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Emissions trading and reducing carbon pollution

CHAIR —We welcome representatives from Private Forests Tasmania. I invite short opening statements.

Mr Dickenson —I am chair of Private Forests Tasmania Board. On my right is Peter Taylor, one of our senior people at Private Forests and on my left is John Lord. Mr Lord is also a member of our Private Forest board, but has asked to give his own perspective of the issues surrounding his family forests, so he has not been part of putting this presentation together today. I would appreciate it if Hansard could record that.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today. The comments we make are quite preliminary in this particular issue. We feel that we still have quite a lot to learn on the issue of climate change and reducing our carbon emissions. We certainly have some thoughts about fairness and equity but, first of all, I think it would be useful if Mr Taylor made some comments about setting the scene of the importance of private forestry, particularly in Tasmania.

Mr Taylor —There is about one million hectares of private forest in Tasmania. That is made up of native forest areas and plantations of about 200,000-odd hectares or thereabouts. It is owned by a variety of people. Most of the native forests are owned by individuals—farmers, family farms and that sort of arrangement—and most of the plantations are owned by large industrial owners. We have two sets of clients, the industrial people who own and process wood and then, as we refer to them, the non-industrial owners, those that just own plantation or native forest as part of their farm and their wider land-use pattern.

In terms of volume of wood we are just under 50 per cent of all the wood produced in the state and obviously, with the growth of plantations, we will exceed that part of it. We unfortunately or fortunately made a dichotomy in our organisation in terms of we work with industry and we also work with individual private landowners. Many of my comments today relate to that part of our activities, the non-industrial, or the farmers out there that we deal with on a daily basis. I have some material here that I will run through quickly as part of the overall material.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Can you tell us about your association or group?

Mr Taylor —Private Forests Tasmania is a statutory authority with an act of parliament, the Tasmanian Private Forests Act 1994. We have a board with me as chair and we have employed staff of some 12 around the state. Although the act was passed in 1994, the origins of the organisation were in 1985. We actually have people who have been working with our organisation that have had dealings with the same family of landowners for some considerable time. As forestry is a long-term activity, so the relationships that we build up are long-term relationships.

Senator MILNE —Can you just clarify something? I understood you to say that today you are speaking on behalf of the farmer component. Is that correct?

Mr Taylor —I am reflecting on the effect of the scheme on the non-industrial landowner set.

Senator MILNE —They are the non-industrial ones. What percentage of the forested area are we talking about?

Mr Taylor —Some 84 per cent of the native forest components owned by non-industrial owners—that is not the big companies—and it is almost the reverse in terms of most of the plantations, which are in some way controlled by the large industrial companies.

Senator MILNE —Thank you.

Mr Taylor —I would like to pull back and look at this issue in an overview position. One of the things that we are expecting out of this scheme is the way in which we are managing carbon in the landscape. We expect a lot from our landscape. We expect food, fibre, biodiversity conservation and a whole range of other environmental services such as good quality water, plus we expect to recreate in it, we expect tourism, we expect it to look good and we expect it to provide homes and space for communities. Action to address greenhouse gas levels means that we are adding another burden to that landscape. There are two key factors that we need to consider when we do that. It is the interaction between various demands that we are now going to place on the landscape as we ask for landscape to be managed for carbon purposes.

We already see across Australia, and in some cases quite intensely in parts of Tasmania, debates about food production versus land to produce wood; about plantations, plantings and water flows; about safe homes, communities and the biomass fires, and the issues that we see often encountered with MIS funded plantations with land-use change. We have got to acknowledge that as we put more plantings into the landscape those conflicts are not going to go away and, in some cases, potentially could get worse. Recognising the reality that we are going to encounter those problems, we need to move forward better informed about what we are going to encounter. Part of being better informed is about the way we do things.

