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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3237


Mr OAKESHOTT ( Lyne ) ( 13:1 6 ): I move:

That the Renewable Energy (Electric ity) Amendment Regulations 2011 (No. 5), as contained in the Select Legislative Instrument 2011 No. 222, and made under the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 , be disallowed.

If new Senator Bob Carr is to really be the wonderbra for Labor politics—to lift, solidify and focus the fortunes of the ALP—then he surely should be listened to. In one of his opening speeches to the Senate last week he made the point that Australia should keep all its energy options open because use of renewable energy was growing more slowly than expected. It is therefore a surprise that today the Labor Party is choosing to ignore new Senator Bob Carr on the issue of renewable energy and to make it harder for biomass, as a genuine renewable source, to be a contributor to the climate change challenge of our time.

Over the last month there has been a war of scientists—views have been cited both for and against this disallowance motion. But today the chairman of the Centre of Excellence for Climate Change, Woodland and Forest Health has come out publicly and said that the position I am taking should be supported. If Senator Bob Carr is not good enough, what about the chairman of the Centre of Excellence for Climate Change, Woodland and Forest Health? Why would we deny his voice and why would we deny the centre of excellence in developing best policy?

I also put on the record the views of the National Farmers Federation. They have genuine concerns about the loss of opportunity for farmers to contribute to the climate challenge of our time. I received a letter from Jock Laurie which said:

There are huge benefits in utilising woody biomass technology to assist Australia reduce its carbon footprint.

If that is still not good enough, I put on the record the views of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, who I note have made large donations to organisations like GetUp! that have been running a pretty stinging campaign around dead koalas being shredded. Even so, the CFMEU have written in support of this disallowance motion, saying they strongly support the use of biomass in sustainable active forest management.

I also put on the record the views of the very loyal representative of Australasia on the board of the World Bioenergy Association. His letter to me said:

I am not aware of anywhere else in the world where there is this obstruction of use of native forest residues and timber industry processing residues for energy. Over the last six years, I have attended numerous peak conferences in this field in Europe, particularly Sweden, Finland, Brussels, Austria and the USA. And two things stand out. One is that most of the woody biomass being used, always under tight guidelines of sustainable forest management backed up by good research, is from native forests. Second, there are no Australians there from state or federal governments, research or energy organisations, conservation bodies or consulting groups.

If we are serious about taking on the challenge of renewable energy, we must use all sources available. It is all hands on deck. That includes hydro, that includes wind, that includes solar and that includes geothermal. But it also includes bioenergy. That is why I do not understand why the Labor Party today is choosing to make it harder to invest in bioenergy and harder for the forestry sector to participate in addressing the challenge before this parliament—that of climate change.

I am pretty sure I know what the government will argue today. They will argue three things. Firstly, they will argue that the RET scheme is only about ecologically sustainable activity. But, by law, forestry in Australia is to a standard of ecological sustainability. Sure, there might be all sorts of enforcement issues on the ground, but the law says forestry in Australia must be to an ecologically sustainable standard. It therefore meets the objectives of the RET scheme.

Secondly, we will hear from government that it is double-dipping—that getting support through both the carbon scheme and the RET subsidy is somehow unfair. They will make that argument despite the fact that all other renewables and all other forestry options can participate in both the scheme to price carbon and the renewable energy scheme For some reason, apparently, we have to isolate native forestry. Somehow this is the bogey in renewables that must be stopped at all costs. I disagree with both of those arguments and I will point out why.

For me, that leaves only the third argument that I reckon we will hear from government speakers—concerns about potential unintended consequences and fears about loss of biodiversity. Concerns around those fears or unintended consequences are real. I accept those, but they do not beat science and they do not beat international comparative work. That is surely where best policy should come from—from the science and the international comparative work that clearly show those fears are unfounded and that those fears are ideologically driven rather than driven by fact and best policy.

