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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 7773

Senator MILNE (10:02 PM) —At last we are getting somewhere. All you have to do is say, ‘I believe that my carbon sink forest meets the environmental and natural resource management guidelines in relation to the establishment of trees. All you have to swear to is this:

Carbon sink forest establishment should be based on regionally applicable best practice approaches for achieving multiple land and water environmental benefits.

What is the test for that? That is gobbledegook of the highest order. What is the approach? Whose approach? Who says it is best practice? Which region? It is just a ridiculous idea. For number 2 the requirement is:

Carbon sink forest establishment activities should be guided by regional natural resource management plans and water sharing plans, and environmental impacts at a catchment scale should be considered.

So you say: ‘Yes, I comply with that. I considered the catchment management plans and anyway in my area there is no NRM plan or if there is it is not finalised or is not statutory, and there might be a water-sharing plan but there might not be so all I have to say is that I comply with that. The regional approach? Yes, that is done too.’ The third guideline is:

Carbon sink forest establishment activities should recognise and adhere to all government regulatory requirements.

So you say: ‘Yep, that is fine, especially where there are none. It is great.’

There is not a person I know who could not tick those off and have 95 per cent confidence that if anyone ever audited it all you could defend the position that you adopted: the best-practice approach in your region; that you looked at those plans and took them into consideration; and that you recognised and adhered to government regulations, whatever they might be or however inadequate they are. So I just go back to the point I made earlier: these guidelines are not worth the paper they are written on and they are a disgrace.

Not only are we in this position of tax deducting the costs of the land; apart from everything else we now have a situation where all that the coal companies, airlines et cetera have to do when they employ a subsidiary company to plant out thousands of hectares is tick the boxes, because they know that none of those are legally enforceable. There is no benchmark there against which you could measure anything. It is an aspirational goal. And what does ‘best practice’ mean? It means: ‘Whenever I use a word,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘it means exactly what I choose it to mean—nothing more, nothing less.’ That is precisely what we have got here, Minister: Humpty Dumpty legislation. Your regulations are not worth the paper they are written on.

Perhaps you could tell me this. Do you get the tax deduction if you plant a monoculture forest rather than a biodiverse forest? Do you only have to say it was your intention at the time for it to be a carbon sink forest to get the tax deduction and then later you can change your mind?