We have seen in various submissions and other promotions groups, such as the CO2 Group, having what they call reforestation solutions, ways of putting trees into the landscape. They have a very good argument that they are putting trees in the landscape where some of those pressures about water, community and biomass would be less obvious. They are perhaps the easy solutions. Perhaps they have picked the low hanging fruit in terms of these interaction questions. There will be a whole range of other reforestation solutions which will encounter those conflicts and, as a society, we have got to be prepared for that.

I am also keen to reflect on the position of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists in their submission to this inquiry where they say landscape management—that is we need to help nature do a better job in putting carbon into the soils and trees—is 25 per cent of the solution. If it is 25 per cent of the solution, let us just reflect on that and what that means. I often refer to the forests in Tasmania and the forests on private land across the whole of the nation as Australia’s forgotten forests. There are 38 million hectares of privately owned forest across Australia. That is 26 per cent of the forest area of Australia. There are 65 million hectares of forest on leasehold land. That is 44 per cent of the forest of Australia. Basically, 60 per cent of all those forests in Australia, that landscape out there that we can manage that type of carbon, is either leasehold or privately owned.

We need to ensure these areas receive the appropriate management and, more importantly, those people who are leaseholders or owners have the right level of support to enable them to capture that carbon in the landscape. The support must include support to individual landowners where their asset, their land and forest, must be managed to capture carbon. Although markets created by cap and trade systems, or any other system, will hopefully create incentives to manage land for carbon, the practical aspects of managing land for carbon in the landscape are not simple or easy. As a community, we have already seen dramatic failures in land management, as evidenced by the Victorian bushfires. We are not good at managing our landscape as a community. We need to recognise this, and recognise it is going to be a daunting task for individual landowners to manage their particular part of Australia for carbon storage purposes.

There is a large issue to consider that falls within the gamut of government, and that is one of consistent government policy. Landscape carbon issues can only be dealt with in the long term. Within this state the policy and attitude of various groups have changed with respect to plantations. At one point, establishing a plantation was regarded as a noble and sensible thing to do. Today, they are portrayed in some quarters as the major force destroying the land and rural communities. Neither position is likely to be entirely supportable but, as with plantation for wood, plantation forest management from carbon storage needs long-term committed support. This support must include research support and support to ensure that communities understand and accept the landscape level changes this scheme envisages.

Let us bring it down to a practical level. Many of the forests that you see on private land across Tasmania and Australia are not in prime estates. They are not primary forests. They are forests that have been used for decades for all sorts of reasons. If we are going to go into those forests and to manage them to increase their carbon storage we are going to have to use the tools that are available to us. One of those tools is fire. The reality is that if you want carbon in the landscape then you need to have the people responsible for capturing the landscape with the right set of tools. As soon as you start restricting tools for them, you restrict their ability to achieve the outcomes. One can also reflect on the use of chemicals in establishing plantings as well, which is exactly the same story; if you do not control your weeds, you do not get good growth, you do not get good survival and you are not getting the big tree that is going to hold your carbon.

At the property and individual decision-making level there are some things to consider as well. The most important thing, which the chairman alluded to, is that these are early days. We really do not know where we are going with a lot of this stuff. We do need assessable information that is accurate and where all the options are examined and risks for each of them explored. We already have telephone calls in from various landowners being approached by people with various schemes. As is often the case with the development of a new market, there are some entrepreneurial individuals that dive out there seeking an advantage, often to the disadvantage of others. The assistance that I am referring to needs to be provided when considering about entering the market and, to some extent, beyond that point.

Managing land for carbon is a relatively new type of land management. The withdrawal of government support for private forestry networks and the continued preference for generalised support for NRM bodies, using short-term funding, is not creating a platform that is enduring or with a level of expertise able to address the challenges ahead.

