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Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Page: 5510

Mr WINDSOR (6:12 PM) —I rise to speak to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills and make the point at the start that I will be opposing it—but not because I am a climate sceptic. In fact I believe that the climatic conditions that man has caused are having an impact on the globe. Essentially, I oppose this legislation because of the five per cent that the government is aiming at here. I am fully aware that they suggest that if there are global resolutions they will escalate that to a higher level of 25 per cent, but I believe that to set up a market structure which will quite significantly change the economy in Australia with the only known target a five per cent reduction in emissions is nonsense and should not be done.

In fact, the five per cent emissions target could be achieved without going near a market mechanism at all. If the government is serious about these issues—and I think it is—it has to have a serious look at what the actual agenda is. It seems to me that both sides of the parliament at the moment are actually trying to find some time in this debate. Both sides, even though only one side will admit it, are trying to defer the real debate until a later date—that being the Copenhagen meetings that will take place and the American congress decision on its targets.

I think there is quite a convenient arrangement going on here. We have seen a reduction in speaking times, and other things have been happening between the two sides. The agenda is to shift it. From the government’s perspective it could be seen to have been forced by the coalition and possibly the Greens, who I am told will not support it. They may change their mind; they may negotiate, but I do not think they will support it at five per cent. So the government will have the capacity to say, ‘Well, we tried and it was shifted past Copenhagen because of the parliament.’ That will suit the government’s agenda long-term and I think the government probably should be a little more honest about where it is actually aiming, at this time.

But to bring into this parliament a target of five per cent and set up a market mechanism to achieve that is absolute nonsense when it can be achieved in many other ways. We have heard a number of suggestions from others in the parliament—biochar soil sequestration, vegetation, renewable energy sources, shifting behavioural patterns in terms of our homes and shifting some of the means of producing food to be more energy conscious. Those sorts of things are happening out there anyway. But they do not fall within a market mechanism. I think the government has made a mistake. Essentially it has developed a model of what it sees as the problem. There is a problem; I agree there is a problem. I am not a sceptic; in fact, I have a private member’s bill before the parliament—it has been here for many months—which calls for a 30 per cent reduction by 2020 and an 80 per cent reduction by 2050. It is called the Climate Protection Bill, not the climate change bill, and there are a number of other issues involved in the bill that work on the possibility that the globe will not solve the problem. What do we do if in fact the problem is not solved? In my view, we have to try to get the best out of the arrangement we are left with—and that in a sense is climate protection.

I will give the House an example of that. We are told by the climate scientists that run-off in the Murray-Darling system—of which the New England electorate is a significant part; the New England electorate has all the storages bar one in the Darling system so it is very significant in terms of the regulated streams flowing west—could reduce by up to 30 per cent due to climate change. When you try to get a climate scientist to actually tell you that, they will talk about trends, about it being hotter and drier and that there will be more evaporation, but up to 30 per cent is one of the numbers they will give you. I have heard people in the National Party say this is all rubbish, it is this and that and we should not go near it. If in fact the climate scientists are right and there is a 30 per cent reduction in run-off in that system, the impact on agriculture will be far greater than provided for by the possibilities of extra prices in terms of methane, nitrous oxide and carbon equivalents—far greater.

I cannot believe that people are not looking at the opportunities in these messages that are abounding on climate change. Only recently during Science Meets Parliament a scientist from Western Australia visited my office. Methane is going to be a problem. The farming community—I am a farmer—is apparently up in arms about how methane is going to wipe animal production off the map. One scientist in Western Australia has developed a legume—I am not a plant scientist—with tannins in the leaf. Being a legume, it partly cures your nitrous oxide problem and when animals eat this plant the methane levels in the gut are much lower. There are enormous opportunities in relation to a lot of these things.

There are soil science issues—and the government is spending some money on some of the soil science issues. The basics of agriculture have been left behind by all governments. The research has moved into other areas. The research has to come back because it left behind the various solutions to some of these problems. The minister has developed this model—and she is doing this on the advice of economists and others—that says, ‘This is the problem and the only way that you will fix it is by a market mechanism.’ I think that is the wrong approach. The market mechanism will be there at some time but we can shrink the extent of the problem before going to the market mechanism, and we have not done that at all. In fact, what we are saying in terms of soil science and the potential to sequester carbon in our soils is: ‘No, it wasn’t at Kyoto; no, it’s difficult to measure. We had better not put it in a market because it might not be there when we want to get it back out again; if there is a very dry period of time it could release at certain depths in the soil.’ All those things may or may not be quite true but why put soil science in a market? We should be using it to, potentially, solve some of these problems.

Another problem to be solved—whether climate change occurs or not—is the everlasting issue of drought in this country. ‘Climate change’ is the term of the month at the moment; ‘salinity’ was the term six years ago and it has disappeared from the dictionary. ‘Climate change’ is the term of the moment and we have to take advantage of that and put in place some of the technological practices in agriculture particularly that can be part of the solution not only for carbon emission equivalents but also for drought.

The government is in an interesting position at the moment, because it is going to be announcing a new drought policy. I recommend that we do not look at this in the simplistic terms of, ‘If it will not fit in a market, you do not go near it.’ We really do need to go near some of these other things, to do more research and to encourage innovators et cetera irrespective of whether they fit within a cap-and-trade market mechanism. I think there are enormous opportunities. I am pleased that the Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Northern Australia is here, because this is an easy issue around which to create fear. We see our good friend the next candidate for the New England electorate, Barnaby Joyce, wandering about every day of the week creating fear on this issue. I repeat my question: if there is a 30 per cent reduction in the Murray-Darling system, what sort of fear will that create? It will destroy agriculture in that system. Some will say: ‘It will never happen. They’re only scientists. Don’t believe them. Just ignore it. We won’t be here when it does happen.’ That is a fairly short-sighted view.

