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Government still paralysed on climate change

I thank senators for their contributions to this very important debate. I admit I have been disappointed with the government representatives' input into the debate. It appears from Senator McGauran's input today that he did not listen to the first part of the debate yesterday-and I will come back to that in a minute. But it also appears that the government does not want to support this because there is only so much time and there are only so many resources to deal with things-implying there were not enough resources for the committee to examine this.

I wonder about the government's priorities. Do they take on board what the National Farmers Federation says? I repeat what I said yesterday: the NFF believes that climate change may be the greatest threat confronting Australian farmers and their productive capacity. But apparently there are not enough resources to deal with this and for the committee to make it a priority. I hope the National Farmers Federation is listening to this or hears about it and gives some advice to the government about that.

It is also interesting that Senator McGauran referred to the government's National Agriculture and Climate Change Action Plan, which came out in August last year. I have read that, and I will come back to that in a minute too. But it is interesting to note that the National Farmers Federation made their comments about climate change being the greatest threat after the national action plan came out-suggesting, I think, that they believe further work needs to be done.

If Senator McGauran had been listening to the debate yesterday he would have heard me comment extensively on the national water plan and also point out that my colleague Senator Milne was going to refer more to climate change and leave comments on the water plan to me. And just in case he is listening now, and to reiterate what Senator Stephens just said, I commented extensively on the fact that the plan does not have any costings. There was no consultation with key stakeholders. There are no targets: we have no idea of what the actual targets are.

As is becoming quite obvious, the coalition is in disarray, with the Liberals saying one thing about the plan and overallocation and National Party representatives saying another. That became clear once again in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, when Mr Vaile made some very strong comments about the way the plan was going to run and to the effect that buying back leases was a last resort. Buying back leases has been the last resort for years and years. It has not worked. One of the reasons why the various rescue plans for the Murray have not worked is that the government has not wanted to take the hard and tough decisions that need to be made, and face up to their constituents and say: 'Time's up, guys. We need to do this properly or we're never going to rescue the Murray and it is just going to continue to die.'

One of the things this inquiry would do is enable members of the community, the stakeholders, to give their comments on the national plan. They have never been given the opportunity to give their views on what they think the Murray's future should look like. What should the targets be? I believe that people want a healthy, functioning ecosystem for the Murray. That is what I want, and that is what I believe Australians want. And I think that they need to be included and to have an opportunity to have their voices heard on what they think the Murray should look like. That is not articulated in the national plan.

I have read the national plan, and there are no referenced justifications for the costs and for the suggested savings to be made from water efficiency methods. The National Farmers Federation have also commented on that. They want to see the references for the claimed efficiency gains because they do not think they are there either. Other farming organisations have said the same thing. And, as I said, it is not clear how the plan is going to work because you are getting different opinions on when water allocations are going to be brought out and for how much.

Senator McGauran put quite a bit of reliance on the National Agriculture and Climate Change Action Plan, implying that it was the be-all and end-all of the government's approach. Well, if it is, that is very sad. And it highlights even more the need for this inquiry.

So we have a plan here. But the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics, our leading agricultural resource economists, have only just begun to look at the impact of climate change on our farmers. And, as I highlighted yesterday, they cannot even set a timeline for when they are going to deliver that work. It is just going to be a very long time into the future. So much for the national action plan on climate change and agriculture! Our leading resource economists still cannot give us a time and still have not engaged with this issue seriously. They obviously are not included in the plan.

The plan touches on the issues of adaptation and resilience. It takes the approach that we can gradually get agriculture addressing these issues by slow adaptation. The government have done that in the past; they can continue to do it. Unfortunately, the science does not show that that is what is happening. That is what they have been doing but the science is starting to show they cannot make those jumps. So, while adaptation is very important-there is no doubting that-we also need to look to the future and at new agriculturally sustainable industries. We are particularly looking at and talking about the issues around perennials and adapting new industries-getting on the front foot to adopt new industries, to assist farmers to grow new crops to address climate change. Those are essential issues.

To strike a positive note, I was very pleased to see that the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre was funded at the end of last year. I think that was a tremendously positive step. However, that cannot be relied upon to be the sole contributor to developing new industries in Australia. Unfortunately, at the same time, as has been discussed in this place, the government took funding away from the Weeds Cooperative Research Council, which is going to be incredibly important in terms of the interaction between invasive species and climate change.

One of the areas that we have not touched on previously, but which needs to be dealt with, in terms of agriculture, is the Natural Heritage Trust. This trust, as everybody knows, spends billions of dollars on natural resource management and on assisting the repair of our nation's lands.

How are our natural resource management regional groups dealing with climate change? I know many of these groups; I have had contact with a wide range of them and I think they do an excellent job. But they do not have the capacity to model the interaction of climate change with natural resources, to interpret that modelling and then to work out how to deal with it when they are formulating their regional plans and spending NHT dollars.

In Western Australia, my home state, I am deeply concerned-and I know others are too-about the interaction of salinity and climate change. At the moment, we could very well be planting trees to address salinity in the landscape that will subsequently have a negative impact in relation to climate change. We also may be planting them in the wrong places, particularly when in an agricultural landscape we are planting biodiversity plantings and refugia for species. If you look at the modelling for climate change, you see that species are going to have to start moving. We may well be planting in the wrong places. None of these issues are being sufficiently factored into the work and the research that is being done. The research is very limited. I remind the chamber again of CSIRO's comments about research on climate change being 'nickelled and dimed'.

Perhaps the government's approach is really along the lines of the Prime Minister's approach when he was making comments on the impact of a six-degree rise in temperature. His comments were to the effect of: 'Well, it'll make people a little less comfortable.' I am sorry, a six-degree rise in temperature will destroy agriculture as it is practised today in many places. It will mean it will no longer be able to be practised in those places. We just heard Senator Stephens outline the impact of minor temperature changes.

Large temperature changes into the future will have a very significant impact on agriculture. We need to start planning for that now. We need to start working out transition strategies to help farmers move to other crops, maybe to move to other areas and maybe to move to a mixture of some form of agricultural practice and stewardship-because our lands in Australia are always going to need some form of management.

Finally I would like to address the comments that Senator McGauran made about the Greens wanting to move people off the land. That is so far from the truth it is ridiculous and a pathetic comment to make. He obviously has not listened to one little bit of the debate other than to try to pick up issues on which to score points. Perhaps he should have actually listened to the debate and then addressed the real issues rather than writing his speech before listening to the debate and the comments that we were making. We do not want to make people leave the land. But, if this issue is not properly dealt with, that is what the effect of the government's policies will be, because people will no longer be able to farm in the areas that they are farming in now. They will be forced off the land because they will be driven broke. They will continually have to make minor changes, and the profitability of their land will be driven down and down. So we need to get on top of this issue.

I was hoping that we could address this with a bipartisan approach because it has got to cross political boundaries. This is such a significant issue that it has to cross political boundaries. I really do not think that Senator McGauran contributed to the debate very well by trying to politicise it when we were deliberately trying not to do that in seeking to refer this issue to a committee. We heard a number of speakers yesterday and today refer to the fact that the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport works well. A number of the inquiries I have been involved with in that committee have produced bipartisan reports. Our oil inquiry report and our water report were cross-party, unanimous reports that I think contributed very sensible recommendations on those issues. I believe that the committee could do the same thing on this issue. It needs to be looked at. Not enough is being done. We do not understand fully the extent of the impacts of climate change on our agricultural systems. They are going to be massive, and work is needed now. I commend this reference motion to the chamber.

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