I would finally like to reflect on three more detailed elements of the scheme. One is the use of the national carbon accounting tool in terms of estimating the carbon that we have stored. There is some feeling that this is a fairly restrictive approach: one tool fits all. I believe a clearer pathway to enable other tools to be accredited for this purpose may be worthwhile. Indeed, Private Forests Tasmania, in conjunction with a range of other people, invested large amounts of money into what we call our Farm Forestry Toolbox which could do a similar thing but, of course, our further development of it, our encouragement of people to use it and supporting the use of that is tempered by that fact that it may not be accredited, or the pathway to accreditation for greenhouse purposes is not clear.

The other issue that I want to touch on is the five-year limit to back claiming carbon. On a practical level, a landowner might not even know whether or not their management of their vegetation or plantings will yield carbon storage levels able to provide a tradeable amount within this five-year period. That will be a disincentive for people to go out and be innovative, to try something, because, as I said, if it does not succeed in five years and we do not get enough carbon for trade then we have lost our investment and it is not worthwhile. This five-year limit is a disincentive for people to go out there. You need to remember that a lot of the land that I am talking about is quite dry country. It is not rich, deep soil with high rainfall. The growth rates are slow, survival of plants is difficult and all the technologies in terms of revegetation, although we do have a suite of them, are by no means regarded as an entirely mature science in this area.

The other element that we must reflect upon is the 130 years in the legislation. It is difficult to find in Australia a situation where land has been managed for single or multiple purposes for that period. Some national parks may have 130 years of dedication as national parks and management as such, but rarely does private land. In some cases, rarely does some public land as well. We have had continual change of land use and land control, both in public and private areas. We have not had consistent land management. The proposed scheme, even if a pool approach is adopted, means that the land use will become fixed; you have got to hold it there for 130 years, which is something that we have never done before. The two possible impacts to consider when we go down this track are that if land is devoted for carbon purposes and the rights are being traded, we can have a situation where a parcel of land, if you like, has no income and has no value to it so when someone buys it; they effectively just own the land. They cannot generate an income off it because the carbon has been sold off and they have got to keep the land as it is. This is despite the fact they would still have to pay rates, taxes and other general costs of owning land. We maintain, in our experience, that land perceived as having no value receives no management.

The obvious solution to this dilemma is to encourage integration of carbon storage initiatives within an integrated framework, the idea being the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. It is not hard to envisage carbon plantings with an integrated farming system where you can afford to look after them because, essentially, by looking after them you are increasing your productivity and sustainability in other parts of your land.

The second impact must be considered in terms of failure of the carbon project. It is inevitable that we are going to have carbon planting projects fail. The approach of the regulatory body is key to this element. First of all, we need early identification of projects at risk. We also need to recognise that a regulatory authority needs to be both a regulator but also a custodian of the system that is proactive in managing the scheme. Too often we have regulators turn up after the disaster and clean up the mess. We have got to ensure that we avoid getting to the mess.

Indulge me in a final comment. To my mind, I have found it difficult in separating some of the concepts out in the various submissions and publications. I have finally come to a fairly simplistic approach which I would like to share. First of all, it is the way we measure and understand things. We have a situation where carbon and greenhouse gases are a complicated biological system that is worldwide. We are endeavouring to understand that global system. We will improve our understandings of that global system. That is an ongoing activity. Secondly, we have an accounting system that has international reporting. That is simply trying to measure that system. As a forester, I know that I may not fully understand the dynamics of the forest, but I can choose a few key things in that forest to measure to give me some idea of the trends of where that forest is going. I see the carbon modelling at the global stage as looking at the whole, which is very important. I see the international reporting processes and the accounting processes are picking up the key things in the system to see how we are going. The third thing is the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which is a scheme to change behaviour, to change the way our society and our businesses work.

Obviously there needs to be a relationship between the three of them, but the purpose of each of them should be clearly understood. You can have a carbon pollution reduction scheme missing elements for your international accounting systems and missing elements of what occurs globally, but it can still achieve its outcome of behavioural change. I suppose it is a plea not to think that we can construct a system that would be entirely integrated in terms of what is happening globally and what is happening in individual purchase decisions for every member of Australia.

