Labor’s contradiction over the Henbury Conservation Project is another example showing that the government is incapable of executing complex policy like the Carbon Farming Initiative, Nationals Senator Fiona Nash said.
The government last month co-funded the $13 million purchase of Henbury Station in the Northern Territory with RM Williams Agricultural Holdings, to the tune of $9.1 million.
The plan is to turn the 500,000 hectare property into a nature reserve, effectively removing thousands of cattle from the food chain.
The government announced the project would focus on biodiversity and sell carbon credits under its Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI).
“The Carbon Farming Initiative will unlock new economic opportunities, just like this one at Henbury, for farmers and other landholders who take action to reduce greenhouse gases,” Mr Dreyfus (Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy) said. “This is a key part of the Gillard Government’s climate change agenda, and is set to open up new income streams for farmers and landholders across regional Australia.” (Tony Burke/Mark Dreyfus media release, 26 July)
Eight days ago, in response to Senator Nash’s concerns about the CFI’s impact on future food security, Mr Dreyfus told ABC radio the removal of cattle from Henbury were for other reasons than carbon trading.
"The owners of this station have decided that they want to increase natural biodiversity on that station and engage in some very large scale restoration of degraded landscape on that station," he said. "I'd see it as quite separate to anything under the carbon farming initiative, it is to be viewed in the context of restoration of degraded land." (ABC Riverina, 10 August 2011)
The government’s own media release and RM Williams Agricultural Holdings clearly state carbon trading is a main objective to the purchase of Henbury Station.
RMWAH will through land management changes and interventions, encourage natural revegetation to sequester carbon while also conserving the property’s natural assets and enhancing biodiversity. The process of natural revegetation will remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through biosequestration, creating offsets under the Australian Government’s Carbon Faming Initiative framework. The resulting biodiverse carbon credits will be sold into the market to fund the ongoing conservation management of Henbury, and to generate new sustainable income streams. (http://www.rmwilliamsag.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=30&Itemid=40)
“It’s curious to note Mr Dreyfus’ comments that the Henbury deal is about the restoration of degraded land yet Minister Burke freely admits yesterday that RM Williams Agricultural Holdings text messaged him to inform him that the company’s been approached by international insurance companies keen to invest in the Henbury carbon project,” Senator Nash said.
Senator Nash raised other questions about the Henbury deal:
· What checks and balances are in place to ensure accountability for the taxpayers’ $9 million contribution?
· How was the figure of $9 million determined as appropriate?
· Would RM Williams Agricultural Holdings have to repay the $9 million in the event that the property is sold?
· How much of the revenue from carbon trading will be invested back into the Henbury project and how much will go to the company’s profits?
“The Gillard government’s dragged the chain on providing vital details for the Carbon Farming Initiative legislation which is still before the senate. Now it appears to be confused on the objective of the Henbury deal, or it’s deliberately being slippery on the detail because it has something to hide,” she said.
“It does nothing to instil any shred of confidence in the government’s ability to manage a complex policy that involves Australia’s agricultural sector.”
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