I am not a lone voice on this. We have heard from the NFF, the CFMEU and people who represent Australia on world bioenergy associations in international forums. My local branch of the climate change association of Australia have said they do not want to be a party to any form letters from environmental groups that are doing the rounds. They understand that it should be all hands on deck in dealing with the challenge of renewable energy and the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The disappointment today is that the Australian parliament is choosing to intervene in the renewable energy market and make one sector harder—that is, biomass. Genuine renewables, including wind, solar, geothermal, hydro and bioenergy all have their place. Rather than encouraging and supporting bioenergy within a market, today we are making it harder and calling it a non-genuine option, despite all world evidence to the contrary. Today, I expect to lose this debate based on the latest counting. It will only be by one or two, and that is a disappointment and a frustration. It is a disappointment that bioenergy is not considered a genuine renewable energy in Australia and a frustration that many voting against this disallowance motion in their heart of hearts know they are not voting for best policy.

This disallowance motion is based on two very simple, sound and sensible principles. The first is that the private sector engagement in sustainable active forest management is a good thing in Australia and it is to be encouraged. It is not a bad thing to be discouraged. We use wood and paper in our economy, and we need to find a source for these products somewhere, preferably domestically. The second principle is that biomass and bioenergy do have a place in a genuine renewable energy market and do have a place in tackling climate change. Encouraging a biomass and bioenergy industry to develop is a good thing for Australia and is to be encouraged, not a bad thing to be discouraged. If it is, as I say, all hands on deck in reducing carbon, then biomass and bioenergy surely deserve support and encouragement alongside other carbon-reducing options. Science supports this and international comparative work supports this, so why don't we as an Australian parliament?

If we accept these two broad and sound principles that encourage investment in the landscape, encourage investment in active forest management and encourage investment in more renewable options as one of the many parts in the story of tackling climate change then the logic follows that we should be encouraging investment in existing wood waste for energy by disallowing this regulation, rather than allowing this regulation to pass so that we leave wood waste as pollution. By allowing this flawed and unscientific regulation, we will be allowing greater use of coal, we will leave wood waste to be burnt as nothing other than pollution and we potentially increase the trade imbalance in wood and paper products from less sustainable forestry practices. Where in any of that is thinking globally and acting locally? Where in that are any sensible environmental outcomes? If this regulation is owned by the Greens, it will do little to deliver on that party's platform. In my view, it will do the complete opposite to what they want to achieve as it will encourage the burning of more coal, create more pollution and increase less sustainable forestry practices throughout the Asia-Pacific.

It is a fact that forest residues generally and native forestry residues in particular have the potential to supply low-cost renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions without increasing native forest harvesting or threatening ecological sustainability. This is a fact and no fear-based campaign can change this known fact.

This was identified in the report from the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry. On the last sitting day of last year, that committee made the following recommendation:

… bioenergy sourced from native forest biomass should continue to qualify as renewable energy where the biomass is a true waste product and does not become a driver for harvesting native forests.

This was a bipartisan committee, with unanimous recommendations, chaired by the very good Labor MP Dick Adams, whom I suspect Labor will now pair due to the absence of my colleague Bob Katter and stop him doing his job of being a representative in this parliament. I hope that is not the case.

As a related issue to this committee's work, from a parliamentary procedure point of view, if we are serious about this investment in committee work in the 43rd Parliament then what are we saying about us as a parliament that a committee delivers a report that makes recommendations and then the very next day a minister brings in a regulation that does the complete opposite? At the very least, we should digest, reflect and debate the recommendations made rather than allow a minister to dismiss the work done by a parliamentary committee with no consideration at all. This is a sound committee doing sound work and making sound recommendations. Why are we as a parliament choosing to ignore its work?

As per the recommendation, the former regulation was good law and this new regulation is not. We do not need to deny the option of treating wood waste as genuine renewable energy as it contributes to lower carbon emissions and more investment in renewables. It is part of the symphony of genuine renewables—hydro, wind, solar, geothermal and bioenergy. They all talk to each other and there are co-benefits from having all in the field working as hard as they can. Under the original law, all mills could access renewable energy certificates under current arrangements such as regional forestry agreements, meeting the known legal standard of ecologically sustainable forestry as well as the higher value test whereby no tree was or is harvested for energy; rather the primary purpose must always be for a value adding process such as furniture, flooring or wood products. It is therefore only the residue, at the very most approximately 15 per cent of a log, that we face a choice on in Australia. We either burn the wood waste as pollution or we encourage it to be burnt for energy. I say we convert this waste product to renewable energy rather than add further to pollution in Australia. I also add that, under the original law, very good work was being done by the Forest Stewardship Council and similar bodies. There was a point of engagement between foresters and environmentalists working on lifting standards throughout the industry. This is the place for arguments about on-the-ground definitions of what is, or is not, waste and on-the-ground issues of enforcement of the legal standards of rule of law in this country around ecological sustainability. These are real issues that should be appropriately dealt with through these bodies. But these are not arguments to say the law itself is bad and I hope, whichever way this vote goes, that the very good work of bodies like the Forest Stewardship Council continues to tackle these thorny on-the-ground issues that make this such an emotive community debate throughout Australia.

