Senator NASH (New South Wales) (12.34 pm)—Last year I crossed the floor on this issue because I absolutely believe that there should not be tax deductions for carbon sink forests. And over the intervening period of time I have not changed my view one bit. I fully support the amendment that is being put forward today and concur with all of the remarks that my leader, Senator Joyce, has just put forward to the chamber.
Colleagues, we need to have a debate in this country about whether or not we want a sustainable rural and regional Australia, because it certainly seems, from the actions that are being put forward through the instigation of the tax breaks for carbon sink forests, that we are completely ignoring the future of regional Australia. This is about the sustainability of regional communities. This is absolutely about having a viable future for rural and regional Australia. And we need that. As my very good colleague Senator Joyce has already pointed out, we are feeding not only ourselves but the rest of the world, and our capacity to be able to do that has to increase, not decrease.
When you look at what the legislation does you see that it is completely unfair and inequitable in how it treats regional communities. We are not saying, and we never have said, that there should not be carbon sink forests. We are absolutely supportive of them. What we have said is that there should not be a tax break to put those forests in, that is going to go to the big end of town. Why on earth would we do that? Our role as the National Party is to make sure that we stick up for, and go into bat for, regional communities and make sure that there is fairness and equity for the people and the working families living in those communities. This legislation that is in place simply does not do that. Why on earth would we expect the taxpayers of Australia—the working mums and dads—to give a tax break to the big end of town to put in carbon sink forests?
These forests are on our prime agricultural land. This is one of the key issues. The population across the globe is going to increase by, I think, 50 per cent by 2030. We are one of the few countries that actually has the ability to increase its productive capacity. So not only do we have a responsibility to ensure that we can feed ourselves as a nation; we have a particular responsibility to provide for developing nations across the world also. Yet we have a piece of legislation in place which does precisely the opposite. As someone mentioned to me just a couple of weeks ago, we are at risk of becoming a nation of forests, energy plants and mines. We do not want that to happen. We need to ensure that the productive capacity is there. Why on earth would we put at risk our food security?
We are very supportive, obviously, of this amendment today to get rid of this tax break on carbon sink forests. As my good colleague Senator Joyce has already pointed out, we are not going to go on and on with this every time it comes back to the chamber, but it is extremely important that people across this nation, particularly people in rural and regional communities, know that we are absolutely rock-solid in our view that those communities need our assistance and know that we will stand up for them in this place time and again to make sure that they get the fairness and equity and the bright and sustainable future that they deserve. They are the ones that feed and clothe and provide for this nation, and it is about time the farmers across this nation got the respect they deserve for what they do. It is very easy to say, ‘We’ll whack in a whole lot of carbon sink forests; that prime agricultural land disappearing doesn’t really matter too much.’ But it does matter. Unless we want to become a nation that predominantly imports, we need to look after those farmers on the land who are producing for us.
Let’s look at the scenario if we did become a predominantly importing nation. There are two very clear and distinct reasons we should not do that. One is about security in the quality assurance of those foods that come into this nation. You only have to look at the melamine issue in China to know that we do not have the capacity here to ensure that quality assurance is going to be undertaken across the board 100 per cent of the time. There is also the issue of security of supply. If we become a predominantly importing nation, what security will we have in terms of supply into the future? They are key issues that we need to recognise, as we are doing today, to make sure that the productive capacity is there and that the prime agricultural land is there to do what it does best, and that is produce food and fibre for this nation.
We need to respect those communities that work so hard to provide for this nation—you only have to look at many of the regional communities that have gone through years and years of drought. That is by no means an issue that has fallen off the agenda. The drought that many of our regional communities have experienced continues in many areas. We know that a lot of our farmers have their backs against the wall. I was recently up in the North Coast of New South Wales with a group of farmers who very clearly and succinctly pointed out that they could not go on, that there was no future for them. What they wanted to know was that we would be in this place batting for them, making sure that we did everything possible to assist them to have a sustainable future.
That is exactly why we are standing here today with the amendment. It is not right and it is not fair to have a tax break for those people in the cities to put in carbon sink forests while at the same time potentially taking away that productive capacity from the regions. It is simply stupid, it is wrong and it lacks common sense. This is about having fairness. It is about having a level playing field. As I said at the outset, we are not against carbon sinks—not by any stretch of the imagination—but why on earth should our farmers in regional communities have to be pitted against a tax break for the big end of town? It is just not right.
Another interesting thing surrounding this is that no hydrological studies have been done on the impact of the interception. We all know that these forests are going to exponentially explode and yet there is no work being done at all. We have a government on the other side that consistently jump up and down about the importance of the Murray-Darling Basin, and yet they are prepared to stand there and support this legislation when they know that no hydrological work has been done. They are completely inconsistent and they have no understanding of how this is going to impact the regions. There has also been no work done on the socioeconomic impact of carbon sink forests and what they are to do to regional communities—none whatsoever. And they are quite happy to sit in this place and let this remain in place when there is still no idea of the impact it is going to have.
It is about time that we stood up in this place for our farmers and our farming communities and that, as I said earlier, they get the respect they deserve. They should get the respect they deserve through support for the amendment that will get rid of this tax break on the carbon sink forests, because it is simply not right. If we want to ensure that we have the ability to feed this nation into the future then we need to ensure that we support amendments like the one we are putting forward.
I do not think people really think about the potential for our ability to feed ourselves to decrease or disappear. It sounds like something that it is not real. Let me tell you that this issue of food security is going to be one of the most significant this nation will face over the coming decades. We need to do everything we can to support our regions’ ability to be sustainable and viable in the future, not rip it apart and take it away.
This is a vitally important piece of legislation. We have been very consistent, and we will continue to be consistent, in our view on this. As I said, we are not going to stand up and do this again every time a tax bill comes through, but it is very important that particularly the people of regional Australia know that we will stand firm, whether on this issue or on the issue of going back to some kind of single-desk arrangement for orderly marketing for wheat. We will absolutely stand behind our farmers and our regional communities in what they need to have a sustainable future. We will not back away from this. When we get to the committee of the whole stage, this will go forward, and I implore senators on both sides of this chamber to give this the consideration it deserves. This amendment needs to succeed. There should not, by any stretch of the imagination, be a tax break available for carbon sink forests. It is simply wrong and it goes right to the heart of the viability of our regional communities.