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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 5222


Senator MILNE (3:29 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Climate Change and Water (Senator Wong) to a question without notice asked by Senator Milne today relating to climate change and the protection of native forests.

I put to the minister: did she agree with former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr that protecting native forests is fundamental to fighting climate change and that keeping carbon locked up or sequestered in Australia’s native forests instead of logging them will not only slow Australia’s rising greenhouse gas emissions but also have biodiversity benefits? Senator Wong studiously avoided the question of whether she agreed with former Premier Bob Carr. She also completely ignored the question of logging of native forests and went quickly on to the fact that Australia has regional forest agreements and that these regional forest agreements govern logging. Yes, they do, but they say nothing about the carbon from the logging of native forests in Australia. In fact, under the Kyoto protocol, logging of native forests is deemed to be carbon neutral providing the land use does not change, and that has been the big problem with the Kyoto accounting when it comes to logging native forests. Senator Wong knows that and I know that. The point is that the government will not address this.

Senator Wong talked about Australia’s national accounting system, but Australia’s national accounting system is completely inadequate when it comes to looking at the carbon stored in Australia’s native forests. She did mention, which I am pleased about, the report by the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society, Green carbon: the role of natural forests in carbon storage, released in August this year, that says that carbon stocks in standing native eucalypt forests are much greater than previously thought. In fact we now know that the carbon carrying capacity of the 14.5 million hectares of native eucalypt forest in south-eastern Australia was estimated at around 9.3 gigatonnes, three times higher than the values calculated by the national carbon accounting system. The point is that the NCAS system is inaccurate in measuring the carbon stored in native vegetation. The point that former Premier Carr made is the one that needs to be taken on board by this government—that is, with energy emissions out of control and with transport emissions out of control, the only way Australia can make a deep cut in carbon emissions between now and 2020 and have a transitional strategy on transport and energy is to protect native forests and native vegetation now. That is the point. It is also fantastic for biodiversity because it builds resilience in ecosystems, as our natural vegetation is what will give us our best chance at adaptation to climate change and connectivity between biodiverse areas of forest.

Senator Wong talked about Indonesia and PNG, and the point I was making there is that Australia is rushing to tell PNG and Indonesia that they must protect their forests because the world cannot stand the deforestation emissions coming from those countries. That is quite right, but she will be regarded as a total hypocrite, and in fact Australia will be seen as a total hypocrite, if we go to Poznan and on to Copenhagen saying that other countries should not log their forests because it is bad for carbon emissions but that Australia reserves the right to log all of our native forests, as we are currently doing in Tasmania, in Gippsland, in south-west Western Australia, in Bermagui—you name it. Right across the country this logging goes on—as if the developing world is not going to take one very good look at Australia and say, ‘Why don’t you do what you are telling us you want us to do?’ If we want to stop deforestation and degradation from logging, as indeed I do—and I support the reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation—we have to stop it at home. It provides us with a great opportunity to protect biodiversity and a great opportunity to cut our emissions and take a leadership role to Copenhagen next year by being able to say that Australia is doing it and that we want the rest of the world to do it too. The irony of this is that, while Australia is logging its forests and ignoring the fact that we already have a perfect carbon capture and storage scheme in native forests, we are pouring billions of dollars into a pipedream for the coal industry, which is a 21st century landfill strategy to fill up holes in the ground with liquid carbon dioxide and expect the community to take liability in the longer term. So we pay for a technology that does not work and we drive the destruction of the carbon capture and storage technology, the trees that we do have now. How stupid is that?

I ask the government to reconsider its priorities and pour its money into protecting our native vegetation and not put it down holes in the ground for the sake of the coal industry, which will be leapfrogged whether the government likes it or not. Renewables and efficiency will leapfrog coal in this generation.

Question agreed to.