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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6238

Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (8:30 PM) —I want to thank the shadow minister for his question, and the members for Leichhardt and Lyons for their questions. With respect to the member for Leichhardt and the member for Lyons, can you please be a bit patient because I want to deal with that last question from the shadow minister first. Given that I have never in my life stood in the parliament and been asked a question by the Leader of the Opposition, I can only guess that the question to which he was referring was a question which was about the Leader of the Opposition rather than one being asked by him. But should the tactics committee of the opposition decide that it becomes the role of the Leader of the Opposition to ask questions of me, I will be happy to answer them. I do not seem to get too many from the shadow minister. So, if the Leader of the Opposition wants to have a go, that would be tremendous.

Certainly any of the projections and any of the concepts of land-use change go not only to examples such as those on some grazing land where along the boundaries of pastures there can be limited strategic tree plantings but also to changes in land use in terms of what can be done with the quality of permanent pasture. Some of these issues go to where we end up post Copenhagen as well in terms of the Australian negotiating strategy of being able to separate emissions which are caused by human intervention from emissions which are caused by natural causes. If we are successful in that, it becomes far easier to come up with efficient methods of being allowed to give farmers full credit for the carbon that they sequester in the soil. So there are a few questions that come off the back of that—but which are of themselves examples of land use and land-use change.

I will give a really simple example of a farm that I visited in the electorate of Corangamite about two months ago when the member for Corangamite took me out there. They have done some limited farm forestry on that farm. They have reorganised their paddocks, put farm forestry down the boundaries and provided increased shading for their stock. In doing so they have taken up a reasonable percentage of their land but with no reduction in their stock numbers at all. If done strategically and if done the right way, there is significant potential to get the right match of being able to improve the carbon sequestration in the soil through limited farm forestry while simply making your pastures more productive than ever. It is better for the stock because the stock are then able to access shade in ways that they were not otherwise able to previously, and stock numbers do not necessarily have to decrease at all. That sort of thing on the margins of grazing land is something that can be done—where you marry an improvement in productivity of the land that remains as pasture with farm forestry strategically placed around those boundaries. Those sorts of outcomes are significant land-use changes but land-use changes that result in significant improvements in productivity.

There is an alternative path, of course, and the alternative path is to rip out sugar cane from land and whack some trees onto it. That is not the government’s approach—although from time to time there have been some members of the opposition who appeared to have thought that having a scheme where everyone is a winner but there is just less to eat is a more favourable option than what our perspective would be. That sort of land-use change is not one that we, at any point, have contemplated. There is a great story to tell in response to the issues raised by the member for Leichhardt about Reef Rescue. Reef Rescue is now at a point where we are getting significant involvement—there is a figure in the many hundreds of farmers along the north coast of Queensland in the areas adjacent to and flowing onto the Great Barrier Reef. Farmers and farm organisations, whether they be in cattle or in sugar cane in particular, have become very much involved in the Reef Rescue program under Caring for our Country. Once again they are doing the right thing by the environment and improving their productivity on the way through. It is those sorts of outcomes that we are trying to drive through Caring for our Country.

In the limited time left to answer the question asked by the member for Lyons, I would say in terms of research and development programs in particular that we are now into the next year of the Climate Change Research Program. I am talking about some $46.2 million. We have a situation now where for this year’s budget our R&D total spend remains higher than the total spend in terms of administered expenses of the last budget of the previous government.

Proposed expenditure—$565,856,000—agreed to.

Debate (on motion by Mr Dreyfus) adjourned.