CHAIR —Thank you. Mr Lord, would you like to make some comments about your personal involvement? We need to keep it really tight because we are running out of time.

Mr Lord —I will chop bits out of it. Is five or six minutes possible?

CHAIR —Two or three is what I need, because there is going to be demand for questions.

Mr Lord —I will read really quickly. My wife and I live on a small farm in the north of Tasmania and I appear in a private capacity. Our families have actively managed some land in Tasmania for the last 20 years, which is basically forested. I am not a scientist, but my wife and eldest son are. Our family has been keenly interested in biodiversity, the benefits to the land that we get from this and the ways in which we may be able to sustainably manage our land. We are very interested in the way in which land managers in Australia may be able to sequester carbon in wooden plants, both for the usefulness in sequestration, but also as a potential source of renewable energy.

Our family’s objectives are economic, social and environmental. We have been able to measure the economic and social benefits in managing our land. We have not been able to do the third until recently. Scientists did work looking at the biodiversity and measured that we were actively managing our forests. We have a little better biodiversity than where the section of the forest is not actively managed. The results of this have been published.

What is the relevance of this to your committee? We believe that a significant opportunity exists in Australia because of our land mass and relatively low population, particularly in a place like Tasmania where, if we actively manage our native forests, plant trees and tend them on farms, to really get a win-win, not only to enhance the biodiversity which is so important to us, but also to capture solar energy in the process. If that were done, then as a nation we would have three choices. We can leave the trees standing, which is fine. As we know, we will sequester carbon until the forest matures and then the forest will become a storehouse for that carbon. We could harvest some of the trees, in which case we might be able to use the material to reduce our dependence on other materials which are more energy intensive and emit more carbon—aluminium, steel and concrete, for example.

I note the result of the Commonwealth Office of Greenhouse’s research into this where they tracked the use of forest products—paper, wood and so on—and where forests are actively managed, according to their research, over a couple of hundred years we sequester double the carbon compared to simply growing a forest and leaving it in a steady state.

The third option is that we might cut down some of the trees and use them for bioenergy. Of course, this would enable us to replace the use of fossil sourced fuels. Your committee is no doubt aware of the work being carried out in Australia in this region—that is, looking at bioenergy. I am not talking about biofuels from fats, oils and grains, but making energy from cellulose. We plant a crop of wheat, we harvest the wheat and then we use the straw, the cellulose. I am not a scientist, but what I have read tells me that there is work being done to use the cellulose and hemicellulose to potentially make methanol and ethanol. I know a little bit more about the ethanol project through Ethtec, which has built and is trialling a fairly large-scale pilot plant in New South Wales. This is world-class technology. It is the first time that it has been done on this scale and in this way in the world. Dr Russell Reeves assures me that one tonne of cellulose, whether it is straw, waste paper, municipal green waste, wood waste, sugar cane bagasse, cotton waste or what have you, will produce two 44-gallon drums of ethanol. That is 400 litres from one tonne of cellulose. At home, I burn the garden clippings on a burn heap and I actually burnt it yesterday because there was no wind. We burn it only when it is very dry so there is no smoke. That is the way you should burn this sort of stuff. You stand back and here is this great big red flame. I have always marvelled at the amount of energy that is there from a relatively modest pile of garden tree prunings.

My son warns me that if we are going to harvest from a forest for the production of biofuels then we are only going to be able to take a small amount out, because to take more would mean that we would not be managing the forest sustainably. He counsels me that when we come to do this the amount that we will be able to take out will be less than I, perhaps, have in mind. This is the nature of my son.

