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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4624

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (18:22): In joining the debate on the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011 I intend to take up where the shadow minister for agriculture left off earlier this morning by posing the question: why would we trust this government in relation to the future of farming? It is like there is a message coming from those opposite: I am from the Labor Party and I am here to help. And as the shadow minister rightly indicated the bill before the House is incomplete and misleading. The shadow minister used the phrase that it is like 'mutton dressed as lamb'. At the risk of prolonging the rural metaphors for too much longer, there are so many holes in this you could drive a Mack truck through it.

This government expects the coalition to blindly accept this bill. They seem to be simply saying, 'Trust us and we will add the details later on in the regulations.' You will have to excuse my cynicism, but the people of my electorate have no reason whatsoever to trust this government when it comes to its policies relating to climate change and emissions reductions.

This bill, as those opposite have indicated, feeds directly into the broader debate about this government's policies on so-called 'dangerous' climate change. The minister for climate change was in Gippsland last week and was on ABC Radio, where he almost tied himself in knots avoiding using the word 'tax'. During the interview I counted the number of times the minister referred to the government's carbon policy, and it was all about a 'carbon price'. Obviously the focus groups have tried to sanitise the tax now. It has got to be a carbon price. We do not talk about tax any more, apparently. Painfully avoiding the word 'tax' will not escape the attention of the people of Gippsland, who, as on many occasions in the past, will be at the pointy end of any government policies in relation to the emission of carbon dioxide.

On a more positive note, it was good that the minister actually visited Gippsland. He is the first cabinet minister to visit and actually consult with my community in relation to the government's climate change policy. I appreciate that he took the time to attend a summit in the electorate. But I would encourage him to go out into the broader community. If he had he would have picked up on the anger and disappointment within my community about the way this government has conducted itself on this particular issue. The bottom line is that the people in Gippsland and the La Trobe Valley do not want this government's household assistance package. They want to keep their jobs.

This government accuses the coalition of running a scare campaign, yet listen to their rhetoric. Listen to the words they use out in the community in relation to their policies on carbon dioxide emissions. They love using the term 'dangerous climate change'. They cannot help themselves—they have to refer to 'dirty' coal-fired power stations. They must always mention '1,000 biggest polluters'. They do not mention the fact that they also happen to be some of the biggest employers in this nation. Let's vilify them as these 'dirty polluters' who are causing 'dangerous climate change'. This rhetoric has got to stop. This government is embarrassing itself with the public by its attempt to vilify some of the most successful businesses in our nation, and they are also vilifying the men and women who work in these coal-fired power stations, who have done nothing more than they were asked to do by our nation. They have provided cheap, reliable baseload energy for our nation and now this Labor Party—the party that used to stand up for workers—is vilifying these people in communities like the La Trobe Valley. This government should be embarrassed by its conduct.

We also have the government out there talking about 'saving' the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu, as if Australia alone could actually do anything in terms of the ultimate environmental impacts of any forecast in relation to climate change. This deliberate scaring and spreading of myths is all about gaining support for a tax.

Government MPs are also desperately trying to avoid mentioning this fundamental breach of trust. This is where the government has its biggest problem in the electorate. Before the election this Prime Minister said:

There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.

It is becoming abundantly clear that this Prime Minister is not leading anything, when you have Kevin Rudd running foreign policy, Bob Brown running domestic policy and the Prime Minister running out of excuses. But put that aside. The fundamental breach of trust is where this government has its greatest problem. You now bring this bill into the House and expect Gippslanders to take you on trust that the Carbon Farming Initiative is in their interests, when the government has not even released the details of how the carbon tax, which will directly feed into this process, will play out in the broader community.

When government ministers come to my electorate, I have constantly asked them just to be honest in this debate about climate change. And I can report a small breakthrough this week. We had Minister Combet actually admitting that no Australian solution to this problem would save the Great Barrier Reef. He has finally come out and explained that it will take global action. But, if you had listened over the past three years during which I have been in this place, we have heard constantly from those opposite how they are taking action now to save the Great Barrier Reef. But Australia emits only 1.5 per cent of total global emissions. If we cut all our emissions, we do not do anything about the other 98.5 per cent, so how is that going to save the Great Barrier Reef.

Stop telling people lies about what can be achieved by Australians acting independently of other nations. It is great that the minister this week finally indicated that we are better off directing our money and energy at direct local action ahead of any global efforts in terms of the so-called 'saving' of the Great Barrier Reef. We have had our own climate change zealot in Tim Flannery out there admitting the same thing this week. He even went a step further when, in March this year, he said:

If the world as a whole cut all emissions tomorrow, the average temperature of the planet is not going to drop for several hundred years, perhaps over 1000 years.

To me that is a very telling admission by Mr Flannery, because he has finally acknowledged that we are talking about long-term change. The temperature of the planet is not going to drop for several hundred years and perhaps over 1,000 years. That is what Mr Flannery said. He also said this week that reputable scientists do have different views on man's impact and man's contribution to climate change. So, finally, there is a little bit of honesty coming into the debate and some sort of recognition that not everyone who has some degree of caution in relation to the more extreme forecasts is a sceptic or somehow a denier, now that even Mr Flannery admits that there are reputable scientists who have different views.

We are after all only talking about models and forecasts. Just as an aside, when the weather bureau cannot reliably tell me what the weather is going to be like tomorrow and then tells me that in 100 years there are going to be sea level rises of a metre as a result of climate change, I think I am entitled to exercise a level of caution in deciding whether to accept everything that is put to me about weather, climate and long-term trends. This government wants to take reckless action that will send Australian jobs overseas by driving up the costs of production, yet, as Tim Flannery has indicated, the average temperature of the planet will not move for 1,000 years.

