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Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Page: 1062

Mr WINDSOR (7:11 PM) —I am pleased to follow the member for Brand in this debate on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010 and related bills. He made some interesting comments, and I notice with some degree of interest that he also chaired a task force looking at Northern Australia and the potential for agriculture. Obviously, some of the activities in the north of Australia, particularly some of the burning regimes et cetera, have a role to play in carbon emissions.

Whilst the member for Brand is in the chamber I will briefly comment that like a lot of people from the south who have spent time in the north of Australia, I just cannot believe that a task force with reputable people on it could come up with a fairly simplistic view of the capacity and capability of Northern Australia. The member for Brand is a member of a government which believes that climate change is occurring. I do too—I do not disbelieve that. I think humans have had some impact. There will be argument about that impact, and all of us in this place will be dead before we know what it was. Personally, I operate on the precautionary principle; if there is an issue out there, and if the climate scientists are right, then we should be doing something about it. Having said that, I will talk about whether I am supporting the legislation or not a little bit later.

In terms of the Northern Australian debate, this is what we are told by the climate scientists—and the government’s view is to believe those scientists. Some members may well remember that I introduced what was called a Climate Protection Bill into the parliament—probably 15 or 18 months ago now—which was ridiculed to a certain degree. But part of that legislative package was recognising what the climate scientists were saying in relation to Northern Australia. They were suggesting that the Murray-Darling system, because of climate change, was going to suffer and that there would be up to 30 per cent less water available in the Murray-Darling system—obviously no-one can be too prescriptive. The government’s CPRS arrangements are based on some of these criteria about the way in which weather will change within Australia, not only in a negative sense, as in the Murray-Darling—that is the system I live within—but also in a positive sense: some areas will actually get more rain.

Northern Australia—or part of Northern Australia—is recognised by the climate scientists as being one of those areas that will actually receive more rain because of the increased levels of greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. So we have a situation where, if we believe in the logic, human induced greenhouse gas will create a distorted rainfall pattern in the north of Australia. I suggested in the Climate Protection Bill that, if we were really concerned about what human beings were doing to some of our catchments, we should have a serious look at the engineering of moving some of the human induced additional rainfall in the north of Australia. I am not suggesting piping water from the Kimberley to Sydney; I am referring to parts of Queensland. We should look at the percentage by which the climate scientists are saying that the rainfall will be unnatural because of human induced carbon effects and redistribute that water into the area—the Murray-Darling system—where climate scientists are saying that, because of human induced carbon effects, there will be a reduction in rainfall.

No-one is suggesting that Queensland or New South Wales is causing this; this is a global problem. But we have seen in Copenhagen that human nature is starting to come into this problem and the politics of fixing the problem. We have seen this dreadful example in our own parliament, where the politics of the short term has overtaken any real objective look at what the possibilities are if a tipping point actually does exist and we do start a process that leads to irreversible climate change. The global politics seems to me to be suggesting that human nature—human beings and their short-term attitude to life—will mean that we possibly will not do anything about the problem. If that is the case, we have to have a serious look at what is happening in Northern Australia.

The task force came up with a recommendation that says that Northern Australia, even though it has a lot of water, is limited in water, and the very same people on that task force—or some of them—are suggesting that because of climate change Northern Australia’s rainfall is going to increase. If the globe does nothing, there are a number of things that we should possibly do to protect our people and our climate. One of them may well be redistributing the carbon induced weather pattern changes by way of transferring water. Another one may well be to look seriously at the productive capacity, particularly if we do have a food security problem in the world—I have some issues with that, but the government and the opposition say we do. If we believe that, we or the globe may well need the productive sector in the north of Australia where there is a lot of water and where there is going to be more if we do not do anything about climate change. If the climate scientists are correct, we should be looking at the productive capacity far more seriously than that task force did.

Anybody that has travelled in parts of North Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia would recognise that the arable parts of some of those areas are enormous. I have not got the acreages or the hectares in front of me at the moment, but for the report to identify that there is marginal capacity to increase crop production! People might have issues with crop production, damming rivers, irrigation and those sorts of things, and they are valid issues, but to come out with a report that really does not look terribly much at the capability!

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, in answer to a question from the member for Kennedy today, talked about the potential increase in the beef industry, as if people are going to rush into that. If anybody looked at the pricing structures within the beef industry and within food generally in First World economies, there is no money in growing food. There is money in the food business—a lot of money—but there is no money in growing food. Many other members in this parliament would be fully aware that the margins in beef production are nominal. To suggest suddenly, ‘Oh, there’s more capacity out there; it’ll all happen,’ to me really creates a nonsense.

So I suggest to the parliamentary secretary that they revisit some of this report, because it really is quite damaging. If we do increase our population over the years, or the globe does, and we do nothing about climate change—there are pressures in Indonesia and parts of Asia in terms of population—we have not seen anything yet in terms of the boat people issue in relation to people wanting to get to a better land. If those meagre acreages mentioned by that task force are all that can be developed by Australians, who knows? In 100 or 200 years, other countries might be utilising that highly productive capacity that is there.

