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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11226

Mr WINDSOR (1:14 PM) —I am pleased to be here today before such a large gallery to make this contribution to a very important debate. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and cognate bills, which we are addressing here today, is a very significant challenge, and I think we are all very much aware of that. I was interested to hear the member for Macquarie comment about agriculture in his concluding remarks. Part of what he was saying—and I do not disagree with the content of what he was saying—was that one of the difficulties in terms of agriculture and this debate is that the bills make no allowance for agriculture. The bills suggest that a decision will be made at a later date but, as the member for Macquarie highlighted, there are a number of things out there that could be very interesting and could be part of the solution to the problem.

The farm sector has an issue with that sort of process. They are being asked to engage in a process, which is essentially about heavy emitters, with the commitment that at some time in the future soil sequestration and other issues such as vegetation et cetera might be included in some sort of credit system that has not yet been devised. Everybody keeps saying that everybody wants some certainty in relation to this but the agricultural sector has no certainty at all. It has just been pushed off to the side: ‘The decision will be made later. Support this because it’s good in principle and we’ll look after you because we’ll be negotiating in good faith with the opposition at some future date.’ I do not think that is good enough and I will be moving an amendment, which I will speak a little bit about later.

I believe that there is human induced climate change. I believe it is something that we should do something about. I am not one of the sceptics. I do not have absolute scientific proof that what I believe is right. I take a fairly simple view of the scientific evidence that is out there. If the climate scientists are right the electorate of New England will be severely affected. The Murray-Darling system will be severely affected and our capacity to produce food will be severely affected. So when people say that the CPRS will have a great impact on agriculture, I think they should go a little bit further than that and look at what the impact will be on food production, on jobs and on the Murray-Darling system if the climate scientists are correct.

So my fairly simplistic view of this is in terms of risk assessment, because I think we will all be dead by the time that we know whether the climate scientists were actually right or wrong. If the risk is assessed as being a problem we should do something about, I would rather be arguing on that side of the debate and actually trying to do something about it so that people did not look back in 100 years time and say, ‘They were given evidence but did nothing.’

That is not to suggest that I will support this particular piece of legislation. I think there has to be some fairly substantial amendment to this legislation. I think there is great confusion out there—quite deliberately perpetrated by some in the political arena—which indicates that if you do not support CPRS you are a climate sceptic. I am not, and I think people would have some knowledge of the private member’s bill that I introduced into this House prior to the CPRS, which looked at climate protection. It looked not only at the emissions debate—the carbon, nitrous oxide and methane emissions debate—but also at many of the other impacts that could be ameliorated through measures outside a market mechanism, which this legislation is essentially about. It is imposing a market mechanism on a problem. It has ruled out some sectors of the community—agriculture being one of those—because there are issues there: it does not have to come in yet; the measurement of carbon in various soils is difficult; and what we should do about methane, which is a natural process of ruminants. So it is convenient to say that it does not quite fit in a market mechanism, and it is not accepted by Kyoto anyway, so we will just push it to one side, but hopefully everything will work out well into the future.

The five per cent target that this legislation aims for is a nonsense. It does nothing about the issue. It puts in place an economic structure which will achieve not much more than people stopping cleaning their shoes, in terms of saving emissions. This will rearrange an economy—and people have stood up and said that this is quite a dramatic attempt at leadership at a government level to address this issue—but then when you look at the detail you find that the target is five per cent.

I do not think the Leader of the Opposition even mentioned the five per cent this morning. He is aiding and abetting this process with a whole range of amendments, but still the five per cent is sitting there. I know that if Copenhagen goes well there are possibilities of increasing that five per cent to some other level but the legislation essentially rearranges the economy with a five per cent target in mind. I find that almost offensive.

I was in Europe recently on a study tour. I was looking at the various components of climate change and the way in which various countries are addressing it. It made Australia look ridiculous. There was enthusiasm expressed in a number of countries about renewable energy—geothermal, wind, water and solar. There is scientific work being done on renewable fuels and on molecular cell breakdown in wheat and barley stubbles, for instance, that could be used in biofuels. There is work being done in relation to carbon capture and storage issues. One geothermal plant that I visited was producing electricity from water that had not boiled—98 degree water producing electricity—because the scientific work that they had done in terms of adding salts achieved that same effect as pressurised steam.

We are doing nothing. We have some poor fellow out in the middle of South Australia whom we have given $5 million and a tent to and we have wished him well. We are doing nothing. The messages coming from government policy in terms of renewable energy are dreadful. The messages from the previous government were pathetic. We are not serious about this issue and a five per cent target shows how serious we really are.

While I was in Copenhagen—I had a series of meetings—I heard that apparently 10,000 bedrooms were cancelled for next month’s meeting. Copenhagen will fail. There will be words, and they will be like Doha Round trade words—words that get you to another year, another two years, another decade or another 20 years. The word on the street was that the globe, particularly the Americans, the Chinese and the Indians, is not interested. And here we are with our five per cent. We are really interested in doing something about it!

The Leader of the Opposition has fallen quite neatly into the trap set by the Prime Minister, as he tends to do from time to time, by coming in with a range of amendments. I personally agree with some of them, but he has not got to the root cause of the issue at all, which is: are we going to do something about climate change or not? The rush by the government to have some sort of political document come out of the building before Copenhagen is also ridiculous. When the debate was on in June, I could understand that there would be time to build some sort of argument and structure with an improvement on the five per cent. But a month out from Copenhagen, it is quite ridiculous to suggest that we need to rush this through now to show leadership at Copenhagen, particularly when those who are much more involved than I am are suggesting that it will fail anyway.

