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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 8081

Mr MARLES (3:22 PM) —My question is for the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Would the minister please update the House on the attitudes of primary producers in adapting to climate change?

Mr Dutton —He doesn’t read his correspondence—how would he know?

Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —Given that 13 of those letters arrived on the day the question was asked, you probably should interject with something different next time.

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister will ignore the interjections, and the interjections will cease.

Mr BURKE —The National Farmers Federation have described climate change as possibly the biggest risk facing Australian farmers in the coming century. I would like to report to the House on some ABS figures which have been released recently, which show that about half of Australia’s agricultural businesses have changed their management practices in response to climate change. These figures do vary across the country and across agricultural industries, with stronger results in the south of the country, obviously, than in the north. In the Goulburn-Broken Natural Resource Management region in Victoria, 78 per cent of agricultural businesses have changed their farming practices to deal with climate change. In the north Tasmania NRM region, the figure is 80 per cent. In the Northern Agricultural Region in Western Australia, the result is quite high, at 83 per cent. The Rudd government has also tripled the Climate Change Research Program from $15 million to $46.2 million. Those expressions of interest closed a couple of weeks ago and I am pleased to report to the House that we have received more than 200 expressions of interest from Australia’s leading bodies doing research into carbon pollution, better soil management and adaptation to a changing climate.

Farmers have been recognising the need to adapt their practices to deal with climate change and have been aware of the connection between emissions, human behaviour and climate change itself. In fact, this is the very dispatch box where the then Prime Minister, 18 months ago, said:

… I do believe there is a connection between climate change and emissions. I do not really think the jury is out on that.

That is why I was surprised to read a comment from a primary producer—or a former primary producer—that was published in the Canowindra News, where the article begins:

Member for Calare, John Cobb, says he is prepared to out himself as a climate change sceptic to bring a “voice of reason” to the debate about Australia’s response to global warming.

Mr Cobb, who has previously served as the nation’s assistant environment minister, yesterday questioned the impact human activity has had on rising temperatures, sea levels and the ongoing drought.

While Australia’s farmers and primary producers have been moving in one direction, in the last couple of days the opposition has decided to move in the opposite direction, by taking a climate change sceptic and saying, ‘Yes—that is the person who ought to be in charge of the agriculture portfolio for the opposition.’ The Leader of the Opposition has chosen to drag the climate change debate backward from where Mr Howard left it. In government, we know, the Leader of the Opposition was frustrated at the handling of the climate change debate. If you look at today’s announcement, you discover that the reason he was frustrated was that the previous Prime Minister was taking climate change too seriously for his liking.

Mr Rudd —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.