To get to the substance of the bill, I will not be supporting it. I have not supported it in the past. I am not a climate sceptic; I believe that humans are having an impact and that the globe should do something about it. We have two policies. We have the emissions trading scheme that the Rudd government has put up, which has some technical issues in my view. We now have another one, which is called the ‘direct action policy’, from the coalition. They both have the same objective; they both say they will reduce emissions by five per cent. Both of them have some positives and both of them have some negatives, but the real issue to me is the five per cent, and that is why I will not be supporting this legislation. I think that to rearrange the economy with a target level that is so low that a number of other things could achieve that outcome, particularly given the outcome of Copenhagen, says to me that the government is not really serious about this issue.

Part of the basis for my saying that is the way in which the government treated Malcolm Turnbull during the period of negotiation that went on. I pay credit to the member for Wentworth. I have had some issues with Malcolm in the past over water et cetera, but I pay credit to him and I pay credit to the member for Groom for the way in which they conducted themselves in trying to find a consensus of views in relation to what they believed, rightly or wrongly, to be a real issue for the globe. We can all argue about doing it before Copenhagen or after Copenhagen and about the impacts of Copenhagen, and we can all score our points in regard to those sorts of issues. I went to Copenhagen, and in Paris last year I met with some of the IPCC’s economics people who were working on the climate science arrangements. I was in Copenhagen in August, and 10,000 beds were cancelled then. People knew that the thing was going to be a flop; people knew that it was going to be a failure at having real impact in terms of a global decision.

The reason that I mentioned the member for Wentworth and the member for Groom was partly because I think that one of the things that we all hear as parliamentarians is, ‘Why don’t you all go down there and work on something together and make something happen?’ and that was an example of it. I did not agree with the particular legislation but that was an example of where both sides were actually trying to reach an agreement over a very tricky issue. Whilst these good faith negotiations were going on and we were getting reports of them going on to resolve this issue, the Prime Minister and various ministers of the government kept on poking Malcolm Turnbull in the chest—day in, day out—about this so-called division within his own party—and then they expected that party to not react.

The sole reason that we have Tony Abbott in this parliament now as Leader of the Opposition, the sole reason that this emissions trading scheme is going to fail for the third time and the sole reason that the government are having some degree of problems with the polls is the very bad tactics by Kevin Rudd and other senior members of the government. To expect people to negotiate in good faith, and whilst those negotiations are going on in supposed good faith—and I believe they probably were—to keep beating them up politically, day in and day out, and then expect the status quo to remain is quite nonsensical. As I said, I will not be supporting the legislation because I believe the targets are far too low and I think the activities of the government in terms of the way they treated the member for Wentworth indicated that they were not serious in terms of this issue—that they really are not serious about the importance of this issue. I have heard all of the words time and time again. If they had been serious they would have given the former Leader of the Opposition some room to move, rather than pillorying him almost daily about the short-term politics of the problem that he was having with the right wing of his party.

As I said, I have had issues with Malcolm Turnbull in the past, particularly over water issues, but I think it was to his great credit that he actually stood for something that he believed in. I think the government should have given him a bit more breathing space in order to try and come to something that there could be consensus across the nation about, because that is really what the people want. Now we have this farcical division over five per cent dividing the nation on whether one is cheaper or the other is cheaper when neither of them make any meaningful difference to anything other than perhaps the economy. There are a number of good things in both of them. Some of the soil carbon issues are definitely worth pursuing. There are issues as to whether you can fit those into a marketplace or not, but they are definitely worth pursuing. The biochar issue is something that many of us have raised over a few years now, and it is good to see that those issues are actually in there and are being looked at in a serious sense.

The other issue that I raise which is related to these bills is Australia’s non-participation under the Howard government in the Kyoto agreement. A lot of what we are seeing now is flowing from the Kyoto arrangements, and the current government has endorsed them. The mention of soil carbon, for instance, is difficult in an emissions trading scheme because it is not recognised by the Kyoto arrangements, and some people are arguing that it should be into the future. I think that is something that seriously needs to be looked at. Personally, as a farmer, I see the soil carbon issue as more about soil health and drought policy rather than about being able to trade it in a market. Irrespective of whether it can be traded in the market or not, I think it is something that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Prime Minister and others should have a very serious look at, because if we are talking about revamping drought policy, enhancing soil and organic matter is one of the ways in which we can do that.

Related to this issue has been the issue of property rights. Only last week we saw a protest outside the building. I attended that protest. The man who the protest was held around was a man called Peter Spencer, and I have had a bit to do with Peter over the years. He was making an allegation—quite rightly, in my view—that under the Howard government the land clearing laws were stopped by the states and that even though we had not signed the Kyoto agreement in terms of carbon reduction, Australia had achieved an outcome which was positive. The Climate Institute, which is a long way from where Peter Spencer would be and which is an organisation, headed by John Connor, that I have regard for, has also said that the farmers of this country—I am not talking about soil carbon; I am talking about land clearing—have actually paid—

Debate interrupted.