Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming) Bill 2011

I rise to speak on the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011. This legislation forms part of this government's strategy to tackle climate change. It is a comprehensive strategy, not a back-of-an-envelope shopping list of tactics as proposed by those opposite—from memory, that includes turning off the lights, saving some water using buckets. Their shopping list of tactics is going to cost the Australian taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars.

I would like to make a few points clear right from the start. First up, climate change is real. Human activity is contributing significantly to climate change. Climate change represents a significant risk to our economy, our environment and our way of life. We must act now if we are to avert this risk. These points are a matter of scientific fact not political belief. It is strange to me that I must make these points clear, but it would seem that there are some in this parliament who are still debating whether these things are true. I find it particularly strange because I was with some of the colleagues opposite a few months ago at the Antarctic Division in Hobart as part of the work I am doing on the Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories. We met with people from the Tasmanian university as well as a number of people from the division, and we were shown samples of ice cores that they have been doing a lot of research on. The ice cores date back hundreds of thousands of years. There was a high presence of CO2 in those ice cores. Over the last, say, 200 years carbon dioxide emissions rapidly increased as a result of the industrial era around the world. To me, that was living proof of the fact the presence of CO2 has increased over time and that is directly linked to the increase in the temperature of the world today of between one and two degrees.

It is bizarre that I have to make these points clear and I have to underscore what the science is showing us in Tasmania, when around the world, particularly in Europe, they see this in a clear way. The science is well understood and well understood across the political spectrum. In the UK alone, successive governments from both sides of politics have taken action. They have plans to halve emissions by 2025, using a 1990 figure as the baseline. They have invested millions if not billions of pounds in clean industries, energy production and a green workforce. The UK's Deputy Prime Minister said: ... investing in a greener future is an ambition that combines an ethical duty and an economic opportunity.

It is an economic opportunity. It therefore astounds me that some here, instead of showing leadership, are stuck in denial. I am proud to be part of a government that is tackling climate change and taking it seriously, doing all it can to tackle this significant challenge. I welcome the legislation we are discussing tonight which is part of an important solution to this very large challenge for future generations. I want to ensure, as does this government, that Australia is prosperous in the future and that we position Australia so it can compete in the future and provide prosperity that will benefit all Australians. The only way we can do that is by turning into a clean energy economy.

I was fortunate enough a few weeks ago to be invited to visit a school in my electorate, Marist College, to talk to year 8 students about climate change and what the government are doing on this issue. I spoke to the engaged, bright and insightful students for about an hour. In that time, they asked me close to 20 questions about climate change, its effects, what the government are doing and why some seem so reluctant to act. While talking to them, it really hit home to me what my responsibilities are to them as the member for Canberra. It is a common saying that it is the responsibility of the current generation to make the world just a little bit better for the next. Looking at those year 8 students, I was struck by how true that saying is, that as their member of parliament I have a duty to make the world that little bit better for them and their children.

It would perhaps be easier to play to populist rhetoric and make the easy choices, to outline a policy that lacks substance and hope that no-one notices by the time the election comes around. However, I cannot, in good conscience, ignore this opportunity to do some good and make a real difference to the future of this country, particularly its prosperity, and I believe that this bill will do real good.

Australia is the highest per capita emitter of carbon pollution in the developed world and is one of the 20 largest polluters in total. Although we are on target to meet our obligations under the Kyoto protocol, without additional action we are projected to reach pollution levels 24 per cent above the year 2000 level by 2020 and 44 per cent above that level by 2030. With this in mind. I must act today in the interests of the people in my electorate to ensure their prosperity 20 years from now. So I am acting for today's children—for those Marist College boys—and for their children's children.

This legislation fulfils the commitment made by the government to give farmers, forest growers and landholders access to carbon markets. The Carbon Farming Initiative provides a framework that is grounded in the science and provides clear economic value to actions that store or reduce our contribution to carbon pollution. While Australia has among the highest agricultural emissions of any developed country, we also have significant opportunities to utilise our landscape to increase carbon storage. We have a lot of land. This legislation represents an opportunity for regional Australia and provides the certainty needed to ensure that the sector receives the investment it needs to be part of the solution to climate change. The Carbon Farming Initiative will enable crediting of land sector greenhouse gas abatement irrespective of whether it is recognised towards our targets under the Kyoto protocol. These abatement activities can be achieved by the reduction or avoidance of emissions or by the removal of carbon from the atmosphere and its storage in soil or in trees through the growing of forests or by farming in a way that increases the amount of carbon trapped in soil.

