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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 4904

Senator HEFFERNAN (3:23 PM) —I am apologetic. I think it is probably fair to say that the previous speaker, Senator Hurley, in this debate to take note of answers has no idea about the bush and probably thinks that the bush is the rosebush in the front garden, as would apply to most people on the other side.

Government senators interjecting—

Senator HEFFERNAN —There is no-one in the government that lives and/or makes a living in the bush, and it is fair to say that the Prime Minister answered a question about agriculture accurately yesterday when he said, ‘We don’t have an answer.’ How is it reasonable to say to a farmer, who could have several million dollars worth of loan facilities with a bank, ‘Well, we’ll tell you in 2013; if we’re going to do something we’ll implement it in 2015’? If you have some millions of dollars and the government is deciding your fate, which could be up to a 30 per cent reduction in your profitability or, in the case of beef, a 200 per cent drop in profitability at $40 a tonne, how are you supposed to explain that to the bank and expect the bank to maintain confidence in your loan facility? This is silly stuff. This is an insult to Australia’s farmers. Senator, I know you are probably not aware of this, but the white paper says that, regardless of whether the government in 2013 decides that we are in or we are out, farmers will be charged a comparative tax. That is what the white paper says, doesn’t it, Minister?  I read it out yesterday. So, one way or another, farmers are going to cop this.

You would be aware that science says that, if the global population grows to nine billion people, 50 per cent of the world’s population is going to be water poor, a billion people will be unable to feed themselves, 30 per cent of the productive land in Asia, where two-thirds of the world’s population will live, is going to go out of production, the food task is going to double and 1.6 billion of the planet’s people could be displaced. That says to me that we have to do something about it. I am not going to stand here and argue all this political—I won’t swear, Mr Deputy President—


Senator HEFFERNAN —rubbish. I am not going to argue about that. I am not interested in what is causing it; I am interested in what we are going to do about it. The world has to model the global food task. You laugh, but when you go to Woolies, Coles or Aldi and walk down the aisle and there is the meat, there is the milk and there are the vegies you cannot take that for granted. At $17 a tonne, I remind you, every irrigated dairy farmer is insolvent. At $40 a tonne, there would be roughly a 30 per cent increase in the cost of beef and sheep production due to the tax. We are not allowed to offset because of signing the Kyoto protocol. This was a great symbolic gesture for the world. It was almost like going to confession, saying, ‘Whew! We’ve got to do something about this. We don’t know what the outcome’s going to be,’ in much the same way as it was necessary for the nation to apologise to the Indigenous people. The apology made everyone feel good, but it did not do anything for the Indigenous people. They are still living 17 to a house in places, there are still 7,000 kids in the Northern Territory who have no access to high school, and every person in this parliament should be ashamed of that.

The global food task is the same thing. The Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong, was the dux of her class—she is no dope; it is true, she is smart—but she and the government cannot tell us what is going to happen to farmers. It is an insult to farmers to say, as you have calmly said, Senator, ‘We will tell you in 2013.’ If the Waxman-Markey bill gets through the US Senate, Australia’s farmers will be so seriously disadvantaged in the global market that they will be put out of business. Bear in mind that there are 250 million cattle in India for milk production. We have 28 million cattle. We used to have 210 million sheep; we only have 70 million sheep now. India has more cattle than Australia, Brazil and America put together. If they are out, why would we be in? If Brazil does not go in, why would we be in? If you have a feed of baked beans, your extractions, or whatever they are called, are going to be different to your eating white bread. It is the same with a cow. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.