What if we pass this legislation with this minuscule target and there is failure at Copenhagen? Do we end up with an economic structure, a new market mechanism, based on five per cent that becomes part of our economy for the future? I think we are better to wait until after Copenhagen before we put in place some overarching strategy based on a five per cent target with potentially no agreement from others in the world. That does not mean that you cannot go there with the good of the globe at heart. I think in a lot of ways it would be just common sense.

I will be introducing an amendment that looks particularly at food. Unless food is ruled out of the global emissions trading debate now, it has the capacity to derail anything the globe may do in the future about emissions. I would just like to elaborate on that if I could. If the globe, theoretically at least, embraces an emissions trading scheme and food is included—notice I am saying food, not necessarily agriculture—in that market mechanism, we will potentially end up with three markets. We are trying to solve this problem with a market mechanism. We have got the carbon market, we have got the energy market and we have got the traditional food market. In a global carbon market the competition for land that we traditionally grow food on will either drive people out of food production or drive the price of food up because of the competitive aspects of these two other economies

Even these bills, and the amendments that the government itself brought in back in June after the bill had been circulated in the community for quite some time, incentivise a shift in land use from food to agroforestry, to trees, for carbon purposes. It seems as though the carbon economy may take some degree of precedence over the food economy. Land that was used to grow food may well shift towards agroforestry for the carbon market. Land that was traditionally used to grow food, in a carbon economy, may well shift into biofuels. There has been great argument about this. We have seen that one of the drivers of this shift was what George Bush did with ethanol policy and the Brazilians did in relation to sugar to ethanol by taking the incentives for food production out and substituting them with incentives for the production of a renewable energy source.

Renewable energy might start to tick some boxes in the carbon economy but cross some boxes in the food economy. We are talking market mechanisms here so we cannot suddenly come in with some sort of, ‘Oh yes, we want a market mechanism to solve all these problems but, by the way, we are going to put a regulatory framework over you,’ so that the farmer can never make any money out of this because he has got to grow food because he has always done that. There are some real complications in that.

If you transpose even this document to a global CPRS where you incentivise land use shift away from food into other market areas, you could see some quite dramatic shifts. There is going to be a collision of these three economies in relation to land use. If people are serious about wanting a global emissions trading scheme that actually does something, they have got to exempt food now. If you are worried about refugees in this world and if you are worried about people who cannot feed themselves leaving their nation’s soils then you cannot apply a market mechanism to those three areas of carbon, energy and food and expect food to come anywhere else but third. It is a significant issue.

I am a farmer and, under this sort of an arrangement, as soon as lignocellulosic ethanol comes out it will go straight to energy because what we do in this land is grow wheat. We grow too much wheat so we have to sell it somewhere. We get it to port, which has a carbon footprint; we put it on a boat to go to the Middle East, which also has a carbon footprint; the starch in the grain is carbon and so that has another footprint. It is all negative, negative, negative in the carbon world.

We cash in the grain with a little bit of help from Arabs and ex Wheat Board people and then go and buy some energy, some oil, down the road and then put that on another boat and bring it all the way back. That is another carbon footprint. Why wouldn’t the wheat grower, when all those negatives are going to be perpetrated against him, move out of that and move into something like prairie grass? It is a deep-rooted plant that is planted once and harvested annually. It has a lower carbon footprint, is a renewable fuel and has less nitrous oxide—tick, tick, tick. The poor old wheat grower had to pour nitrogen in to get protein into the grain so that he could achieve a premium in the marketplace. Why would you do that? All he is doing that for is to produce money to buy energy so that he can go around in circles again.

There are a number of market signals that the farming sector will pick up on with this. I have mentioned the renewable energy one. There is also the carbon issue of planting trees, agroforestry, and those sorts of things. What are our scientific bodies doing? Nothing. I questioned the CSIRO the other day. They could produce only one example of the potential for land-use shift under different carbon prices—only one example—but it is being peer reviewed. Yet here we are making major decisions. There was an example in South Australia of a sheep/wheat farm where, at $20 a tonne for carbon, they would move out of sheep/wheat into trees.

We have to do more work on this and I think the globe has to really consider what we mean when we say we are going to include agriculture in an emissions trading scheme. That does not mean there is not a whole range of ways in which we can reduce emissions. The farm sector can play a valuable role such as in biochar that the Leader of the Opposition has mentioned. We need more science done on soil sequestration. We have done very, very little in terms of the science relating to soil carbon. A lot of the new farming technologies, conservation tillage et cetera, are moving forward in terms of not only carbon units and organic matter but also reducing the need for other resources including fertiliser in some cases. So there are a number of aspects out there where the farm sector can really make a positive contribution.

The final message is that this is not just about creating a new economy. It is not just about applying a market mechanism to an issue. That might be part of the resolution to this issue—and five per cent in my view is a pathetic part. We have to look a lot broader at this and to what can happen. We need to start doing some more work with geothermal energy, solar energy, wind energy and wave energy. These things may be uneconomic at the moment but, if you get price shifts in other economies, there may well be a basis for progress to be made. In conclusion, unless there are significant changes to this particular piece of legislation, I will be doing exactly as I did back in June and will be opposing the bill.