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Thursday, 17 June 2010
Page: 5844

Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister for Population) (12:11 PM) —I will first address the question of the member for Braddon on forestry, and then I will take the different issues raised in order. The 2010-11 budget contains two critical areas of forest industries funding. There is more than $7 million in total for projects available through the Forest Industries Development Fund. This allows businesses in the industry to apply—I know, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, you have an interest in this—for up to 30 per cent of funding for projects that add value to the forests and wood products industry. I think the fact that there has to be the 70 per cent contribution from the industry itself is an important way of making sure that what is funded is something that industry itself has judged to be in its best interests.

It is expected, because we usually leverage more than this, that we will be able to leverage more than $20 million worth of investment from the private sector and other sources. There are places like the McKay mill and various other places I have visited on different occasions to see how this sort of government investment actually delivers for timber communities and delivers in the long term for jobs, notwithstanding the many challenges that are being faced by the forestry sector.

Similarly, we also concluded the $6.3 million investment for research into the impacts of climate change on our forest systems and industries. The impacts of climate change are often thought of in terms of agriculture and are often missed in terms of forestry. There is research there which is important both in terms of the impact, for adaptation, but also in developing different accounting mechanisms. Forestry does particularly poorly out of the Kyoto protocol, under current accounting mechanisms, where there is a presumption that while a tree is vertical it is full of carbon but the moment it is horizontal all the carbon leaves. That is a method of accounting that does not match the science, and Australia has continued to pursue through international negotiations a correcting of that with a recognition of stored carbon, and research and development is able to contribute to that as well.

The member for Corangamite asked about the trial of drought policy in Western Australia. Essentially what we are trialling there is something that there is never any political pressure on a government to do, which is to ask when there is not a drought, when times are good, whether you should bail out because there is no political pressure or whether that is actually the time to invest. The problem with waiting for the crisis is that you end up paying the banks rather than paying the farmer, and you do not necessarily reward those farmers who have made really tough decisions during good times and therefore have avoided crisis. They then look to their neighbour over the fence and ask, ‘How come they are getting the government money and I am not?’

The strength of this new approach is in being able to say that, with the exception of food-on-the-table money through household support, we will actually come in when times are good. We will help with proper risk management and proper planning and co-invest with the farmer on their own plan in the belief that we are then better able to manage the next crisis by farmers managing much more of it themselves rather than the government coming in at those times with the interest rate subsidy. That subsidy carries a whole lot of incentives which are terribly difficult to justify and which I believe cannot be separated from many of the mental health challenges that exist in many parts of Australia that are doing it particularly tough.

The member for Corangamite also asked when that would be rolled out nationally. It will be reviewed at the end of the new financial year. We expect the nature of that review will take a few months. Following that review, depending on the findings, there would be an opportunity to start to roll it out. It is not the sort of trial where you could do a massive rollout in one hit, for the very simple reason that you do not want to undermine the value of the strategic planning. If you try to do too many farms at once you end up not having enough good-quality people to help with the strategic planning and you end up creating an army of consultants with templates, on which you fill in the blanks, as a way of them getting a whole heap of government money and the farmer getting less than they should. It only works if it is done in an incremental way that then allows good-quality strategic plans to be developed. That means that, even if the trial is successful, I suspect we will be in a transition process for some time as we move from the old system to the new. I would hate to undermine good-quality planning by trying to roll out something too quickly.

The members for Makin and Mayo both asked questions concerning land use, agricultural land and urban development. If the Deputy Speaker turns a blind eye for a moment, this has probably got more to do in some ways with some of the work that is happening under the population portfolio, which I hold but which is not currently before this room because we are dealing with a different set of government appropriations. The issues of food security, where people live and whether our urban planning has been as smart as a nation as it needs to be are all issues that are coming through the consultative process which I announced yesterday in population. They are issues which have always been raised with me as the minister for agriculture, where I have been able to carry the stakeholder concern without ever having any of the policy carriage. In population strategy many of these issues come directly to the forefront. It is not only an issue in South Australia but also an issue in, for example, Western Sydney, where once again the most fertile land is also the land that carries the highest financial value for the next round of urban development. These are significant concerns.

This does not mean we are about to run out of food—and I do not want us to become too alarmist with the debate. We are still a massive food-exporting nation, but the question is: are we using a precious resource in the smartest possible way? It is a level of strategy that previously we have never applied. It is one of the issues that are being raised with me. I do not want to pre-empt the consultative process; I want only to say that it will be one of the issues that is fed in through that portfolio.