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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4545

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (13:25): I take the opportunity to speak in support of these three bills: the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011, the Carbon Credits (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011 and the Australian National Registry of Emissions Units Bill 2011. The objectives of these bills are, firstly, to help Australia meet its international obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; secondly, to create initiatives for people to undertake land sector abatement projects; and, thirdly, to achieve carbon abatement in a manner that is consistent with the protection of Australia's natural environment and that improves resilience to the impacts of climate change for our community. The purpose of these bills is to enable farmers, landholders and forest growers to sequester carbon from the atmosphere and store it in soil, plants, vegetation and trees. By doing so, they will receive carbon credits for the carbon that is stored. It is a voluntary scheme and, of course, conditions are attached to it.

Why is the scheme being implemented? It is being implemented because climate change is real and poses a real threat to our future. We now have an abundance of scientific evidence that confirms that the main cause of global warming is the amount of greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. Around 97 per cent of climate scientists accept that. I understand that 192 countries who met in Copenhagen accept that. The European Union accepts that and it already has an ETS in place. From briefings I have had in recent days, India and China accept that and have already embarked on their own projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—in particular, carbon dioxide emissions. We have heard that the UK accepts it. It seems to me that the only places where there is still some debate going on about the science are the USA and Australia. That scepticism is abundantly clear when you listen to members of the opposition in this place. We have heard it from many of them not only in respect of this legislation; in recent days and certainly in the last couple of years they have still been questioning the science of global warming.

The reason that I refer to the science of global warming is that it is critical to these bills, and I will come back to that in a moment. There is no doubt that the climate is changing and, as I said, the evidence is overwhelming. As a result of global warming we are also seeing ice being lost from our ice caps and glaciers. Our oceans are warming and sea levels are rising. More greenhouse gases around the earth's atmosphere act like a blanket around the earth and trap in the earth's heat. We have seen, over the last 100 years, an almost-one degree Celsius increase in temperatures—and most of that has occurred in the last 50 years.

The last decade was the hottest on record. We know that oceans store most of the additional heat—something like 85 per cent of the additional heat generated is stored in the oceans. We know that oceans have risen by about 20 centimetres since the late-1800s and are expected, based on projections, to increase by something like half a metre to one metre by the end of the century. Some suggest that it could be even higher than that. We also know that as oceans warm up they also expand and they rise. And we also know that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more is absorbed by the oceans—and once you increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the oceans, you increase its acidity and therefore change the ocean ecology. For all of those reasons we need to act with respect to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

One of the additional matters of real concern—because the science on this is only just coming to light—is that there is about 1,000 billion tonnes of carbon stored in permafrost. So, as the icebergs and the glaciers melt, that carbon dioxide is also released into the atmosphere, compounding the problems associated with melting ice. We have seen in this country—and, for that matter, around the world—not only temperature rises but changes in rainfall patterns; we have seen floods, cyclones, droughts—droughts that in turn, I believe, led to bushfires.

Much of the net carbon dioxide emissions have originated primarily from deforestation around the world. Our challenge is to reduce carbon emissions. To reduce carbon emissions that have already been emitted into the atmosphere you can reduce your output but also by finding methods of taking that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and safely storing it in the soil, in plants and in trees.

To reduce the level of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere is not possible through any one single solution; it requires a multitude of different actions. It also requires a global response. And that is exactly what is happening around the world right now, including here in Australia, where we are seeing investment in renewable energy, we are seeing efforts being made to cut emissions; and these bills, which would appear to be the first of their kind in the world, I believe, will do a lot towards sequestering carbon in the atmosphere. This is an important measure, and it seems to me that some of the members opposite who have raised their concerns to it are doing so because of legitimate matters that were raised in the lead-up to the preparation of these bills.

There was a very long public consultation process in the lead-up to these bills being drafted. Subsequent to that, the bills were referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts and the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee. Those committees held simultaneous inquiries into these bills. Because the bills were referred to both committees at the same time, the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts tried not to overlap the work of the Senate committee. Nor have we seen the Senate committee's report.