Whilst biofuels will not provide an alternative for base load energy for Australia, the work that Dr Reeves and others have done, I believe, says that it will provide the opportunity of replacing a significant portion of our present fossil fuel sourced liquid fuels, and that would then give the consequent reduction in greenhouse emissions. To achieve this, we would need to secure the active participation and the goodwill of the land managers and these are, by and large, pretty practical and resourceful people. Farmers that I speak to, from Queensland down to Tasmania, wish to embrace a carbon pollution reduction scheme, CPRS, and realise that with the current proposed model, even though agriculture is not in at the beginning, they will be having to pay through additional costs on their inputs from day one. However, these farmers wish to be able to manage their enterprises in a carbon neutral way. They would like to do it and be able to offset their emissions from livestock and fuel use by way of growing trees and sequestering carbon on their farms, and perhaps one day in their soils. To them, this does not appear to be proposed in the CPRS, and that is causing concern.

We also need a practical, simple system where, as we sequester carbon in something such as wood, the responsibility for that carbon passes when the legal title to that commodity passes. For example, if I am a farmer and I grow a tree. I might use that to offset emissions from something on my farm, or if I have a net sequestration I might get a credit for sequestering that extra carbon. I am responsible for that carbon. If I cut it down, then I pay. If I sell it to someone else then that responsibility should pass to that new owner. If the new owner burns it for fuel, they pay, but if they build a house with it they do not pay, and then the system would work.

In summary, our family’s submission to your committee is, with respect, that any CPRS needs to pass three tests. It needs to be simple. It needs to be fair. It needs to stand the test of time. Secondly, any CPRS needs a simple mechanism to enable farmers and land managers to balance their emissions through the sequestration of carbon by way of locking up atmospheric carbon in cellulose, and hopefully to encourage them to this. Thirdly, there needs to be a recognition that bioenergy generally—and the bioenergy produced from cellulose could be part of that—will aid us in achieving reductions of our emissions. Above all, any CPRS needs to be based on good science.

I speak as a Tasmanian now. Our family looks forward to the time when the people of Tasmania can look at the measurement of carbon emissions in Tasmania and say, ‘I live in a state where we, as a state, are carbon neutral.’ Our family’s vision is that this state can achieve that. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —There is nothing that I need to ask, except to say congratulations on the work that your association has done over a long period time.

Senator MILNE —I would like to go to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, as it currently stands. One of the criticism made in the biocarbon roundtable was that the way it currently stands it is distortionary in that it allows for plantation opt-in, but it does not include any incentivised mechanism for the protection of native vegetation, native forests and so on. The conclusion of Dr Ajani from the ANU at that particular roundtable was that the problem is the way the carbon pollution reduction scheme is designed. It actually drives the logging into native forests, which are the major stores, and incentivises plantations being carbon stores when, in fact, it should be the reverse, that plantations are better suited to wood production and that native forests and native vegetation should be protected to maximise carbon stores.

We have just heard from TFGA. They think that by allowing the opt-in for plantations it is distortionary because it rewards the planting of plantations, but it does not reward other activities which would be more beneficial in the carbon cycle. Do you support taking out the opt-in plantations, because with the MIS provisions and carbon sink forests, this distortion of the CPRS is actually incentivising plantations at the expense of everything else in the land-use sector? Would you support it being taken out and handled in a complementary measure that looked at devising a financial incentive to maximise the carbon benefits in the land-use sector?

Mr Taylor —I read the submission. It was in recognition of the arrangements associated with managed investment schemes for the woodlock system. They have deeds and those deeds require them to harvest and sell their wood. That is the investment vehicle that they have. An academic approach that discounts who owns it and how it was funded does not touch on reality. That is the only comment that I would make in relation to that.

Mr Dickenson —I have to admit that I do not understand all the CPRS implications, but as a farmer and a land manager, one of the most sustainable enterprises I have on a mixed farm is my native forests. Forty per cent of our farm is native forest or plantations and 60 per cent is used for agriculture. We have just tested two tools that allow us to do a measurement at a farm scale. One has been development by the Melbourne University and the other one is a New Zealand tool. Seventy-six per cent of my emissions are produced by methane. When the report came back to us it spelt out all our emissions, and we included energy and fuel. Under any scheme that the government introduces it would mean that you would be getting paid double for that because that will be dealt with before it comes through the farm gate.

