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Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Page: 3668


Mr WINDSOR (1:29 PM) —I congratulate the member for Riverina on her contribution, a lot of which I identify with and I am sure many other country members would as well. I know exactly the point that she was making about the political decision-making process and how from time to time it does not take an objective path; it takes a political path. I am well aware of that on a personal level, as the previous government often used a political agenda within my seat. I congratulate the member for Riverina on the way in which she represents her people.

Madam Deputy Speaker Saffin, I am pleased to see that you are in the chair because, if I could move outside the bounds of the Nation-building Funds Amendment Bill 2009 for a few seconds, I would like to congratulate you on the role that you recently played in relation to obtaining funding for a very worthy group called Youth Insearch. If we are talking about nation building, youth are particularly important in relation to any nation that is developed long term. As you are well aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Youth Insearch program works with troubled youth. As a magistrate friend of mine said one day: ‘These aren’t the captains of the schools that we are dealing with. These are the young people that I’ll be locking up next time.’ This particular program, out of all the programs that I have had any association with in my time in politics, is one that is incredibly effective. So I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your role in this. I know many members of parliament were arguing the cause of Youth Insearch and I would particularly like to thank the Prime Minister for his role in this as well. Our young people are critically important in any nation that we attempt to build.

The particular piece of legislation we are debating is about nation building. I was not here in the chamber to support him but I listened with interest to the member for Kennedy when he made his contribution, and a very good contribution I thought it was too. He went to the definition of what nation building is essentially about. Whilst it is very rare that I would disagree with the member for Kennedy—partly because of safety reasons!—there are a couple of things on which I would take issue with my Independent colleague. I am not so much arguing against what he was saying—I thought the points he was making were very valid; I am just not sure about the conclusion he arrived at in relation to the shifting of these funds from one bucket to another, from the education area into the clean energy area. I am not quite sure that the two things he was talking about, the need to nation build and his definition of nation building, actually rule out the potential for the transfer of this money to become a very important part of the future of this nation—and I am referring to clean energy.

The member for Kennedy made the valid point that government invested in the major sugar mills in Queensland many years ago, and I think he said that something like 40,000 people were employed because of that government investment. In his mind, that was nation building. He made the point—and a very valid one—that the Snowy Mountains Scheme was built as part of a nation-building scheme even though there were no major users of electricity in that particular area. He also made the point: ‘Build it and they will come.’ The energy they were producing was clean energy and still is clean energy and will go on forever if the maintenance is correctly done and if government does not sell it out to private enterprise, as the former government attempted to do. I would hope that this government would not go down that road, particularly when the issue was about maintenance of turbines rather than about any commercial advantage that could be obtained further down the track.

In relation to the sugar mills, the member for Kennedy mentioned, as I said, that the government built those sugar mills and now we have a viable sugar industry. Part of the reason we have a viable sugar industry in Australia now is because of clean energy. The Brazilians, the Argentineans and others in different parts of the world have moved into biofuels. So some of the competitor nations that were producing sugar at a much cheaper cost than we could produce it, and putting enormous pressure on the very important industry that the member for Kennedy spoke about, have shifted into the energy business from the sugar business, because there was a surplus in the world. That has removed some of the supply pressure on the global market and, as a consequence, our sugar industry is much more viable than it was even a few short years ago. I know there are some indirect allegations in relation to that, but there is no doubt in my mind that the development of the biofuels industry, a clean industry, has had a positive impact on the viability of other industries within this country.

The point I would make to the member for Kennedy, and to others, is that the development of clean energy will almost by definition have to be located in country areas. This could be a way of creating that nation building by creating new businesses in country areas. They may or may not be based on agriculture—in some cases they would be; in other cases they would not be—but most of them would have to be in country locations, so in some senses we may well be able to value add to some of the clean energy business alternatives that are out there. Obviously, solar energy is one for which governments in this country have done very little. Even though this is a start, I think we have to encourage the start and hope that this government is serious about promoting research and development on solar energy. Previous governments have not been; on this government, the jury is out. Wind and geothermal are mentioned in the budget, and this particular amendment bill refers to the transfer of money into those areas.

Second-generation biofuels are also mentioned in the budget documents. For those who do not know, that is the production of biofuels from cellulose, not from grain based biofuels, which some people in this House agree with and others do not. The second-generation research is into the enzymes that are used to break down the material in the fermentation process so that you end up with a clean, renewable fuel from plant waste. I would encourage the government to look very closely at the technology that is out there, particularly given our dependence on carbon based fuels.

Here again we have a mixed message, something the government is developing a format for, in a sense. For example, we originally had a message encouraging people to shift to solar energy in their homes, and then it became means tested. There have been a number of issues like that. I notice in the budget documents that, on the one hand—and that is what this bill is about—the government is encouraging research into second-generation biofuels because they are clean, they are renewable and they could create some future in terms of nation building, and not only the building of factories et cetera. Then, on the other hand, the budget papers mention that the taxation arrangements for fuels, particularly biofuels, will run out in 2011. So people doing this sort of research—and maybe Minister Albanese could comment on this in his reply—will be wondering: which is the message that we should be picking up? Should we be picking up on where this money is going to be invested, with the encouragement of research and the promotion of biofuels? In 2011, are biofuels going to be taxed the same as carbon based or fossil fuels? That is the question that really needs to be answered. Or is this a bit like the solar energy promise that only became a promise with the addition of means testing: ‘We’re encouraging it, but we don’t want much too much of it if it starts to cost us too much money’?

