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Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Page: 11002


Ms SAFFIN (Page) (13:02): In rising to speak in support of these clean energy bills, I want to talk about the Northern Rivers region, where I live and where my seat of Page is. Some of the seat of one of my colleagues, the honourable member for Richmond, is also in the Northern Rivers region. I note she is here in the chamber. I will be talking about my seat but also about the Northern Rivers, which covers a broader area. In our area we have communities which have embraced adaptation for climate change. They are ahead of it. They are not waiting for everybody to act. They are taking action themselves locally. What I want to address is a particular collaboration of groups called Sustain Northern Rivers. I will go through what it is doing in some detail because it is happening in our area.

The Northern Rivers region covers approximately 20,732 square kilometres and incorporates seven local government areas. Five of those local government areas are in my seat of Page. It is home to more than 292,000 people, almost 5,500 medium-sized businesses and tens of thousands of small businesses. Our region has a growth rate of up to 2.6 per cent compared to the New South Wales rate of 1.2 per cent. So it is a growth area.

Sustain Northern Rivers—SNR, as it is called—was formed in 2008 in direct response to climate change. It is a collaboration of 20 peak regional organisations working together to provide a local response to a global threat that impacts on us locally. The SNR is a collaborative platform that consults, collaborates and communicates. It empowers local communities to become self-sustaining. The focus is in four key areas: food, transport, energy and behavioural change—all of the areas that we need to address in adaptation to climate change.

Sustain Northern Rivers is a broad network. In the network are Byron Shire Council, which is in the seat of Richmond; a catchment management authority, which covers the whole area; Lismore City Council; Local Communities Services Association; Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority; North Coast Health Promotion; North Coast TAFE, which covers a huge area all across the North Coast; North-East Waste Forum; Northern Rivers Community Colleges, Northern Rivers Social Development Council; Northern Rivers Tourism; Northern Star Pty Ltd; Northern Rivers University Department of Rural Health; New South Wales Department of Industry and Investment; New South Wales Department of Education and Training; Regional Development Australia—Northern Rivers; Richmond Valley Council, which is in my seat of Page; Southern Cross University; Tweed Shire Council; and Northern Rivers Youth Environment Society. I am told there are others joining that network and collaboration to prepare and work to adapt to climate change.

What does the SNR do? It helps Northern Rivers communities live and work more sustainably. It helps cut the collective carbon footprint of the Northern Rivers, fosters networks that stimulate innovation and action, facilitates collaboration amongst regional organisations, pools resources, shares knowledge and learns from past failures and successes. It maximises outcomes by coordinating our efforts and it sustains outcomes from time limited project grants. It also builds the adaptive capacity of Northern Rivers communities. Recently I had the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency in Lismore. We held a forum on the clean energy package and he got to meet with Sustained Northern Rivers who were able to put to him what they were doing and what their case was. They are also looking at the package and the opportunities available in the clean energy package, and there are many. People come into this place and I hear the other side always talking about the threats. They live in a world of absolute fear and threat.

Mr Frydenberg: Work Choices!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Thank you—if you wish to speak next!

Ms SAFFIN: It must be awful to wake up in the morning and see the world through the prism of fear and threat. Why not look for opportunities and challenges, because that is what we have to do and, as leaders, that is what we do in our communities.

There are four key areas for Sustain Northern Rivers. Firstly, to sustain food by increasing local food consumption and the uptake of sustainable food production methods. Are they sitting back and waiting for that? No. There is already a whole range of initiatives that have taken place around food in our area and helping local food producers and farmers. Secondly, to sustain energy to empower and enable the Northern Rivers community to reduce its ecological footprint. The Northern Rivers area has one of the largest take-ups of solar power and panels across the state. In fact Lismore had the highest take-up, and it was across all age groups and all wage groups, which is really interesting.

The third key area is to sustain transport. That is more of a challenge in rural and regional areas because there is not a lot of public transport. But we can still do things, and transport is one of the key areas. The aim is to reduce transport emissions and increase transport options, physical activity, social capital and resilience.