As a member of parliament—and this may not be the popular view in my electorate—I would rather take some advice from the climate scientists and attempt to do something about it. If we find in 50 years time that it was overkill, we can say, ‘At least it didn’t get worse.’ But if we do nothing and there is a 30 per cent reduction in the Murray-Darling system, we will have done an extraordinary disservice to one of the biggest food bowls of this nation. People are just walking away and using the politics of this as an excuse to lash out at the government. I think the government is doing the same thing in its relationship with the mining industry. Garnaut designed something and it has been butchered like Alby Schultz on a good day.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr PD Secker)—Order! Members will refer to other members by their proper title.

Mr WINDSOR —I mean the member for Hume on a good day. I do apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Neumann —He’s an old meatworker.

Mr WINDSOR —He is an old meatworker—and he is not that old. The Garnaut report came out with a whole range of recommendations. There have been shifts and breezes blowing. Now we have a five per cent, nonsensical target. It will mean nothing. The Leader of the Opposition is quite right: it means nothing. That is why he is creeping towards it. Their argument is to shift the five per cent target to the other side of Copenhagen and then make a decision. Given that the government is aiming at a five per cent target, I do not disagree with the opposition’s argument. I think we would be better off to defer making a very important economic decision on this until we can get the politics right because, at the moment, this five per cent arrangement is a sheer nonsense.

As I said earlier, there is soil science in terms of biochar. I am not a soil scientist, but I think we should be putting a lot of research into that. Soil sequestration is another issue. An issue we have not addressed and that is very significant in relation to agriculture in my view is the question of what will happen if agriculture does come in. We are still asking agriculture to supply food to other parts of the world because we oversupply this nation—we oversupply by 80 per cent. Because of our geography in the world, we are a long way away from the people who want our food in many cases. What will happen when a carbon footprint—and the member for Parkes would be well aware of this, as this is in his electorate—is placed on a farmer from Walgett, for instance? There will be the carbon footprint caused by getting the grain from Walgett to the port and from the port to the Middle East. Then we will exchange that money for energy and there will be another boatload of carbon coming back. You cannot get a train to Walgett anymore so the fuel will be carted back to Walgett by trucks so that the farmer can go around and around in circles again to produce food to send over there to exchange for energy. What will that mean in this system? How will that fit in? Who will pay for that?

The very article that they will have transported is starch. Part of the make-up of grain is starch. Starch is carbon. So we will have exported a boatload of carbon. We will have done that for two reasons. We are oversupplied in this nation; we need to export. And we need energy from somewhere else because we are undersupplied in energy. Surely a nation of this magnitude can look at those two things together and look at the options in renewable fuels. I know some people will think, ‘Oh, here he goes with ethanol again.’ I noticed that even in the budget there is money for research into cellulosic ethanol. The minister for energy is almost frightened of talking about grain based ethanol—‘Oh, no, we’ve got to use our grain to grow food so we can send it over there to buy energy to bring it back again’—but he does not go into how this cap-and-trade system will impact in 2015 if agriculture comes in. There is no mention of that. He does not really embrace some of the renewable energy resources that are out there. There are opportunities in solar, wind, geothermal et cetera.

Mr Deputy Speaker Secker, you are a farmer. You would be well aware of this. You are an excellent farmer, I am told. There is going to be an argument in a carbon economy about food versus fuel, about profitability and sustainability. There are a number of collision points in these arguments. What if it is more profitable for that farmer at Walgett to grow switch grass, for instance? That is the original prairie grass in America. It is very deep rooted. It does not require a lot of nitrogen, so the nitrous oxide issue is not there. It can sequester carbon at depth in the soil. There is no disturbance of the soil, so there are other impacts and upper level soil carbon issues. There are a whole range of nutrient issues and water infiltration issues.

What if that crop, which is not a food crop, is harvested and converted into cellulosic ethanols? There is funding in the budget for research into that very thing. The land—the minister and others would argue against it at the moment—that should be used for food production, even though it will have a higher carbon footprint, will be then used for fuel production. Are we going to develop land-use policies in this building for this nation that then say to the farming community: ‘No, you can’t grow that, you’ve got to grow food because people are starving to death. And, yes, they can’t pay you anything for it, but that doesn’t matter. You’re an exporter, remember, and you’ve got to grow this product to send to them.’ We have got an extraordinary example in the Sudan. It could produce 600 per cent more food than we can if it used that same Walgett technology, which the member for Parkes would be very familiar with. The Sudan could produce enough food for Africa. So we have got this nonsense that we are going to have to carry on this long way away food producing, food security stuff, when we are doing nothing at all to help or encourage people in some of those areas where they have much more arable land of equal status.

I raise that issue because I think it is important on a number of levels. If we develop a market mechanism now and then bring agriculture in at a later date, no-one has talked about the issues of how that would work and how it would relate to the options that agriculture may have. In that fairly simple example, the option of using land to grow fuel is much better in terms of the carbon-accounting processes than using land to grow food, which is a negative in terms of carbon accounting. And we have this absolute nonsense where animals, for instance, that are used for food in this world are being considered for taxation. I just cannot believe or comprehend that anybody would even suggest that we take a key protein source off the map by way of taxation. But, if we go down that road, that is exactly where some of these things are going to come from. Some would say, ‘No, if they go to cellulosic ethanol, for instance, we’ll use taxation policy to stop that.’ Are we seriously going to use taxation policy to stop carbon sequestration at depth, to stop soil erosion, to get organic matter going in our soils? (Time expired)