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Tuesday, 13 June 2023
Page: 4223

Mr LITTLEPROUD (MaranoaLeader of the Nationals) (19:00): I rise tonight as the Leader of the Nationals to advise the House that we're unable to support the Nature Repair Market Bill 2023 and the associated legislation. This bill has diverged far too far from our biodiversity bill, which was introduced in this parliament in February last year. There are significant differences in this bill. Disappointingly, this government has let their ideology take away the practical reality and the safeguards that are required for Australian agriculture and farming families in regional communities.

There is a place for a biodiversity market. Markets internationally will ask for this not just in relation to carbon abatement but in relation to biodiversity into the future. The bill that our government sought to put in place ensured that there were protections against those who want to come out and exploit regional communities and prime agricultural land in order to pollute in other areas. We can't support it. It won't reward farmers. It will tear away at communities. It will tear away at the very fabric of what our bill was about, which was rewarding farmers for the stewardship of their land. That didn't relate only to carbon. That was a world first in paying a 'halo' credit for biodiversity but not so that it could be used as an offset for big polluters to come out and buy large tracts of land, lock it up and, effectively, destroy agricultural landscape and destroy communities.

There is a huge difference between the bill that we put in place last year and the one that this government is seeking to put in place now. We can't support it because it fundamentally goes against the very architecture that we put in place to reward the stewardship of our land, which would have been a world first. We should be proud. It was the National Party that came up with the biodiversity stewardship program. It was a world first. We are the first country in the world that can measure an improvement in biodiversity. It was the National Party that created that mechanism, and, in fact, we had around the country a number of pilot programs that validated the science that ANU put in place. That gave us the opportunity to create a marketplace. In fact, that marketplace was already started. Within those pilots, some of those certificates would have been able to be traded once this legislation went through, but this bill has deviated too far from ours and puts at risk the Australian agricultural landscape and our production systems.

Disappointingly, this was taken away from the department of agriculture and given to the department of environment. Not only did this government destroy the department of agriculture by stripping away all its money and giving it to the environment department but they took this program with it. They let the ideology of the environment department take over the intent that was at the heart of our bill, which was rewarding farmers not just for carbon abatement but also for biodiversity improvement. Making provision for that offsetting mechanism opens up too great a risk, particularly since this government has introduced legislation around the safeguard mechanism. That legislation means that the 215 big polluters in this country will now have to go and buy offsets. That's because the safeguard mechanism was about allowing polluters to adopt technology to be able to cover their emissions. However, because this government has brought that forward to 2030, these emitters have nowhere else to go. The technology is not available and cannot be adopted, so they must buy offsets. This really significant change by the environment minister and by this government opens up real risk to our communities. It's disappointing. Even the Australian Greens support us: that speaks volumes.

This government is using the ideology of the environment department rather than the practical reality of what we've seen out in our communities. With carbon farming in western Queensland, we're seeing those from the city come out and buy large tracts of land at $20 or $30 an acre and then simply walk away. There's no management. Effectively, the families have left and the communities die. And this will only lead to it. Our bill was about rewarding those people who wanted to have stewardship of their land, not just in carbon abatement but in improving biodiversity. We are proud of that world first. But this bill trashes that legacy and for that reason alone the Nationals can't support it. It goes a step further, beyond just agricultural land owned by farmers, to Crown leasehold land and beyond and to our seaways.

This government has failed to consult properly with the timber industry and the fishing industry so that they appreciate the complexities and risk that they will be imposing on them. That is a real risk and goes well beyond the intent of our biodiversity stewardship bill. For that reason, again, the Nationals cannot support a bill that does that without proper consultation and without proper understanding of the impact on the jobs that are out there and the stewardship that is already taking place within the forestry and fishing industries.

Even the name of the bill—the nature repair bill—says that our farmers and our stewards of the land in forestry and fisheries have damaged it. We should be proud of the stewardship of the land and of the seas in which our farmers, our foresters and our fishers are undertaking their noble pursuits of feeding and clothing us. It's disingenuous of this government in how they have named this bill and how they have framed it around the stewards of our land. We are world leading. Our farmers are world leading. We should be proud of that and we should never let anyone forget that. Unfortunately, this government has failed to understand that.

There are further complexities within this bill around the methodology. They are allowing a whole range of methodologies to come into this. The biodiversity stewardship bill had a very tight framework to the methodology that we were adopting. Professor Andrew Macintosh was at the heart of that. He's an eminent professor who designed this for the National Party to ensure that there was integrity to the system, that there was validity and currency to those biodiversity certificates that farmers could create and sell.

Unfortunately, this government has opened it up and taken away the integrity of that system. When you take away the integrity of the system, you tear away at the very marketplace and the price people can actually ask for those credits. That, in our mind, goes very much against the very heart of the intent of our original bill. I'm also concerned about the reach. It needs greater explanation around the involvement and whether there is, in fact, any veto power, any reach of Indigenous Australians in the design, not only of the methodology but of individual projects, particularly on land that Australian farmers own and manage. For that reason, we also have serious questions that need to be answered by this government in what would probably be nutted out in a future Senate committee.

It's important that we understand that our record as a government in the last parliament is one that we're proud of. We're proud of our environmental credentials, not about virtue signalling but about practical actions, and the biodiversity stewardship bill actually achieved that. This bill tears away at the very fabric of what we were achieving for Australian farmers in rewarding and acknowledging what they already do.

It's important that this government goes back to the drawing table and actually reflects on what they're trying to do here, and the vast implications, particularly around the other environmental policies that they put in place, particularly around the safeguard mechanism and, potentially, what could be further put to this parliament around the EPBC Act changes. This will have implications around regional Australia, which will again do the heavy lifting for this country to meet its international commitments on carbon emissions. We've done our bit. We will continue to want to do more, but we've got to be rewarded for it. This bill will actually tear away at that and will tear away at our farmers' ability to participate in what is a changing market, in terms of their carbon footprint and their biodiversity footprint. Markets will ask for this.

Markets will ask for this, but this shouldn't be an outlet for big mining companies around the country to roll in and buy large tracts of land to lock up, buying their social licence at the expense of regional and rural Australia, particularly those communities that have supported this country during one of our most trying times—COVID-19, one of the biggest challenges we've faced since the Second World War. It was regional Australia that footed the bill through agriculture and resources, and it's for that reason that we should give them support, not tear away the very opportunity that we tried to create for them.

It's disappointing that the government didn't respect and acknowledge the biodiversity stewardship bill that I put in place in February last year. It was an opportunity for some bipartisanship. It was an opportunity for this government to acknowledge the stewardship of our farmers. It was an opportunity for them to participate and be rewarded for their stewardship with a world-first that we, the National Party, created. It's a legacy that I want to see continue, but only with good policy around it. For that reason, the federal Nationals cannot support this bill.