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Thursday, 20 August 2009
Page: 8555

Mr BIDGOOD (3:17 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. What are the implications for Australian farmers of the government’s plans to promote renewable energy, and what are the preconditions for these benefits to be available to farmers?

Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the member for Dawson for the question. The member for Dawson is very well engaged with the sugar industry in his electorate. There are very exciting times ahead for the sugar industry in Australia. Already we have seen record high sugar prices—28-year highs. My department has advised me that the futures contracts have risen from less than 12c a pound in October last year to 22c a pounds now. With the passing of the RET legislation, we have a new opportunity for extra money to be going through to the sugar industry through co-generation.

The Sugar Milling Council has looked to potential co-generation sites up and down the sugar coast, from Queensland down to northern New South Wales. In Far North Queensland, in the seats of Leichhardt and Kennedy, they believe that there is now a capacity for co-generation to provide service of electricity to the same capacity of 70 per cent of the households in that area. In the electorate of Dawson, through North Queensland, in Herbert and the Burdekin, there are three mills to be upgraded. In the Whitsunday hinterland and Mackay in the central region there are two mill upgrades. In the first of those, in the Burdekin, we are talking about more than 140,000 households being able to be serviced with their electricity supplies through use of the bagasse back into the grid. That is more than the requirements for the total region, as a result of the RET now having been passed. These benefits go all the way down to the southern areas where sugar is grown, into Hinkler and Wide Bay, through the Wide Bay-Burnett southern region, and into northern New South Wales and the electorate of Page. To be able to turn this from an immediate advantage into a long-term drive for investment in renewables, it is not enough to simply have the renewable energy target in place; we also need to have the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to be able to continue to drive long-term investment into renewables.

To be able to deliver on this, we need to get the certainty which is only possible if the coalition resolves its differences. It was not long ago—just on a year ago—that the member for Higgins was quoted in the Australian as saying:

In the Coalition agreement, there has never been a Liberal Party position and a National Party position … If you are in coalition, you have a Coalition position.

That was what the member for Higgins said last year. This morning, on the doors, the Leader of the Opposition was asked, ‘Well, what if the Nationals vote differently to the Liberals?’ Instead of acknowledging it as a fundamental break within the coalition, he said, ‘That is less than ideal.’ What for decades on decades has been a cornerstone of that group—being able to say that they could be a coalition, being able to say that they could be an alternative government—is, instead, now simply something that is just ‘less than ideal’.

In an article by Matthew Franklin in today’s Australian, we read that the Nationals have found a strategic genius who has come up with the pathway back to recovery as a political party.

Mrs Hull interjecting

Mr BURKE —The new idea that was come up with today that the National Party member quoted to Matthew Franklin was: ‘We have to start talking to regional Australia.’ A brand new idea for the National Party: start talking to regional Australia! I suggest that, on the way through, they start listening to regional Australia as well. There is no damage that any of us in this place can cause to the coalition that comes close to what they have been inflicting on themselves. They have become a rabble that makes Mal Meninga’s political career look strategic.