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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6161

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (17:10): I rise to speak in support of the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011 as it involves an issue that is of central importance to the advancement of our society, our economy and our nation. As a member of parliament representing a regional electorate, I understand that this issue has been thoroughly debated in the Australian community, including my electorate. I appreciate that this issue has been also thoroughly debated as a matter of urgency in our vibrant and healthy democracy, and I welcome the debate. However, I believe that it should not be a debate that is dominated by the fear mongering and falsehood propagated daily by those opposite and those who continue to deny the pressing reality of climate change.

Before the carbon debate things were different on that side of the House—but how things have changed. Indeed, it is supposed to be those opposite who would advocate market solutions to economic issues. However, we have seen that those opposite have abandoned their previous position and continue to try to strike new poses daily. Now they are trying to convince Australians that their carbon scheme, which would take $720 out of the pockets of Australian households, is, in some bizarre way, good for us. Meanwhile this government has long argued for and proposed a market solution to address the issue of pricing carbon emissions. We have been consistent in articulating the need to price carbon, and a market solution is absolutely needed because long-term incentives are central to ensuring that the low-carbon potential of our economy is realised.

This bill before the House for debate today relates to the issue of carbon emissions in the agricultural industry and the provision of a market based mechanism to provide incentives to reduce carbon emissions. Currently the agricultural sector of the Australian economy accounts for 23 per cent of Australia's emissions. Any legislative response to carbon emissions must therefore have specific programs in place for the agricultural sector. This is because our agricultural sector does operate under economic pressures different from those in other sectors of the economy, and our legislative response here must be appropriate to this sector. This bill is very well detailed—as the member who spoke before me, the member for Grey, has recognised—and recognises that the farming sector is vital in this debate. The bill recognises the great potential for agricultural landowners to undertake greenhouse gas abatement projects. The abatement activities include those that assist in reducing or avoiding emissions including though the capture and destruction of methane emissions from landfill or livestock manure. Additionally, abatement activities can include those that remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in soil or trees; for example, by growing a forest or farming in a way that increases soil carbon.

These proposals do not represent a fringe proposal that has no regard for the importance of the agricultural sector. Indeed, it has long been recognised by professionals in a variety of occupations that our agricultural practices need to properly develop in a sustainable manner. The people who argue for this include the farmers who recognise that unsustainable usage of land impacts on its future productivity. Indeed, the abatement of greenhouse gas emissions is such a manner by which our land can be utilised in a much more sustainable way. It is not a fringe proposal to provide appropriate incentives to farmers to engage them in undertaking projects that ensure their practices are far more greenhouse friendly. If we as a parliament are going to address the issue of Australia's carbon emissions then we need to provide this vital and appropriate market based scheme for our agricultural sector.

I have a deep appreciation for the role of the agricultural sector in the Australian economy and our society. The Central Coast, including my electorate of Robertson, has a rich agricultural history and still retains a significant agricultural sector. The most significant remaining agricultural area in my electorate is known as the Mangrove Mountain plateau. It is very well known for its orchards and also for the poultry industry. Indeed, the Mangrove Mountain poultry industry gained national attention, sadly in adverse circumstances, in 1999 during an outbreak of newcastle disease. The way that Central Coast farmers managed that crisis demonstrated the resilience of the people in the Central Coast. We have seen the Mangrove Mountain farming community absolutely revive after that devastating shock.

Throughout my period of campaigning before the election and now, as the member, I have often spoken to residents of the Mangrove Mountain plateau region on the Central Coast and they have conveyed to me the very real challenges that they face in their occupation. They also convey to me their deep love of the land, their deep love for their families and their hope for the future of our nation as we tackle this next challenge. I therefore speak on this bill with some knowledge from representing my area, which has this significant interest in agricultural practices.

Just last week I attended a meeting of the farmers at Mangrove Mountain. I was hosted there by two fine gentlemen, Tim Kemp, the President of the Central Coast Farmers branch of the New South Wales Farmers Association, and Michael Champion, who is the secretary of that same illustrious community and industry representative group. They have a wonderful fair each year, where the farmers gather to show off their wares. They share a few great activities, including the wild pig run, which is a great hit on the day. The cultural activities of the fair are also widely acknowledged—a great battle of the bands and also an eisteddfod, which I was very pleased to see a little part of last year.

