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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6257


Mr WINDSOR (New England) (12:37): I think we just saw a very good example of why the people of south-western Sydney deserve better. It is a great shame to hear a discussion such as that, particularly given that the basis of this debate that we are having—and the clean energy bills are part of that—is that both sides of this parliament agree on the target in reductions: that of five per cent.

We have this extraordinary circumstance that has developed in this place, and I understand why it has developed; it is because the Leader of the Opposition decided very early on in the hung parliament negotiations that he was going to play the game as if there were a majority government. Rather than become part of a process for various determinations, whether they be about economics, regional development or clean energy, he decided—and his apostles have followed quite blindly; and I think that the speech we just heard is a classic example of that—that this was an issue where even though they agreed with the absolute target—the five per cent reduction and 1990 levels by 2020—that he would play the game of majority government and minority opposition. So rather than be part of a constructive process they have set out to develop a process that sounds as though they deny that climate change exists. And there is some discussion about that at the moment. Their policy position is that climate change is occurring, that as a nation we should do something about it and the target level is identical to the government's—that of five per cent. The method of achieving the reduction in the emissions is different.

I am a farmer; I have been working with soils all my adult life and if there is one thing that I think I might have a little bit of knowledge about it is soil humus and organic matter and the way in which it impacts on the productivity levels of soil, the ways in which the soil processes work, the infiltration rates of water et cetera and, obviously, the plants that grow in that soil.

I have been an advocate for soil carbon for many, many years—when the opposition just laughed it off, years ago when they were in government. If soil carbon were the answer to this I would be the first to say that the Abbott way is the way to achieve the outcome. Regrettably, it is not. That is not to suggest that we should not introduce—and the package of bills actually does introduce—incentives to encourage changes in farming technologies that do have an impact on soil humus and organic matter levels and that do have an influence on moisture infiltration that will have an influence on drought proofing soils. But it is unproven that in most of Australian soils there is the capacity to develop an increase in soil carbon levels that can be retained through dry periods as well as wet. It is unproven and probably will not be proven that our soils will be able to accumulate vast quantities of carbon and hold it. In some parts of Europe and parts of North America the soils will be able to do that and, hopefully, in the future we will be able to improve on our soils even if global warming ceases to be a debate. We should be trying to improve our soils.

The point I am making is that if you have both sides of parliament agreeing on the target, surely the most cost-effective way of getting to the target would be the way that we would go? The previous Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, could see that pathway. Obviously, he could see that a market mechanism was the way to go. We have this extraordinary juxtaposition in the sense of political philosophies: the party that believes in a market mechanism is arguing against it. Some would say that the party that historically has not agreed with a market mechanism would normally go the other way! So we have this circumstance that has developed where raw politics is being played in this issue—raw politics.

I think it is a great shame that the Leader of the Opposition did not take the opportunity to be involved in the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. He was invited, or his representatives were invited, to be part of that process. I was part of that process and I was very proud to be part of it. I think there were some enormous issues to be dealt with and, in fact, it is going to be a hung parliament that is actually going to do something about it. The Leader of the Opposition, as I said, decided to play opposition politics in a parliament where he could have become part of the government, in a sense, in terms of the governance of some of the policy issues. The climate change debate is one of those significant issues.

From a regional perspective, and with the nonsense that is being peddled out there to create fear in the minds of people that the sky will fall in on 1 July because of this initiative—the carbon-pricing arrangement—many people are starting to recognise that there are extraordinary opportunities. And this investment fund that we are debating today is part of that. It is not the totality of the opportunities. There are enormous opportunities for renewable energy resources—wind, solar, geothermal, bioenergy; the list goes on. I would like to spend a moment talking about a few examples. Most of those opportunities will occur in regional Australia. They will not be located in the cities—because of landscape issues et cetera. The opportunities of the new clean energy future are going to be in the country. Some of them may be agricultural—biodigestion of waste, bioenergy from biomass and those sorts of processes. In fact, we could see some of our agricultural land turned over to the production of biofuel—not through the production of food and then into biofuel but the production of biomass and then to biofuel. Those are the opportunities that are going to be out there.

I will give you a couple of examples of the sorts of things that I am talking about, the real opportunities that are out there. James Cook University is not in my electorate but it is part of the deal that the last speaker spoke about between the Independents and the government. Part of that arrangement was that some money be put into research of biomass and biofuel. James Cook University has been doing some extraordinary work in terms of algae in water—and I think the minister for regional Australia, who is in the chair, would be aware of this. The university is showing extraordinary leadership in this debate and has been doing so for some years. Some of that money is going towards that research. Originally when they started off they were looking at the possibility of using algae as a source of biodiesel. As the research has gone on and been developed up in terms of the varieties of algae and how to actually farm algae—it is a farming process rather than an industrial process—they have found that the uses for algae are far greater than just biodiesel. The protein in algae can be used for food production. I am sure members have dogs. I imagine that the member for Cook, who is in the chamber, has a dog. He is shaking his head.

Mr Morrison interjecting

Mr WINDSOR: Anyway, I am sure he has had occasion to have a tin of dog food in his cupboard. When you tip out a tin of Pal dog food the contents remain upright. It is the properties in algae that make it stand upright—

Honourable members interjecting

Mr WINDSOR: The member for Higgins should make way for that great Treasurer of the past, Mr Costello. The former member for Higgins would not have interjected like that about a product of the future such as algae! Algae can be used for a whole range of products. For those who have not been to James Cook University, it is worth a visit there to see international scientists from all over the world, young people in their 30s, working on our future.

There is a lot of talk about food security into the future—how we are going to produce protein for a growing population et cetera. There is a lot of talk that we need clean energy, we need to reduce CO2 and we need to reduce greenhouse emissions in the atmosphere. There is a lot of talk that we need to clean up emissions from coal fired power stations. Well, this is just one example of how those sorts of things are happening.

As we speak, the people at James Cook University are developing pilot operations at two power stations. Why are they doing that? What they intend to do—and they have done this at quite large trial sites—is use the flue gases from the power station to grow algae in a confined environment. They use massive bladders that are half full of water. They put algae in them and then they harvest the algae. I asked them: what is the potential of this? We have coal fired power stations producing emissions and we are trying to come to grips with that through a whole range of options. Is it possible to capture the CO2 emissions, put that through an algae farm and convert it into protein products? The answer is yes. An algae farm of something like 10,000 acres, in theory at least, could ingest the flue gases of a normal sized coal fired power station.

That is why we need a Clean Energy Finance Corporation. There is an endless list of projects. The minister in the chair is aware of the activities that are going on in the meat processing business to convert their waste—not only the waste from the animals but also the paunch waste et cetera from the animals' insides—into an opportunity, into energy and into fertiliser. That is waste that they may well be charged $23 a tonne for if they have over 25,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. They want to turn it into energy, into fertiliser and into cleaner water to be used for other productive purposes.

I think what we need here is some degree of leadership. Those people are out there. They are at the cutting edge of getting some of this technology right and getting it put in place to produce renewable energy for the future, to produce a cleaner future for future generations and to produce the circumstances where food can be produced in a healthy world. We need to give them some leadership, rather than the nonsense that we are hearing in here about global warming and climate change. When both sides agree on the same target, surely we should agree that research for future generations of Australians is a worthy avenue for funding. These short-term political fear tactics have to stop if we want to be part of the future. We have seen a lot of our scientists go overseas in the last decade because of it and we need to stop it now. (Time expired)