Opposition 'concerns' with Carbon Farming Initiative a smokescreen to hide internal divisions

The Coalition is now as divided on the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) as they are on the science of climate change.

The Coalition is now as divided on the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) as they are on the science of climate change.

Until recently, the Opposition was describing the Gillard Government’s CFI as “the fastest, cheapest way for Australia to reduce our emissions”.

Now, following a split between the Liberal Party and the Nationals, the Opposition is trying to delay the legislation indefinitely.

It’s time for Liberal MPs to show some backbone, stand up to the ill-informed stance of the Nationals and support legislation giving farmers and landholders access to carbon markets worth millions of dollars a year for regional and rural Australia.

The eight excuses given by Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt to delay farmers and rural communities from securing significant benefits under the CFI are baseless.

Excuse 1: “What measures will be put in place for the protection of prime agricultural land”

The legislation poses no threat to prime agricultural land. While permanent tree plantations will be rewarded, these must take into account Natural Resource Management plans and water entitlements, comply with State or Territory requirements, and are only likely to be economical on marginal agricultural land. Managed Investment Scheme forests will be explicitly excluded from the scheme to avoid any remaining doubt. Prime agricultural land may in fact become more productive through rewarding measures which reduce emissions, such as better fertiliser use and enhanced soil carbon.

Excuse 2: “What measures will be put in place for the protection of Western Australia from what the Western Australian government outlines as the effective expropriation of crown land usage rights as an unintended consequence of the bill”

The legislation does not expropriate any crown rights. The suggestion from the Western Australian Government would be discriminatory, as it would give WA veto rights on exclusive possession native title which do not apply to equivalent freehold land.

Excuse 3: “We await the completion of key regulations”

The content of the key regulations was released to the Senate Committee Inquiry and for public consultation. They are rightly the subject of consultation with stakeholders and will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny once they have been finalised.

Excuse 4: “We also want the inclusion of soil carbon in a constructive way from the outset”

Soil carbon is included. The Coalition are just worried that proper accounting of soil carbon would blow their direct action estimates out of the water.

Excuse 5: “We want the risk of rorting ...satisfactorily addressed”

The Bill includes strong measures to address the risk of rorting and significant enforcement powers which Coalition Senators questioned as too strong in the Senate Inquiry hearings. They can’t have it both ways.

Excuse 6: “We want the construction of an acceptable set of rules around permanence”

Permanence rules are consistent with the internationally accepted science. Unless we take CO2 permanently out of the atmosphere we will not achieve genuine emissions reductions necessary to mitigate climate change. This is just code for loosening up the rules to temporarily store carbon under their temporary direct action plan.

Excuse 7: “We want the construction of an acceptable set of rules around additionality”

The rules around additionality are designed to ensure that only genuine abatement is credited and have addressed stakeholder concerns. This is code for the Coalition seeking to water down the environmental integrity of the scheme to appease select interest groups.

Excuse 8: “We want to examine any other amendments that the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee report on the bills identifies.”

All the issues raised by the Senate Committee will be addressed in the implementation of the Initiative. The release of the content of the key regulations and work with natural resource management and indigenous groups has gone a long way to demonstrate the Government’s commitment to ensuring the Initiative delivers for regional and rural Australia.

Mr Hunt should take his own advice from March this year when he said ‘this is something that should be embraced on all sides. And as we speak, the Government is preparing its Carbon Farming Initiative. We support that approach because it's about using soil carbons, it's about capturing carbon in trees... and doing real things to reduce emissions’.