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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11646


Dr STONE (12:43 PM) —I rise to also speak on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and related legislation. Let me say that as a rural and regional member you can understand how deeply concerned regional and rural Australians are that we agree to a scheme which does not destroy the opportunity for future generations of food producers and fibre producers to be competitive and which, on the other hand, gives them a sustainable future in terms of climate management, soil fertility and protection, biodiversity protection and so on. We have to come up with a solution that is win-win for this country and at the same time contributes to a better global outcome.

I personally have no doubt that we are in times of extraordinary climatic variation. In the state of Victoria we have very bad fires. We have had them before, a century or so ago, and there were times when we saw the Dandenongs and Gippsland burn. In the last 12 to 18 months we saw vast areas of our forests burn and we are looking at a potential burning of the Dandenongs this summer. Mercifully, they were saved last year. We look at the potential of that with great horror and expectation of great devastation.

What I am most concerned about, as a rural and regional member, is that agriculture and food processing are not rendered noncompetitive through the unfortunate extra impost of costs—that there will be no capacity for these two great industries to compete in the future with their competitive international opposition from places like the EU and the USA and from places that are even closer, such as New Zealand. We must have a complementary set of conditions that will help improve the capacity of agriculture to survive intergenerationally but will not render our own sector even less able to compete because costs are imposed upon them, with no capacity for them to do their best through, for example, offsets in the future.

I am pleased to hear where some of the current negotiations are going and that the government now recognises that agriculture was going to be devastated and beggared through its CPRS program. It is absolutely almost beyond belief that agriculture should have been put on the shelf in the way it was by the Labor government. But that comes as no surprise because we have seen agriculture hit for six by water policy failures and the complete absence of any future for the exceptional circumstances program when we have vast numbers of people in irrigated agriculture still dependent on exceptional circumstances to get through their seventh year of drought. They are being told to sit and wait, and perhaps they will have a new program to do with climate change coming through. Meanwhile, they have no means of support, whether to put food on their table or to pay their debts, while they wait for some sense of future security.

We are concerned that this government does not understand the realities of what it was proposing, which in fact would not have produced a better environmental outcome and would not have changed the planet in ways which we were told must be the case, given that it was a Labor Party putting up the CPRS. We were very suspicious, and we remain so, that the business of Copenhagen was used as a device simply to bully and pressure much of the Australian public to think that there was a time frame here that was important and significant. We are now told that nothing much will come out of Copenhagen, given that other countries have also pulled back on all but a political decision to say, ‘Yes, this is a problem,’ with the detail to come down the track.

I hope that this government listens very carefully to the amendments proposed by the coalition. They are amendments based on the fact that we represent small business and large business. We the coalition represent those who generate the employment and wealth of this nation. We represent the men and women who are actually the custodians of the environmental services of this nation. These are the people who risk their own hard effort and family capital to try to make sure that environmental biodiversity, water quality and so on are protected for generations. These are the people whom the coalition represent, and we know from them that what was being proposed by the Labor government would have done nothing more than export jobs and carbon emissions and create extraordinary additional costs in the very near and long term in this country. So we are very hopeful that, while negotiations continue, there will be a series of improvements to this legislation. We will then look very hard at it, and let us hope we can march forward, hand in hand, to a win-win scenario for a better future for Australia and the planet.

Debate (on motion by Dr Emerson) adjourned.