I want to refer specifically to the concerns I have about the future of the Latrobe Valley under this government. When the minister visited the Latrobe Valley he repeatedly refused to give a guarantee that this government will actually undertake a social and economic analysis of the impact of its policies in our community. The question must now be asked: what is the minister hiding? Why won't the Gillard government be honest with the people of the Latrobe Valley and undertake a full assessment of the costs and benefits of its policies in relation to climate change and emissions reductions? That is the fundamental point for the people in my region. If the government is not prepared to explain what the actual costs and benefits to them and their households will be, why would we take it at its word on the carbon tax or any other policy? The Latrobe Valley, as I have said many times in this place and I say again tonight, is absolutely at the pointy end of this debate, yet the government has refused to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of how its policies will play out in a regional community like Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley. Extending the argument, why would farming families take this government at its word on the bill before the House when the Labor Party is happy to strip water out of communities in the Murray-Darling Basin without any consideration whatsoever of the broader social and economic impacts?

We are faced with the same situation here in relation to the government's policies on pricing carbon. Instead of the empty rhetoric we have been getting, the families in the Latrobe Valley deserve to know whether their jobs will be affected under this government's carbon tax. If the government does not know the answer yet—if the government does not know whether or not jobs will be lost—how can it realistically expect the people of my community to support its policies?

I do acknowledge that the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government acknowledged today in the media that coal will play an important part in our nation's energy needs for decades into the future. That is a breakthrough. It is a breakthrough to have a government minister actually acknowledge the importance of coal. I wonder how Labor's partners in government, the Greens, reacted to that? I wonder if that statement had to be run past the Greens' media unit, since the Greens have such have such a hold over this government? I sincerely hope there will be other ministers who will state the obvious fact that coal is such an important part of the future energy needs of our nation.

I believe the Latrobe Valley has a great future. Our challenge, though, is to get rid of this government to allow us to achieve that future. In the Latrobe Valley we have 500 years worth of brown coal reserves. I cannot think of another nation in the world with an extraordinary natural resource of that capacity that would simply be saying, 'We can't use dirty brown coal; we're going to leave it in the ground.' That is a ridiculous proposition in a world where energy demand is growing. Our challenge—

Mr Adams: That's cheap populism.

Mr CHESTER: I will take up that interjection. Now we know what backbenchers from the Labor Party actually think. They think it is cheap populism to talk about Latrobe Valley power workers' jobs. Well, congratulations to the backbenchers of the Labor Party. That is what they now think about the workers of our nation. Congratulations! It is no wonder the Labor Party cannot hold a seat east of Melbourne if that is what they think of the workers these days. You should be embarrassed.

There are 500 years worth of brown coal. It is a reliable natural resource. It provides a cheap form of energy, and our challenge is to use it in the most environmentally friendly way possible. There have been some remarkable efforts over the past decade by companies that are exploring ways to reduce the moisture content and export brown coal. There is a well-advanced proposal to use the carbon dioxide emissions to grow algae for several environmentally friendly products, and I understand there have been some great breakthroughs with a particular project in the Townsville area. Carbon geosequestration remains, I admit, something of a holy grail for the coal-fired power stations, and it is doubtful whether it will proceed on an industrial scale in the foreseeable future, but the research and development is needed in this particular space.

The point I am trying to make is that over the past six or seven decades working families—who the Labor Party used to speak so much about—in the Latrobe Valley have made an enormous contribution to the Australian nation, and they will continue to do so if they are supported in the future. They should not be vilified in this place. The government should not be using terms like 'dirty coal-fired power stations' and 'the 1,000 biggest polluters'. It should start acknowledging some of the positive achievements of these families working in my region. The Nationals do support a range of policies that provide for direct action to meet the agreed emissions reduction target of five per cent by 2020, but our policy is to avoid the punitive nature of the carbon tax and provide incentives for these companies to invest in technology and new systems to reduce their emissions. Some very successful trial projects have already been undertaken in the Latrobe Valley region with funding from both the former Labor state government and the coalition government at a federal level.

We do support direct and practical environmental action that achieves a positive outcome, makes sense in terms of improved productivity and builds a bridge with the sections of the community who have some reasonable doubts about some of the more extreme forecasts. I believe that is the real opportunity for us in building community consensus about the need to undertake practical environmental works.

This government has a long list of failures when it comes to its so-called green programs. There was the home insulation disaster in which four people tragically lost their lives. We had the abandoned cash-for-clunkers policy and the green loans and home assessors programs. The wasteful and reckless policy we have seen from this government is probably the worst in living memory, and now the government expects us to trust it with this important piece of legislation—the same government that could not deliver any of these programs just mentioned, the same government that cut $11 million out of the forward budget estimates for Landcare.

So we have a government that will cut money out of Landcare but is still able to find money for a climate change advertising campaign. Given a choice between propaganda and propagation, this government will always go for self-promotion and the propaganda campaign. I do not believe that the community trusts this government to be able to deliver any program, particularly something as complex as this carbon farming initiative. Like other speakers on this side of the House I will reserve my judgment until we see the full details of this bill, but I am not convinced that this government understands the risky nature of the path it wants to lead Australian farmers down. At a time when food security should be the focus of national attention, we run the risk of introducing a scheme that will see prime agricultural land turned into forests on the back of government incentives. Any schemes that distort land use decisions and result in large tracts of prime agricultural land being turned into plantations are a huge risk for the future of rural and regional Australia. Our prime agricultural land must be protected from this type of government interference. I congratulate the many members on this side of the House who expressed similar sentiments. I am not against tree planting or reforestation projects in the appropriate places, such as on the more marginal land in our nation, but that has not been the experience of many rural and regional communities over recent years. I fear that this government does not properly understand the needs of regional communities. Simply saying 'trust us' will not wash with farming families.