Monday, 19 October 2009
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister and relates to the emissions trading scheme debate and the impact of a potential carbon economy on land use if the food economy is included in a global emissions trading scheme. Given that at some point the economics of food, energy/biofuels and carbon will compete for land use, given that food will probably come third due to the incapacity of those who need it the most to pay and due to the more lucrative markets for energy and carbon, and in light of the fact that the government’s CPRS creates an incentive for land to be used for carbon purposes via the planting of trees, and given the food security and refugee issues that plague the world, does the Prime Minister believe that food should be treated outside our carbon market mechanism? Has the government done any economic modelling on the interaction of these three economies or is the government still viewing each economy in isolation?
I thank the member for his question. It is a very good question because it goes to the impact of climate change and the response to climate change on food production, so let us consider it in those two categories. On the impact of climate change, we are engaged in this debate in the first place because climate change and its impact on drought, on fires and on water supply right across Australia is impacting agriculture. Those opposite, led by the National Party, scoff at this fact. Those opposite and the National Party in particular, led by the leader of the National Party, the alternative Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, should reflect on what ABARE has said in its stats on this. What does ABARE say about the impact of climate change on agriculture? Wheat is to fall in production by 9.2 per cent by 2030 and 13 per cent by 2050.
The climate change deniers within the National Party are out there in force even today when we are supposed to be engaged in substantive amendments for the future of a carbon pollution reduction scheme, which I thought was based on an agreement on the science. This is from ABARE. ABARE has produced these figures. ABARE projects that wheat production will fall 9.2 per cent by 2030 and 13 per cent by 2050, beef by 9.6 per cent by 2030 and 19 per cent by 2050, sheep meat down by 8.5 per cent by 2030 and 14 per cent down by 2050, dairy 9.5 per cent down by 2030 and 18 per cent by 2050, and sugar 10 per cent down by 2030 and 14 per cent down by 2050. That is why the NFF, for example, has said that it believes climate change to be ‘possibly the biggest risk facing Australian farmers in the coming century’. That is the National Farmers Federation. It would seem that the National Party do not support the view of the National Farmers Federation. I find it remarkable that, given that climate change represents such a direct threat to agriculture, the question then becomes one of why the National Party want to sell agriculture down the drain over climate change. That is exactly what they are doing. They may think that there is some short-term political advantage in this for themselves, but the strategic structural threats to agriculture caused by climate change are huge, particularly in south-eastern and south-western Australia and elsewhere.
The member for O’Connor intervenes again on the question of climate change and its impact on agriculture. Can I say to the honourable member that this government and many other members in this place take the challenge to agriculture fundamentally seriously. Take the Murray-Darling: for the last 10 years we have had inflows into the Murray-Darling 50 per cent below their historical average. The impact for Australian agriculture coming out of the huge food basin in the Riverina is massive as a consequence of this. That is the challenge we are seeking to deal with. Let all those opposite engage in some reality at the moment. This is a problem to be solved, not a problem to be ignored.
Moving to the other side of the question posed by the honourable member, which is the response—what you do and how you treat agriculture and how you treat food—I say to the honourable member that we are dealing with these fundamental shifts in the availability of water and with temperatures rising that also fundamentally affect the distribution of pests across Australia. It also impacts on your ability to grow in areas where it has been possible to grow particular crops in the past. That is the change which is occurring over time.
On the question of the inclusion specifically of agriculture within the CPRS regime, the honourable member will be familiar with what we have done, which is to defer such a decision until further work can be done as to the desirability of its inclusion in 2015. Secondly, the other measures that we are taking by way of mitigation—
I am always puzzled that when we are seeking to invest in rural Australia, as we are doing through the massive investment in irrigation infrastructure right now across the country—$4.8 billion worth of irrigation infrastructure—those opposite apparently have no interest in it occurring. On mitigation measures, this response to improving the efficiency of irrigation infrastructure across the country so that farmers can make better use of a dwindling resource, namely water, is one practical response.
A further response on the mitigation front, which I know is relevant to the interests of the member for Kennedy in particular, is what you do in the deployment of agricultural activity more extensively across Northern Australia as well. He has raised this time and time again, and I commend him for continuing to bring this to the nation’s attention. Obviously, one of the relevant factors there is the suitability of certain soil types and soil concentrations across Northern Australia to particular croppings that occur elsewhere in Australia. That is a practical fact, which is why I believe the minister, in partnership with CSIRO and others, is currently seeking to exhaustively examine the spectrum of soils which exist across Northern Australia in its long-term mitigation effect. One practical step we have taken recently in positive partnership with the government of Western Australia is what we have done for the future of the Ord. I notice the member for O’Connor suddenly goes silent at this point. We, unique compared with those who preceded us, are investing some $200 million to $300 million with the WA Liberal government for Ord stage 2, opening up arable lands in Northern Australia for cropping in the future.
So we are seeking mitigation through what we are doing on the waterfront, we are seeking to expand the availability of arable land—measures taken uniquely by this government—and we are also seeking to take broader pressure off the system. Can I say to the honourable member, who asks a fair and reasonable question, that is why we are exceptionally cautious about the way we should approach the long-term inclusion of agriculture within the CPRS regime. There is much to be said about the honourable member’s warning about the impact of climate change on overall food supply and production in this country. I have referred to some of the statistics from ABARE. This is a serious national-interest question. And can I say to the National Party in particular, who have already said they are not going to vote, it seems, in response to these amendments, that we need to see responsibility about the problem and the practical solutions which exist for the future because we will stand up for the farmers of Australia if those opposite refuse to do so.