I am sorry, this is a long answer to your question, but the report said in the offsets on my property that the native vegetation and the plantations more than offset any emissions we create through our agricultural enterprise. In theory, we are in credit. In practice, under the current rules, because we are tied to Kyoto, we are not. Whether plantations are in or out, I think we would very much like to focus on the science and the reality of what is happening on the ground so that we understand which forests are sequestering the most carbon and how we maximise that. My understanding is that once a forest becomes about 50 years old it tends to plateau off and keeps the store of carbon there, but your ability to sequester is reduced because your trees reduce their growing potential.

We need recognition of stored carbon and we need to put a policy in place that encourages land managers—in our case, we are arguing for farmers and private forest owners—to maximise that sequestering opportunity. When you look at a whole-of-cycle accounting process for our different building materials, I am sure that timber is going to come up looking pretty good. Those policies have got to be set to achieve that.

Senator MILNE —That is the point that I am making. What is incentivised is the planting of plantations for carbon. What is not incentivised is looking after your native forest as a carbon store or restoring a native forest to its maximum carbon capacity. The distortion is to drive the logging into the native forest because it is not counted and the carbon sequestration into the plantations because it is, when in fact the uses in the system should be reversed. That is why I was asking whether you would consider, as Private Forests Tasmania, having the plantations not as an opt-in, but into a separate complementary measure which looks at maximising the incentives for the best use for each of the vegetation types. I will leave that with you.

Senator CAMERON —Thank you for coming along, gentlemen. I have a threshold question that I have been asking most people. Do you accept the science of climate change and the implications in terms of CO2 emissions?

Mr Dickenson —Certainly the science is indicating quite strongly that they are real. From a farmer’s perspective—we had this discussion at the TFGA, and I am not wearing their hat today—generally speaking it is irrelevant as to whether it is real or not because the politics have now picked it up and we have to deal with the politics.

Senator CAMERON —I am simply asking your view.

Mr Dickenson —You have to take seriously what the scientists are telling us.

Senator CAMERON —I saw Mr Lord nodding furiously.

Mr Lord —That is my son’s advice. My son has worked with Graham Pearman and his advice to us, as a family, is yes.

Senator CAMERON —It is a given. I do not want to pursue this too much; I think I am getting the general idea. I suppose, Mr Taylor, that you are in the same boat, that you accept the science?

Mr Taylor —I am tempted to decline to answer that question. The science is there.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I might say what your own view is does not add to the inquiry.

Mr Taylor —It is a reality that we have got to deal with out there.

Senator CAMERON —Thank you for being up front about your position. Given that there is a general acceptance of the science, there are global implications and that there is now going to be a price on carbon, would not the forestry industry be a beneficiary of a CPRS?

Mr Dickenson —It depends on the rules. Potentially it can be, but if there is no recognition of stored carbon or we do not deal with the natural disaster type issues then, as a private forest owner, I would be reluctant to opt in now. We are tending to want to rely very heavily on the science and develop our approaches based on science, and hopefully government policy matches that. That is our wish.

Senator CAMERON —According to the Treasury modelling, with a carbon price of $20.88 there would be a potential to increase forestry to 5.8 million hectares. There are other implications. There is a benefit in one hand, in terms of the CO2 mitigation, but there are other run-off and management issues. What have the Private Forests group done to analyse the implications of this type of massive growth on run off and other environmental downsides? Has any work been done on that?

Mr Taylor —Yes. There is some work that Private Forests Tasmania have been involved in with the CSIRO on contract to the state government to work out a sustainable water yield for Tasmania. As part of that modelling exercise, they are looking at scenarios about what happens if you get land-use change, that is on agricultural land you put trees in. We await the results of those sorts of studies to see whether expanding the planted resource out there would affect water, for example.

