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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 9774

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (20:11): I also rise to make some comments on this package of bills before us, the Clean Energy Amendment (International Emissions Trading and Other Measures) Bill 2012 and related bills. Following on from what my very good colleague Senator McKenzie said, there is absolutely no doubt that this government is completely hopeless. The chaos that we again see in front of us is nothing short of breathtaking—although I suspect we should probably expect this kind of policy mess from this government because the hits just keep on coming.

The main purpose of the bill is to remove the legislative floor price from the carbon tax and link the Australian carbon tax with the European ETS. We have seen the government affirm its commitment to the floor price as a crucial piece of the carbon tax legislation on no fewer than 11 occasions. This is yet another backflip from the government. It is no wonder that the Australian people cannot trust a word this government says because it consistently says one thing and does another, time and time again. If the government cannot be said to be consistent in some things, at least it is consistent in being completely unable to come up with a decent policy platform, work it through and do what it says it is going to do. It is quite extraordinary. With the mess that we are seeing in front of us—the ad hoc changes on the run; I know my good colleague Senator Bushby understands very well what a mess this is from the government—it is no wonder that people across this nation have absolutely no confidence in this government. The coalition opposes the bill for a very good reason. It is an absolute mess.

I want to focus tonight on one of the parts of this mess—the Carbon Farming Initiative. I want to return to the issue of Henbury Station. Last year, the government co-funded the $13 million purchase of Henbury Station in the Northern Territory with RM Williams Agricultural Holdings. The government put in $9.1 million of taxpayer dollars. There is no bucket of money under Parliament House; this is $9.1 million taxpayer dollars. According to the government, the plan was to turn the 500,000 hectare property into a nature reserve, effectively removing thousands of cattle from the food chain. At the time I raised a series of questions with the government and I certainly still do have a lot of concerns about the impact of that purchase on future food security. Interestingly, there was very little detail as to how the agreement had actually come to take place. There certainly seemed to be an ad hoc nature to the deal itself.

The government at the time said:

The Carbon Farming Initiative will unlock new economic opportunities, just like this one at Henbury, for farmers and other landholders who take action to reduce greenhouse gases.

That was according to Mr Dreyfus, the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, who went on to say it was a key part of the Gillard government's policy for landholders across regional Australia. At the time, however, there was a backflip. Mr Dreyfus went on to say the owners of the station have decided that they want to increase natural biodiversity on that station and engage in some very large-scale restoration of degraded landscape. It was contradictory from the very beginning of the Henbury project all the way through.

There were no assurances at the time about what checks and balances were in place to ensure accountability for the taxpayers' $9 million contribution. There was no evidence why the figure of $9 million was determined to be appropriate. There was no advice given from the government about how much of the revenue from carbon trading would be invested back into the project and how much would go into the company's profits. The list of questions went on and on, and it became very clear that this was just a bucket of money that the government, in their ad hoc way, had decided to toss at this particular project so they could talk about doing projects for the environment and how it was the largest property ever purchased for the National Reserve System, with no accountability and no process at all. It was quite extraordinary.

The company plans were stated at the time. They planned to sequester up to 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year for the next 10 to 15 years. The aim, according to the government, was to establish a model for generating biodiverse carbon credits to fund ongoing conservation management to generate new sustainable income streams. However, get to 2012 and the mess of Henbury becomes more and more obvious as we have gone through the year. In April, the minister, Senator Ludwig, was defending the Henbury Station purchase, talking about needing to develop all the opportunities for jobs that we can. But hang on a second; when we started this out, it was for environmental purposes, for sequestration. Then, earlier this year, the minister was talking about developing all opportunities that we can for jobs in the pastoral industry. It was quite extraordinary. In July, Landcare NT said:

RMWAH Spokesperson Rebecca Pearse stated at a recent Carbon Farming Initiative workshop in Alice Springs that there are still many unknowns with the project, including how much carbon is currently in the trees and shrubs, how it will grow, and what price the company will get for non-Kyoto compliant carbon credits in the voluntary carbon market.

If approved, the methodology could be used by other rangeland managers looking to increase woody plant biomass—

and on and on it goes. They hoped to see Henbury as a case study. They then went on to say:

There is no doubting that a case study is needed.

Even in July this year, nearly a year after Henbury gained that massive injection from the government, we still did not have a methodology approved, they still did not know what they were going to do, they still did not know what the process was going to be, the government having tipped in $9 million of taxpayers' money. It is an absolute mess. The ad hoc nature of this government development of policy is absolutely breathtaking.

In July, we saw Qantas announce an agreement to purchase more than a million tonnes of carbon. Here we had Qantas diving into this deal, saying, 'We're going to take more than a million tonnes of carbon.' A couple of weeks later the spokesperson said the methodology was not even approved and there were still many unknowns, and yet we had Qantas buying into this. Whether or not Qantas just wanted to make themselves look environmentally good I have no idea, but it is extraordinary that a company would dive into something like that with the unknowns and the fact that there was no methodology approved.