But we have seen the report from the standing committee of this House. It was presented by me on Monday. That committee, which is comprised of members of both sides of the parliament, unanimously recommended that these bills be passed by the parliament. I should say, with respect to those recommendations, we held a day of public hearings and we also received 70-odd submissions with respect to these bills. Almost without exception, those people who made submissions to the committee broadly supported the intent of these bills as they currently stand. Yes, they raised some matters, which I hear are similar to the matters being raised by members opposite today; but, broadly, the bills were supported by those people who made submissions.

And the committee came to the conclusion that the bills ought to be supported because, whilst there were still some matters that needed further negotiation and consultation between the government and interested parties, that could and would be done in the establishment of the regulations. Matters relating to additionality, permanency, native title, the NRM plans, methodologies and perverse outcomes were all identified by the committee as matters that required further work. But none of them were serious enough to prevent or delay or defer the implementation of the measures in these bills by passing this legislation in this House. It is my view—and I believe the view of the committee, because it was a unanimous decision—that the sooner we get on with this legislation, the sooner will landowners be able to take advantage of the opportunities that these bills present to them, because reducing carbon dioxide does present landowners with opportunities.

The issues of additionality and permanency—and I note the previous speaker particularly referred to those—are ones that we know may need some additional work done. And, can I say, what is referred to as a 'positive and negative list' of which projects will be eligible and which will not is something that needs to be done. Sure, they might be contentious, but you have to start somewhere. And it does not matter where you start—there will always be someone who will argue that perhaps an additional project should have been included that was not, or one that was included should not have been in the list. What is interesting about this legislation is that, from my understanding, there is no legislation anywhere else in the world that is quite the same. It does, in fact, cover new ground. What is important is that there is also a commitment by the government that this legislation will be reviewed in 2014. At that review, if changes need to be made, of course they can and will be. The truth, however, is that legislation can be amended at any time by the government of the day. If, once the legislation is in place and some of those concerns that were raised prove to be founded, I have no doubt that the government of the day will do the right thing and bring in the necessary amendments. You will not know that until you have the legislation in place.

The question of permanency was also raised by many of the people who made submissions. You could argue that permanency should be 50, 75 or 100 years. I believe the figure of 100 years fits in with international standards. Be that as it may, the issue of the 100 years is not permanent because those people who have the carbon credit units can relinquish those credit units. They can buy them back and therefore relinquish them. Permanency in a sense is only for as long as anybody wants to make it. If they want to get out of the scheme they can do so. Simultaneously, you cannot have a scheme that allows people to be given credits for having sequestered carbon if there is not a degree of security about that carbon being stored. It simply does not make sense to be able to say: 'Well, I'm going to sequester carbon, but next year it won't matter and I'll just walk away from my commitment.' That does not provide the long-term benefits of storing the carbon that are being sought under these bills. The additionality question, as I said earlier, was also important in the minds of many of the people who made submissions. Again, if you are to get credits for what you are currently doing, that then defeats the whole purpose of this scheme. It has to be in addition to the current practices that are taking place.

One of the areas that I will comment on in respect of the submissions made to the committee is that of native title, and we had some very good submissions. I am aware of the concerns being raised by a number of parties in relation to native title and those concerns are quite legitimate. The department and the minister have advised that there are ongoing discussions on the issues of native title. I welcome those ongoing discussions and, for those reasons, I see no reason why these bills should be delayed or deferred. The methodologies, of course, will also be questioned. There is a process in place to ensure that the methodologies used in order to gain carbon credits are legitimate. I have no problems with the process being used. In respect to the National Farmers Federation—and other speakers have made this point—they also broadly welcome this legislation.

It seems to me that, whilst some concerns have been raised, there is no reason why we should not get on with this legislation. Whilst members opposite use the argument that the Senate committee has not reported back on this legislation, can I remind them that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts has reported back, and it was a unanimous decision by members of both sides of this House to support this legislation. I commend these bills to the House.