Senator CAMERON —If we get the rules right and we get the environmental management right, the CPRS could be a benefit for Tasmanian industry in terms of moving forward?

Mr Taylor —My only plea is the additional thing of the support. It is all very well having the rules there and having a social licence because the environmental effects are deemed to be acceptable, but if people do not have the capacity to make those changes, then it is a bit academic.

Senator CAMERON —If we can get these rules right, get that organised effectively and deal with the downside issues in terms of the environment, then it could be a net positive for Tasmania.

Mr Lord —The answer is yes and it jolly well should be a benefit. In a farming landscape it is possible in a place like Tasmania, I am assured by lots of people, that we can plant 10 or even 15 per cent of the farmland with trees in the right places for shelter, aesthetics and what have you, and still achieve the same agricultural production from the 85 per cent or 90 per cent of land that is left to farm. I am not personally in favour of block plantings in these areas because we need this land to produce food and so on, but we can genuinely get a win-win.

I am concerned when I read that people are promoting potentially the planting of trees forever to lock up carbon. The initial plantings may be appropriate, but the scientists will tell us that we can do better than that. You do not plant them and lock them up forever. You can do, as the Office of Greenhouse accounting research showed and as was in the point I was making in my family’s submission, we think there is an opportunity for a win-win here in relation to the native forests, as in Senator Milne’s question. Our view is that the big opportunity for a state like Tasmania is to manage our native forests because half the state is covered in forest. The areas outside reserves are a large part owned by private families. It is there. We are not going to knock it over. We do not want to knock it over. We do not want to convert it. It is not going to be converted now. As a community, we do have the opportunity to actively manage it, to sequester carbon net, and to provide economic and social benefits through doing that. I think it would be a tragedy if we were not able to do that.

Senator CAMERON —Has there been any analysis or modelling done by your organisation as to the profitability of planting on prime agricultural land? The argument has been that all this prime agricultural land will disappear. Another argument that I have heard is that it would not be profitable to put these carbon sinks on prime agricultural land. Is that your view?

Mr Dickenson —We did a fairly extensive study almost two years ago on the actual areas that are planted by different land classes and by municipality. We came up with the result that there is very little plantation on prime agricultural land, and that is by the state government’s definition of ‘prime’. Usually the market will not allow the MIS companies on to prime agricultural land because it is just too expensive for them.

At the end of the day a farmer will make a decision on what the market signals are, and I would be very surprised if the carbon market was strong enough. Given what is happening with world agricultural production, there are more people who can afford to buy our food now than there were before. I think food production will be under pressure and the market will reflect that.

Senator CAMERON —Thank you.

Senator BOB BROWN —There are eight high-intensity forest regeneration burns in the private sector taking place in Tasmania today. Can you tell the committee what the amount of greenhouse gas emissions will be from those regeneration burns?

Mr Dickenson —No, I cannot. I probably share your frustration that they are taking part because we should be utilising that resource into some sort of bioenergy. There seems to be the ability in other parts of the world to utilise this resource that we are currently wasting, and we are getting to the stage where we really do need to give this a serious push.

Senator BOB BROWN —There are figures extant that the regeneration burns produce as much greenhouse gas as the whole of the rest of the Tasmanian economy. Therefore, on the figures you gave, the private sector may be producing 25 per cent or more of the greenhouse gas emissions from Tasmania in toto due to these regeneration burns. What is the discussion within Private Forests about this quite huge emission of greenhouse gases coming from the regeneration burn process?

Mr Dickenson —We share your view. It should not happen. I do not know whether we can get enough horsepower from industry and government to change the way we do that. Many of the plantation areas now are not being burnt; they are just being harvested and replanted. Of the eight that is taking place today, I cannot tell you. I expect they are mostly originally native forests, but I cannot tell you that. There is some frustration that forestry burns, regeneration burns, are not a long-term option.