I think the government has to start to address these signals, because these mixed messages are out there, and if there are mixed messages in terms of environmental issues people do not move. We have seen it before. People got solar energy established and then, to their detriment, when they wanted to put excess power back into the grid, they were paid less than what they had to pay for the original power, so the incentive is not there. I am very much for promoting some of these alternative energies that the bill talks about, but the government has got to straighten out its message and work out what it is in fact encouraging. There are a number of clean energy initiatives that this bill will allow to be funded—and, as I said, I will be supporting this bill.

A number of speakers have spoken about what they believe nation building is about. With the minister in the House, I would like to congratulate him on a recent announcement within our greater region—and one last night, in terms of the $1.5 billion announcement of the F3 connection through to the New England Highway. That is not directly in my electorate, but the New England Highway crosses seven electorates, and that connection will be a benefit to all of them as well as a benefit to the nation. Cutting about half an hour off a trip from Armidale to Sydney will obviously have some impact on transport as well. So, in a very real sense, that is what nation building is about, in my view. Then there is the $1.2 billion package that the same minister, Minister Albanese, announced some time back. I think about $580 million went into that Hunter northern corridor: in terms of rail freight, the Ardglen tunnel got $280 million, I think, and there was another $280 million for associated loops and bypasses et cetera to concentrate the export effort on the Newcastle Port, and obviously a third coal loader and a whole range of other things happening there as well. That is something that was long overdue.

I know there are many members in this building who support the inland rail concept, as I do. You need to look at where the freight in the eastern part of Australia is. The Ernst & Young inquiry into the inland rail arrangements that took place a few years ago, under the former government, identified the potential market for freight. In Victoria, New South Wales and southern Queensland there have been 220 million tonnes of freight. It also identified that 110 million tonnes, or 50 per cent of the total freight load, was between Newcastle and Moree. That is why I believe that this development of the Ardglen tunnel—the Liverpool range, as they call it—is a very important addition in terms of nation building in my state and indeed on the eastern seaboard.

There are some collision points, in my view, when we are talking about a clean environment for the future, clean energy and clean food—and all of those debates are currently happening in this building. We have got the carbon debate, the emissions trading debate, the food security debate and the global emissions debate. We have got the economic debate and the carbon capture debate, which is trying to maintain an interest in fossil fuels while being able to sequester the carbon. We have got the methane and nitrous oxide debate, which impacts on agriculture. And we have got various announcements in terms of the research money going into those areas. But a particular collision point that is occurring in my electorate at the moment—and I mentioned it to the minister for resources yesterday by way of a question at question time—is the proposal to develop a coalmine on the Liverpool Plains, which is underpinned by magnificent and massive water resources as well as being part of some of the best land in the world, an alluvial floodplain.

The issues here blur the debate particularly if you start, as the government is, putting a carbon footprint over food or food production, and that may or may not become part of the emissions trading arrangements as time goes on. I would urge the infrastructure minister to really look at this particular issue on the Liverpool Plains. There again, we cannot keep running these mixed arguments and end up at the same destination. If we are serious about clean food and clean water we should not be allowing quite dangerous mining practices in an area where there is potential to do massive damage to the hydraulic nature of those groundwater systems and their interrelated connectivity issues with the river water system when—in the budget and in this very funding arrangement—we see time and time again reference to saving the Murray-Darling system.

The issue here is really about the different portfolios. I was pleased with the answer that the Minister for Resources gave to me yesterday. He actually crossed the boundary of defending his own portfolio area and moved—and I do not want to verbal him—to virtually saying that this was an issue that he and I and the Minister for the Environment should sit down and talk about, and I think that could well be productive.

The point I am making is that if we are serious about all of these issues we have got to start sending a clear signal so that the constituency can pick it up. I am encouraged by the words in the budget documents in terms of where this money that we are absconding with today is going to go. There are a lot of good words on solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels et cetera, and clean coal technology which just seem to be added into things these days. Whether it is feasible for the long term or not, let us have a look at it. But don’t encourage some and discourage others. Don’t let the interplay of big business and short-term politics interfere with the long-term agenda that these words in the budget documents actually put in place.

I think that there is no better example of that than this collision point between clean food and clean energy on the Liverpool Plains. If we are serious about going to second-generation biofuels, and the government in its own documents says it is, some of those areas not only have the capacity to produce clean, environmentally friendly food but also the capacity to produce clean, environmentally friendly fuel. But if you endanger those things through the practice of mining on these very sensitive lands you remove both options and you have a situation which could develop into a short-term economic gain for the nation and eventually a long-term loss for the nation and, potentially, a long-term loss for the globe.

I would urge the minister to take some of those comments on board. I personally thank him for his attendance in Tamworth last week. The people of Tamworth enjoyed his company and they particularly enjoyed his announcement of $5 million for a new indoor sports centre, which will provide a very important platform for the most important ingredient of our nation, our young people.