When we got to October this year it became very clear that the chief executive, David Pearse, and the head of environmental business, Rebecca Pearse, whom I referred to earlier, were no longer working in their roles at Henbury Station. So they have gone. We are trying to get a handle on what happened there. Where have they gone? They set it up and, according to some, were the drivers behind the whole project. I could be wrong on that, but that is what I hear from some. So why did they go? What on earth happened there? It is quite extraordinary. Apparently, it was said that they were no longer working in their roles while an internal review of the company's operations was carried out. They had not even done anything yet. They still did not have a methodology, it was still unknown how the whole process was going to work and they were having an internal review a year later with what seems to be precious little, if any, progression down the track toward what on earth they were going to do to put to 'advantage' the $9 million of taxpayers' money that they have thrown into Henbury Station. It is absolutely extraordinary.

Then, in October, we had RM Williams Agricultural Holdings saying it was going to completely restructure its carbon conservation project model at the 5,000-square-kilometre Henbury Station in Central Australia. I have every reason to believe that that is indeed a correct statement. So what are they restructuring? We did not even have a plan in the first place. There was not anything there to restructure. They still had problems, they still did not know what they were going to do and there was still no methodology approved, so what on earth were they completely restructuring? It is gobsmacking that we have this situation a year later. This purchase is an absolute mess.

There is no strategic direction and there is no explanation to the parliament about what on earth is going on. According to this article—and as colleagues in this place know, we do not always take media at face value—the chief operating officer, Roy Richards, said at the time that the board felt leadership 'needed refreshing'. What needed refreshing? They were not actually doing anything!

The questions that need to be asked by the Australian people about this project are endless—absolutely endless. We have seen as recently as 11 November, again on the ABC, some commentary around the fact that there has been internal mismanagement. There was reporting that the man behind the project, David Pearse, who I referred to earlier, was dismissed as managing director a few weeks ago. It is just an absolute dog's breakfast.

More than a year after the government contributed $9 million of taxpayers' money, and without what seems to be any kind of due process, there is still no methodology. That is extraordinary. Talk about mismanagement from this Labor government and this ad hoc approach they have to government; there was no proper process in any way, shape or form to justify why $9 million of hardworking taxpayers' money should be put to this project. We have seen a year of mismanagement and a year of one mess after another when it comes to Henbury. Apparently we are now seeing a complete restructure—what on earth is going on?

It is about time that this government were accountable for the decision that they made to put in that $9 million—thank you very much; I am sure they appreciated the $9 million injection. But where are the benchmarks? Where is the accountability? Where are the requirements for delivery against those taxpayer dollars? Again, it is extraordinary. Mr Acting Deputy President Ludlam, I know I have used that word a lot in my contribution to night, but I tell you that it is nothing short of extraordinary.

With regard to the Carbon Farming Initiative under the clean energy legislation, Australian farmers have been excluded from selling carbon credits to Europe until 2018. But the deal that the government has negotiated allows Europe to have a monopoly selling carbon credits to us—to Australia—from 2015! So we are locked out of the European market until 2018 and they can get in here in 2015—who did this deal? Can anybody negotiate anything on that side of the chamber? It is just—

Senator Kroger: No.

Senator NASH: I will take that interjection, thank you, Senator Kroger! No. They cannot. It is absolutely gobsmacking—absolutely gobsmacking!

I would ask the minister, and perhaps there is a fantastic answer to this—perhaps there is a brilliant answer which explains everything with great clarity—about the proper due process that was in place before the $9 million was contributed to Henbury. Perhaps there is a fantastic explanation of the absolute mess that seems to have been the management of this process for over a year now. Perhaps there is a fantastic explanation for the fact that it seems the government has not required any accountability from the organisation itself. Where are we? We still do not even have a methodology. We still do not have anything that is going to show how there is going to be any benefit to the taxpayer for the investment of the $9 million.

I did note somewhere in all of this that the property was going to go back to running cattle as part of their future processes. What on earth is going on? They took the cattle off and they were going to do X, Y and Z, and that never happened. Now they are talking about putting the cattle back on. But, 'We have taken the $9 million, thank you very much!' That was a very helpful contribution to the $13 million purchase. Where is the accountability? There is no accountability.

It is about time that this government came clean with the explanation about why this has been such a flawed process, came clean with an explanation of why this has got to the situation that it has and came clean with exactly how there is going to be the sequestration on this property. There is reporting of the fact that these arid soils will not actually do what they want them to do in terms of carbon sequestration in the soil.

So this is yet another dog from this government. I cannot believe that they could just fling a $9 million-bucket of taxpayers' money to purchase a property and not require any accountability—no benchmarks. Nothing. Along the way, no milestones and no nothing; just a bucket of money that they are happy to throw out into the ether in the cause of 'better environment'. It is just ridiculous.

Governments are supposed to be accountable. They are supposed to do a good job. They are supposed to practically and properly assess policy and make sure that the Australian people have value for the taxpayer dollar that the government is using. We have seen this government in an absolute mess. They have managed to turn a $70 billion-surplus into a $120 billion-black hole—the list is endless. But this is one of those things that have just slipped under the radar. Sure, it is not a huge thing; it is not one of the top issues for people living in Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and the capital cities. And perhaps they are not aware of this even across some of the regions. But it is yet another example of this government's absolute mismanagement; they simply cannot run the country, and it is about time they were accountable for the decisions that they make.

I challenge the minister to come forward and give the parliament a clear and concise explanation of exactly how that $9 million has been accounted for and what the process has been, because to date it is as clear as mud and it is becoming increasingly obvious that this government simply cannot run the country.