Senator BOB BROWN —You mentioned research and said that landowners must get research support. What is the research budget from the Tasmanian government into the greenhouse phenomenon and related studies as it applies to private forests in Tasmania?

Mr Dickenson —There is probably very little on that specific issue. The state government is currently doing a wedge analysis on emissions by sector in the state. That is underway now, as I understand it, so once that is completed we should have a handle on which sector in the state, whether it is agriculture, forestry or government business and so on, those emissions are coming from. The next step will be to work out how we can mitigate it.

Senator BOB BROWN —Copenhagen is coming up and there will be a debate there about whether forestry and forests should be part of the accounting system as the world moves forward to reduce greenhouse gases. A subcomponent of that is developing countries. It seems to be very much on the agenda that developed countries are not so much so. Have you had input to government policy and do you know what the minister’s position is, or what her position will be at Copenhagen? Do you have an opinion about whether private forests should be counted for carbon accounting purposes for tackling climate change at an international level?

Mr Dickenson —I cannot tell you what Minister Wong’s position is. I would like to make a comment on how we might deal with the native forests on private land. I would like to go back a step. In the last decade, or since the signing of the RFA, there have been significant areas of private forest that have been taken out of production and put into some sort of reserve, either through the permanent forest estate, rare and threatened species or whatever.

Unlike the public sector, we have received very little compensation and recognition of the cost of that. We now have quite a substantial area of private forest that is no longer able to be managed for timber production or conversion. The Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement that was signed between Prime Minister Howard and Premier Lennon took another approximately 200,000 hectares out of the production system on private. Effectively, that has transferred the asset from the landowner to the community, but it leaves the liability of management with the landowner. Mr Taylor touched on the fact that if it is not seen to have a value, it does not get managed.

We like to think that all those discounted areas, for good reasons, like the Forest Practices system and the reserves, are our equivalent to the World Heritage area. It is not the same value, but they are secure reserves that will never be managed. To restore some of the goodwill to allow the owners of those areas to manage them in the long term it would be great if they were recognised for the ability to sequester carbon.

That is a long-winded answer, but we would like to think that, at a farm level, at a property level, we can measure what we are sequestering within those property boundaries against the emissions we may be making through other agricultural activities. We have already tested two tools on our property, one by the Melbourne University and one by New Zealand, but I am not allowed to count them.

Senator ABETZ —If it has got to be a final question then I will make it this one. Mr Lord or Mr Dickenson said, ‘If we get the rules right then the CPRS would be a good way to go.’ Would it be your view and assessment that to get the rules right will require a lot more time than the projected starting date that Senator Wong and Mr Rudd are trying to foist on us?

Mr Dickenson —I can make a short comment. If you look at the history of how these things move, my answer to your question would be yes. My dad used to say to me, ‘Where there is a will, there is a way, and where there are two, you are on a certainty.’ I suspect that it depends on the will.

Mr Lord —When I tackle or attempt to tackle issues like this, I try to have the discipline of dividing it into two parts to settle ‘what’ first and leave ‘how’ to second. If we define what we want and we have the mental rigor and clarity to be able to define what we want, which may be a system which is simple, practical, fair and what you, we then do that. Your question, with respect, is how it is implemented. I would divide it into two parts.

Certainly, my family would offer as a comment to your committee that we need to get the ‘what’ right first, because we all know that if we do not then it is a dog with a bad name and never going to go anywhere. If we can get ‘what’ right then we can marshal up all the land managers in the country and they will put their shoulder to the wheel and say, ‘This is a good idea. I can understand it. It is sensible. Okay, I’ll have a go.’ If we can get the goodwill there, we will have a huge engine in Australia to tackle climate change. I think it is really exciting.

CHAIR —Thank you for your time. We appreciate your evidence. I do not think that there are any questions on notice to you.

[11.47 am]