Under this legislation these offset activities will be undertaken as offset projects. The offsets generated through these projects can then be translated into carbon credits, purchased and used by organisations to reduce their net carbon output either voluntarily or as part of a regulatory requirement. There will be a number of steps involved in establishing an offset project under this scheme: the project manager needs to be a recognised offsets entity; there needs to be an approved methodology for the type of project being undertaken; and the project must be undertaken according to the methodology and comply with any other eligibility requirements under the scheme. The project will report on their carbon credits issued and entered in the Australian National Registry of Emission Units. Projects can be transferred or terminated, and this scheme contains within it compliance and enforcement measures.

A number of groups have endorsed this scheme. Most importantly, the National Farmers Federation welcomed this scheme and said: The Government deserves credit for listening to the farm sector and modifying its proposal to ensure that genuine abatement opportunities under the CFI are not unnecessarily overlooked.

Greening Australia said they 'strongly support the government's initiative to introduce the Carbon Farming Initiative and broadly support the carbon abatement scheme'. They went on to say, 'Carbon biosequestration under the CFI offers significant opportunities for biodiversity and multiple environmental service benefits.' These are just two endorsements of this scheme among many. I am also delighted to hear that as of 25 May the first methodology on this project was released for consultation. This methodology would allow Indigenous land managers to combine traditional local knowledge and modern science to earn carbon credits through better land management.

I would like to take this opportunity to say a few words about the tenacity, resilience and resourcefulness of Australia's farmers. They know, perhaps more than any other group in the country, what the effects of climate change will be. They know exactly the impact of longer and harsher droughts and more severe weather events like floods. They are great stewards of this country and that is why they embraced land care. That is why they rose to the challenge of salinity and began to reform their practices to look after land that had been in their families for generations. That is why, many years ago, I was joined by representatives of the National Farmers Federation at forums on climate change when I was in Foreign Affairs and Trade in the very, very early days of discussions on climate change. It was probably 10 or 15 years ago, or even longer. The National Farmers Federation were there right from the start, long before it became part of the main public debates in this place. They were there in those very, very early days because they knew then it was important.

Our farmers are great innovators. They are renowned throughout the world for their ability to adapt to their circumstances and their environment. Some of the great innovations in agriculture have been either made or refined in this country. Great innovations like no-till farming have been perfected here to ensure better use of groundwater. This is why I have great belief in their ability to utilise this scheme not only to maximise income for themselves but to maximise the environmental outcomes from this project. I believe farmers want access to carbon markets worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year to regional and rural Australia.

I would just like to reflect that recently my colleagues from the ACT and Senator Kate Lundy organised for Labor Party members a series of climate change forums to provide members with a great deal more information on the science of climate change and what the government is doing in response at both the ACT and the federal levels. Our first seminar was attended by Professor Will Steffen, who provided an incredibly comprehensive overview of climate science. It showed in stark detail the dramatic rise in CO2 emissions, particularly since the industrial era, from around the 1800s. One of the graphs was extraordinary. It was crystal clear that there has been a massive increase in CO2 in the environment and that it is linked to the warming of the environment.

When we went to the question and answer section of that discussion, Professor Steffen made quite a telling comment that really made me sit up and notice. He said that one of the very strong messages that he got from the debate that is happening throughout the world on climate change and how to respond to the challenges was from the Chinese, who are looking, as we know, at introducing a range of clean energy solutions. They are already implementing them and they are looking at them for the future. He intimated in those discussions that, unless Australia got on board with clean energy now and got on board with positioning ourselves to deal with the modern world and the markets of the modern world, we would be stranded by having this legacy of old-fashioned industries as the base of our prosperity and the base of our economy. It was a very strong key message I took out of those discussions with Will Steffen and it is something that has stayed with me for some time—the thought of Australia being stranded if we do not adopt this clean energy technology, if we do not move to adapt to the needs of the market and the world in the future. It frightens me that, if we do not act now, we are going to impact on the prosperity and the legacy that we leave for those year 8 Marist boys, their children, my nieces and nephews, my godchildren and the children of Canberra. It was a very strong key message I took away from that briefing.

There were also briefings from the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and from the ACT Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development. We are aware of what we are doing at the federal level—we are debating it now —but the ACT government is also undertaking a range of activities. It has a very comprehensive strategy and plan to reduce Canberra's carbon emissions. We have quite a large carbon footprint in this town. As a planned city, Canberra has among the highest per capita users of the car, so we have quite a high carbon footprint for a city with a very low industrial base. That is a very great concern to the people of Canberra and the government of the ACT.

This legislation is just one step towards tackling climate change, but it is an important step. I commend this legislation and I call on those opposite to support it and to end their farce on this debate. I call on them to join with the government in taking real and sustained action—indeed, direct action, but not just turning off the lights or saving water—on climate change.

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