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Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Page: 5528


Mr COULTON (7:35 PM) —I believe this is the most important piece of legislation that parliament has ever had to consider. I have been listening to the debate last night and today on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and cognate bills, and I am somewhat disappointed in the simplistic terms in which we are debating such an important issue.

I believe that this legislation has been presented in such a form that it was designed to be defeated so that going to the next election we can have a campaign based on climate change. That distresses me. This legislation has the potential, if it is passed in its current form, to make the global economic crisis look like a walk in the park. It is damaging and ill conceived and has been brought into this place with undue haste. Quite frankly, I have taken quite a deal of offence at the comments that have been made to the effect that anyone who dares question this legislation is a climate change denier or a sceptic. The member for Lyne talked about self-interest. I will put my hand up for self-interest, because this legislation as it stands will have a higher detrimental effect in regional Australia than elsewhere. As I am here to represent the people of my electorate, that is my self-interest.

We are dealing with things that may or may not happen. I heard the member for Isaacs, the opening batsman for the government on this, talk about sea levels rising and whole suburbs of Melbourne disappearing. That may or may not happen with climate change. But this debate is not about climate change; it is about this Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. And while many of the points that have been raised may or may not happen, I can tell you one thing that will happen for sure: the day this scheme is enacted, the cement plant in Kandos in my electorate will close. This is a plant that has been there for 100 years. There will be no recognition of the generations of people who have worked there or the fact that the whole culture of the town is based around that cement plant at Kandos, and the lime plant further down the road at Charbon, or the fact that the community of Kandos are great supporters of the Labor Party and have been great supporters of their union. At a time when they are most looking for some sort of help, they are being cut free. It has been said to me, ‘For the sake of expediency, you should pass this and then let the government deal with it.’ I cannot pass something, regardless of where it positions the coalition at the next election, if it is going to damage my community. Not only that but I would have to explain to the people of Kandos why I did not support them and explain to the coalminers in Gulgong, Mudgee, Gunnedah, Boggabri and Narrabri why I did not go in to bat for them and the communities that they represent.

Not only does it affect the mining community; farmers are also being left out of the loop. I was a farmer for all of my life until I came to this place. I come to this place with practical experience and knowledge of the environment. I do not come here reading speeches that have been prepared by others to toe a certain line. What concerns me is that the farmers of my electorate—like the people of Kandos who are now producing cement much more efficiently with much lower emissions than they were 20 years ago—are producing more food with fewer inputs of fuel and water, and are storing more carbon in their soil than ever before. The great work that they have been doing over decades is not taken into account in this. Indeed, if the carbon that was stored in the soil in my electorate alone—in the black soil plains where at the moment they are planting their wheat crops, because of the way they manage their soil through no-till farming—was taken into account, our balance sheet would look much better. The idea that we should support a scheme and then the detail will be fixed up later is the second oldest lie in history—that is, ‘If you sleep with me tonight on carbon, I’ll love you in the morning.’ They expect the Australian people to have the same amount of trust for that as they expect support and votes for a concept that is very thin on the ground.

We have an accurate measurement of our emissions, but we do not seem to be, as a country, taking into account our positives, our sequestration. As I said, the amount of carbon stored in soil is huge. In an effort to get a better understanding of what was available, I visited a group in the Atherton Tableland about six weeks ago. They are scientifically measuring wood lots that they have planted along waterways and fence lines in that high rainfall area of the Atherton Tableland. They know exactly how much carbon they are sequestering in farm forestry without impacting on the productivity of their farms. We are not taking any of that into account. While I was in North Queensland, I went to James Cook University and I visited Professor Rocky de Nys. Professor de Nys is working on algae and the ability that it has to sequester carbon. Algae grows by 20 per cent a day, so every five days it doubles its mass. At the moment there are plans to co-locate an algae plant with the Loy Yang power station in the Latrobe Valley in Gippsland. That is something that is innovative, that we should be looking at. The algae can be processed for biofuels, for other oil uses. The dry matter can be a high-protein feed or can even be fed back through to the power station. We should be looking at innovative ways; we should be backing Australian innovation to overcome this problem. Government legislation and bureaucracy will not fix a problem as complicated as this.

The other question I would like to ask is: how are our Australian manufacturing companies going to adapt to a low-emissions future if they are being severely impacted financially? If they have to pay 10, 20, 30 per cent tax on top of what they are paying at the moment, how are they going to have the scope or ability to adapt to a changing emissions scheme? The other thing is: if we are taxing energy to change our behaviour, how are we going to explain to our elderly in aged-care homes next summer or the summer after that they have to turn the air conditioning off? At the moment we do not have an alternative. We are taxing energy and we do not have an alternative. We are going to create two Australias. We are going to create an Australia of affluence that will just pay the tax and go on regardless—I do not know anyone in the eastern suburbs of Sydney that will change their lifestyle—while the people of rural Australia, our elderly, our disadvantaged, the ones who cannot pass this tax on, are going to be severely disadvantaged.

With respect to my colleagues who are following, I would leave with this thought: we do not need to rush into this. We do not need to have a moral fight across this House on this. This is far too important. I would ask this House and the government to back Australia, back its innovation, back its resourcefulness and let Australia solve this problem in a positive way rather than using the bureaucratic sledgehammer.