support this bill while so many questions remain unanswered. It needs to be delayed at least until after Labor's carbon tax legislation, if they are determined to proceed with that, because in its present form it will disadvantage Australian agriculture. It will produce perverse and unhelpful environmental outcomes and do nothing to reduce CO2 emissions or improve the global environment.