Over the past month this climate change debate has, in a fascinating way, turned into a forestry debate. That is okay because none of this is inconsistent with my views on forestry. I believe in a strong forestry policy that encourages the establishment of plantations, that ceases logging old-growth forests, that makes a proper long-term commitment to, and investment in, forest monitoring. I believe in a strong forestry policy to improve the reserve system for forests, to improve forest management and develop more ecologically sustainable logging systems, to develop new ways to improve integration of farm forestry with on-farm management and on-farm biodiversity conservation, to reassess sustained yield calculations for production forests to avoid resource overcommitment, to complete a climate change vulnerability assessment for forests, to develop much-improved fire management practices for forests, to make proper investments in forest research and, most importantly, to lead globally by building a sustainable forestry industry locally. To lead, we need to encourage the private sector to engage in sustainable practices. None of what I am suggesting today is inconsistent with any of that. None of this forest review is inconsistent. If we are going to vote this disallowance down, and allow this regulation, it will be a lost opportunity.

I add to anyone who is opposed to this disallowance: they need to explain the trade imbalance of $1.9 billion in wood and paper products. We still use more wood and paper in our economy than we produce domestically. The 'think global, act local' motto must surely prick the conscience of colleagues about where wood and paper is going to come from. Is it coming from forests with less sustainable forestry practices than our own? It pricks my conscience and it is for this reason I say we should not export our guilt by importing more wood and paper products from less-sustainable forests in our region. I say we deal with the trade imbalance and lead our region in building the most sustainable active forestry industry that we can—one that is encouraged by public policymakers and attractive to private investors so that we can see more use of trees in tackling carbon reductions.

That could mean using wood waste instead of coal in the electricity grid, using wood as a substitute for more carbon intensive products and keeping trees in the ground for biological carbon capture and storage and carbon sequestration. I am a strong believer that the landscape always wins out over the man-made and the landscape is the answer to climate change. That is why I argued for the $1.7 billion land sector package, as part of the clean energy package, and it is why this ongoing land sector package will be the standout legacy of this parliament from the negotiations of last year.

There has always been debate about where and how wood is harvested in Australia's forests. This forestry debate has become a climate change debate with the claim now made that a ban on biomass energy from native forestry would be a positive for climate change—a claim that is just plain wrong. Firstly, we have to recognise that we use wood in our economy and it is a substitute product. By using wood in preference to concrete, plastic, metal and steel we achieve carbon benefits. Secondly, we have to recognise that where there is native forestry there will be residues and it is wasteful to let them burn, only to become fugitive emissions, when they could be used to displace high-emission fossil fuels. Thirdly, the more narrow we make the field of allowable alternative energy sources, the harder and more expensive it becomes to deal with climate change. Finally, while Australia is importing a net $1.9 billion in wood products each year, to not allow any native forestry biomass use is just exporting our responsibility for good forestry practices and for carbon reduction.

There has been correspondence received on this topic over recent weeks and I apologise to all MPs for their increased workload. But a fundamental mistake underpinning the campaign from GetUp!, the AYCC and the Greens network is their argument that biomass as renewable energy will change the economic fundamentals of native forestry. It does not and will not. Because of time restrictions, I seek leave to table some of the letters that I have referred to, received from people who are concerned about the place that bioenergy takes.

Leave granted.

Mr OAKESHOTT: I strongly support Australia's high degree of protection from harvesting, through reservation and protection, for native forests. Do not get me wrong on that. But I cannot accept a total ban. It does not make sense for forestry and it does not make sense for climate change. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Murphy ): Is the motion for disallowance seconded?