On my visit last week I was welcomed warmly by Alicia Kostalas, who I hope might come down very shortly and visit us here in the parliament. Alicia participated in a competition amongst her young fellow Mangrove Mountain residents to become the Mangrove Mountain Districts Young Ambassador. She gave me a sample of the delicious produce that comes from the mountain. I received eggs, oranges, a custard apple, delicious mandarines, spinach, lettuce and even some persimmons—just a taste of the mountain. We also had a taste of the conversation about this vital issue, about how carbon needs to be priced and the important challenges that face us as a nation at this time. I certainly understood, as I left that meeting, that this is a community that is passionate about doing the right thing, about actively looking after the land that gives life to their dreams and to their businesses.

This bill provides just such a system, where projects that are granted Australian carbon credits are well managed and deserving of a financial incentive. The credits will be issued only to projects which represent an additional abatement, not to practices and activities that are widely used currently by farmers and landholders. This is to ensure that the bill's intention—to provide an incentive for individual farmers and landowners to demonstrate initiative in developing abatement programs and more efficient practices—comes into being.

Our agricultural sector can benefit greatly from the provision of these financial incentives for greenhouse gas abatement. This bill provides a defined process to ensure that abatement projects have a genuinely positive environmental impact. This defined process will ensure that the scheme does have a positive environmental impact and is not undermined by instances of rorting.

Under this process there needs to be a project manager who will become a recognised offsets entity. Secondly, there needs to be an approved methodology for the type of abatement project, and the project must be undertaken in accordance with the methodology advised and comply with other scheme eligibility requirements. Additionally, before an Australian carbon credit unit is awarded, the project proponent reports to an administrator. This system ensures that there is oversight and consistency in how carbon credit units are awarded.

This legislation demonstrates that the Australian Labor Party can rightfully claim to be the party that champions individual initiative in the interests of a shared, communal and, indeed, a planetary benefit. Let us be clear about this. It is the individual farmers who make a decision to undertake an abatement project. It is the individual farmers who receive the carbon credit. But it is society as a whole that benefits from this initiative. We benefit from reducing carbon emissions in our agricultural sector and we all benefit from an agricultural sector which is much more environmentally friendly.

I do not come to this chamber as an expert on agricultural matters; however, it is clear that the manner in which we utilise land must be sustainable. It has often been observed by legal theorists that our old attitude to land ownership is wholly unsuitable to this nation. The principle I am referring to is that from John Locke; namely, that our role as humans is to improve the land in a manner which primarily considers the productivity of the land and the maximum human benefit that can be derived from that land.

These principles were developed in European countries and were applied in Australia upon settlement. I am not here to speak tonight about any wrongs that have occurred in the past, but it has been long evident that exploitative attitudes to land ownership have had a very detrimental impact on the environment. These old principles have resulted in some farmers attempting to maximise the number of heads of cattle on a particular property because, at the time, this was considered a productive way of utilising land. However, the problems of overuse of agricultural land by earlier generations are well known to modern farmers.

In recent decades the importance of sustainability and the sustainable use of land has been much more widely realised and become the practice of those who excel in this industry. It is in recent decades that we have come to appreciate the genius of the Aboriginal concept that we are custodians of the land and that we exploit her at our peril. That is what the entire debate about pricing carbon, and our actions across a range of sectors, is about. It is about honouring the nature of the land in which we live and taking responsibility for handling the challenges of our time so that we give a better future to those who follow us.

We must ensure the future viability of this land in addition to ensuring that our agricultural sector, which is vital to our national economy, continues to grow and strengthen. As Australians we can certainly meet this challenge as we have met many before. This legislation addresses one critical aspect of this challenge in a very strategic, sensible and evidence based way. It recognises that, in order to have a sustainable agricultural sector, we must provide the appropriate incentives for farmers and landowners to change the way we are using our land. We need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions; we need to be more innovative and incentivised in finding better ways to look after our earth. Abatement projects may include more efficient and sustainable use of land. There maybe many great ideas out there that have not yet even been uncovered but, as we apply our attention and we incentivise people to think about their farming practices, I am sure the innovation that is naturally a part of Australia's way of responding to the great challenges of this continent will surface and shine. The initiatives of individuals, farmers and landowners will lead the way and for these reasons, and because this legislation allows for that, I speak in favour of the bills and commend them to the House.