Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (11:58): The Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011 and related bills are an important measure for moving Australia towards the new low-emissions economy. They are part of a range of measures that the government has announced and will introduce in coming years in order to meet our international obligations, to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Under the Kyoto protocol, Australia’s target is to limit greenhouse gas emissions over the first commitment period to 108 per cent of the levels they were in 1990. That means our emissions need to be just eight per cent more than they were 19 years ago. Carbon farming will be an instrumental initiative in helping achieve the targets that have been set. These bills will create the incentive for the land sector to adapt their land use methods to unlock abatement opportunities and will provide them with the opportunity to generate and invest in saleable carbon credits.
While the move towards a low-emissions economy presents a number of challenges for the land sector, who currently account for 23 per cent of Australia’s emissions, this bill opens the door for farmers, forest growers and landowners to access domestic and international carbon markets. That is something I want to reflect on later, demonstrating something that has been done quite uniquely in Western Sydney to contribute to this overall effort. In its submission to the Senate inquiry which examined the impact of this bill, the National Farmers Federation gave its in-principle support:
The NFF has always stated its broad support of the concept and intent of the CFI.
Despite the uncertainties that abound in the area of carbon mitigation, the progress of the CFI demonstrates the positive role agriculture can play in mitigating against carbon emissions through on-farm management.
The submission went on to say:
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.
The bill fulfils Labor’s commitment to having legislation in place by 1 July this year in order to provide certainty to those who have previously invested in abatement projects or those who are looking to invest in the near future.
When the opposition party room decided to do an about-face on the issue of climate change and backed away from its agreement with the government to pass the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, a number of projects previously supported by the Greenhouse Friendly program were jeopardised. Among these were forest sequestration and landfill waste projects. The Australian Landfill Owners Association, in their submission to the Senate inquiry, said:
ALOA supports the introduction of the Carbon Farming Initiative Bills. Over the last four months the landfill industry has worked co-operatively with the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency to develop methodologies for the landfill component of the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI). The industry is keen for the scheme to start as soon as practicable, and the proposed date of July 1st is firmly supported.
Later, they said:
ALOA therefore encourages the early implementation of the Carbon Farming Initiative to provide the certainty required for landfill operators to invest in new or additional landfill gas capturing equipment. The extent and simplicity of the available abatement will make this scheme an outstanding success and was the reason for our early press release on the 9th of February which was followed up on March 25th …
One particular submission received by the inquiry which I was most interested in was from the not-for-profit environmental charity Greenfleet, who since 1997 have established 450 forests and planted over 6.8 million native trees to offset the carbon emissions of our motor vehicles. Their submission pointed out:
Greenfleet’s approach to carbon forest projects was approved under the former Greenhouse Friendlyâ¢ standard and Greenfleet brings significant expertise as one of the few organisations in Australia with direct experience in establishing and managing biodiverse forests for carbon offsets.
They went on to say:
Greenfleet supports the CFI as it will allow accreditation and recognition of additional Australian biodiverse forest sink abatement. Furthermore it will overcome the current situation whereby overseas abatement is recognised in Australia but local abatement is not.
It is certainly a pressing point that at present we have no domestic credits—I repeat: no domestic credits whatsoever—for Australian companies to buy until this bill is passed. Significantly, the bill allows for backdating of credits to 1 July 2010 to account for those projects which had previously relied on the Greenhouse Friendly scheme, provided that they meet the new standard and have appropriately measured the abatement.
An important part of this group of bills is the Australian National Registry of Emissions Units Bill, which will provide a legislative framework for the registry, which was established under Commonwealth executive powers in September 2009 to meet one of Australia’s commitments under the Kyoto protocol. The registry is an electronic system which is used to ensure accurate accounting of the issuance, holding, transfer, acquisition, cancellation, retirement and carry-over of emissions units under the Kyoto protocol. Since the registry opened in September 2009, organisations and individuals have been able to apply to open accounts and participate in the domestic and international trade of Kyoto units.
The bill will allow the government to modify the registry so that it can track the location and ownership of the units under the Carbon Farming Initiative and meet our ongoing obligations under the Kyoto protocol. The registry would then be maintained by the administrator of the CFI in order to avoid any duplication in account opening and operating procedures as well as to keep implementation and transaction costs down. For the reasons I have just outlined, the Australian National Registry of Emission Units Bill is necessary to support the Carbon Farming Initiative and to allow persons to trade in credits.