This is a digression—not from the bills but just from talking directly about Sustain Northern Rivers, a collaboration—but when we are looking at reducing transport emissions, in my seat I have an internationally renowned project being undertaken at Harwood Sugar Mill, called Ethanol Technologies Ltd, Ethtec. It is a world-class second-generation ethanol pilot plant and is now almost halfway to full commercialisation. Ethtec's director and chief scientist, Dr Russell Reeves, and his team are converting lignocellulosic materials to sugars that can be fermented to produce ethanol, bioplastics or other high-value renewable chemicals. It is a fully-patented process involving the innovative use of concentrated sulphuric acid and an acid-sugars separation process using cutting-edge technologies developed in Australia and overseas. It is an important breakthrough because it means biofuel production does not have to be at the expense of our food crops as we enter a period in which food security is and will become a major issue for regional communities.

I was speaking with the Southern Cross University Forest and Timber Industry Forum. They are also very interested in this because the forum advocate the conversion of small wood and wood waste to biodiesel as a way of creating local energy markets for forest and mill owners. They would like to see conversion of lignocellulosic materials to biofuels included in RETs. Ethtec has already managed to raise $11 million in private sector investment and they have a $2.9 million Climate Ready grant from the Australian government—our government—to complete the first two phases of their four-phase project. It is estimated that it will cost a total of $22 million to reach full commercialisation. I am working with Dr Reeves and his fellow Ethtec directors, Robert Carey and Lance Rodman, to increase awareness of this project particularly among colleagues here in Canberra.

I did have the minister for agriculture visit too. He had a look at a demonstration of what is happening. So when I talk about sustaining transport, there are things happening—positive things, opportunities and people rising to the challenge to produce some clean fuel and not get into that food versus fuel debate.

The fourth area for Sustain Northern Rivers is to sustain change. That is about promoting sustainability initiatives with the focus on social learning. When we look at clean energy and what is being done in Australia to transition this, we know that we are looking at behavioural change, and that is important. Sustain Northern Rivers say: why are we doing it? We recognise that we are in the front line of the impact of climate change. Our biodiversity is at risk. We have the highest biodiversity in New South Wales, and third highest in Australia—that is, in our region of Northern Rivers.

Northern Rivers is one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia. Those living in the Northern Rivers are older than the rest of the state. It can be hard to get around. We have a huge number of volunteers from many of our community services and we rely on them. Our communications are not up to speed, but they are coming up to speed. We have the NBN in our area. It started in Coffs Harbour on the North Coast and is rolling out in our region. We are a cross-border region, a region that has a traditionally high unemployment rate.

Sustain Northern Rivers has targets. To empower, as an energy priority, to enable the North Coast to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent compared to 2000 levels and increase the proportion of renewable energy sources to 20 per cent by 2020. To sustain transport, the aim is to improve an integrated regional transport network which increases human movement options by 20 per cent by 2020 and reduces infrastructure costs. To sustain food, the aim is to build a resilient Northern Rivers food economy, making a contribution to national food security and sovereignty. And to sustain collaboration, the intent is to create a vibrant collaboration that supports engagement and empowerment of the community to respond to climate change challenges. Those are some of the overall goals and some key projects across those four areas. This is an example of a community taking action themselves and not burying their heads in the sand. They are saying that climate change is real and they are taking advantage of the clean energy package. That is what they are looking at at the moment.

Also in my area a lot of farmers are quite excited about the Carbon Farming Initiative. They are seeking the opportunities. Some farmers in my region are already doing wonderful things in terms of increasing production and decreasing their greenhouse footprint. Now they will be eligible to get other more tangible benefits under the Carbon Farming Initiative. I am helping organise for technical people to run a Carbon Farming Initiative project in my area for farmers across the Northern Rivers, so it will cover a broader area again. It is something that the member for Richmond and I have followed up on after the visits we had from both the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government. People across our region are keen, want more information and want to be ahead of the changes in this area.

I want to say a few things in closing. Let us get some things clear. Jobs are not about to be lost. Some jobs will change and some jobs will be created, and we already have a good indication of that. People talk about this being a tax. It is a price on pollution. It is a price on the 500 biggest polluters in Australia. It is a price that needs to be there to effect the change we have. It is the twinning of changes to our economy and the environment that we must make. It is not a choice we have anymore—do we or don't we; will we or won't we? It is something that has to happen.

We talk locally about who you trust. Some people say you cannot trust the science, but that is just ridiculous. All of us, including a lot of farmers, go to the Bureau of Meteorology website every day. It is the most popular website. We look to it and we trust it. We look for the weather and all sorts of things. You should go there. CSIRO believe in climate change and know we have to embrace clean energy.