I am confident that these bills will help to tie together the good work that so many people—individuals, groups, corporations, volunteers and professionals—are currently doing to minimise and abate their carbon footprints. I want to take this opportunity to highlight other actions being taken by local communities in Western Sydney to help play their part in offsetting carbon emissions by establishing their own carbon forests.
Back in March, I, along with the member for Greenway—and I note her presence in the House—had the great pleasure of attending a special event, a ceremony to mark the completion of the Regenesis project and the launch of the Regenesis Toolkit at Mujar Bija Reserve in Blacktown, in an area that I grew up in. The Regenesis project grew from a partnership between a city council and a regional counterpart—between Blacktown City Council and Liverpool Plains Shire Council—made possible through a $2 million grant from the NSW Environmental Trust.
During the life of the project, which spanned three years, 220,000 native plants across 100 hectares of land in 33 biodiverse carbon forests have been grown in line with the carbon trading requirements established under the Kyoto protocol. It secured this impressive achievement by engaging business, land managers and agencies such as catchment management authorities, as well as community members and organisations. Ten of the forests are privately owned, 21 are council owned and two are on crown land.
The Regenesis project is a cleverly conceived and executed project—the first of its kind for local government in New South Wales, perhaps even Australia. I have no doubt that this project could be the blueprint for other local governments and that it can ultimately help set up the trading of carbon offset certificates through carbon emissions trading schemes. I hasten to add that it is not an emissions trading scheme, but it can provide a model for planning and planting reafforestation projects to create revenue for landholders to set up and maintain native vegetation. It is a powerful combination of commercial benefit with environmental gain, particularly in Western Sydney, where we are working so hard to preserve in an active way so many elements of Cumberland Plain woodland and bushland that have been slowly eroded through the development of Sydney. I note that in 2008 various emissions trading schemes and markets combined to form an industry worth more than $118 million. The Regenesis program got communities and businesses to team up and work to supporting improved biodiversity—and sequestering carbon. Over three years community, school, religious and business groups attended 99 community tree-planting events on Regenesis sites throughout the City of Blacktown, some events attended by as many as 200 individuals. Blacktown City Council has done a tremendous job in this regard by advertising these tree-planting events, encouraging the community to get involved, planting trees and actively making an improvement in our environmental contribution and also creating green space amongst our built space.
In the Liverpool Plains shire, 10 landowners partnered with Regenesis to plant locally native carbon forests on their land. All of these Regenesis initiatives provided local environmental benefits, including erosion control. So it is not just about a project trying to address carbon emissions as they have achieved other important environmental objectives including improved soil quality and creek health, reduced soil salinity, creation of windbreaks and shelter for grazing stock as well as enhanced biodiversity through increased habitat.
I was particularly pleased about the work at Mujar Bija reserve because it saw the rehabilitation and enhanced used of land that had once been a disused brickworks site. I can testify, as one who had much skin grazed off my knees as I grew up in that area, that what became a bike park used by local teenagers close to Mitchell High School has now been transformed into a local forest that is a tremendous asset to the Blacktown City Council area. We often hear from those who are only concerned with fear campaigns about how expensive life will become under this new low-emissions future. They play on the unfounded belief that people from lower socioeconomic areas, like the areas that I am proud to represent in Chifley, are not concerned at all about the environment and will therefore oppose such measures. Not only are the people of Chifley concerned for the environment; they are actively working at reducing and abating their impact.
Now other communities and local government areas are being encouraged to get involved, with the City of Blacktown and the Liverpool Plains Shire Council launching the Regenesis Toolkit, as I mentioned earlier. It is providing a very useful guide to establishing locally native mixed species of carbon forests in urban and rural environments. I was particularly struck by the sense of community that it has helped foster amongst those involved. To quote the words of 12-year-old Jamison talking about his role as one of the first seven members of the new Tregear Reserve Bushcare Group, established in the electorate in October 2008 as a result of the first Regenesis & Try Bushcare planting day:
“It’s awesome. I like planting the trees. We do that cos it helps nature. I love digging the holes. The other people in our Bushcare Group help me when I ask. It is good teamwork. When I grow up, I want to be a gardener.”
I congratulate him and the community of Tregear for their involvement in this project. It is a landmark project that is setting the standard for other communities. I congratulate them for the positive impact that they have made on their local environment.
The government owes it to the people of Australia, who are doing their bit to abate carbon emissions, to pass these bills to provide the formal mechanism for converting this work into useful carbon credits available to Australian businesses to invest in. I wholeheartedly commend these bills to the House.