21 March 2023
Mr COULTON (Parkes—Chief Nationals Whip) (21:25): I’ve got a real feeling of deja vu coming over me here tonight. Listening to the member for Forde’s contribution on the Safeguard Mechanism (Crediting) Amendment Bill 2022 reminded me of sitting in this place a little bit more than a decade ago debating a very similar piece of legislation and listening to the ill-considered, vacuous comments from the other side, treating it as some sort of joke. I remember I was pointed at and called a denier and all sorts of issues. But, for the people I represent, this is impacting on their daily lives. This is not some sort of philosophical university, year 12 or high school debate where it’s not really impacting on the players who are speaking. The people I represent are impacted by legislation like this.
The member for Forde mentioned in his contribution that emissions have fallen over the last decade or so by 20 per cent, and people like those in my electorate have been largely responsible for that. So one of the frustrations of being here tonight listening to some of the contributions from the other side is that people are talking as if we’re starting from scratch, whereas in my part of the world we have been on this transition to a cleaner economy for a long time. My farmers produce more food and fibre for a litre of diesel or a megalitre of water than anyone else in the world. We are storing carbon in the soil through the no-till farming mechanisms. The graziers now are rotating their stock in a way that is building up soil carbon and conserving the environment. Right across my electorate, way back for the last decade and beyond, we’ve had some massive investments in renewables. We have a solar farm at Nyngan. Broken Hill has wind and solar. Moree, Gunnedah, Nevertire, Dubbo and Narromine all have considerable solar and, in some cases, wind facilities. On top of that, towns like Dubbo have some of the highest uptakes of rooftop solar anywhere in the country. So it is frustrating to be lectured by people on the other side who represent people who think this is some sort of philosophical argument and they can feel good about themselves by making the people I represent change what they do.
One of the perverse things that would come through this situation—where, rather than using innovation to reduce our emissions, we are now going to come in with a tax system—is that we are going to have other perverse outcomes where we’re going to see pressure to turn prime agricultural land into forestry and other unproductive things like that. I’ve got some carbon sinks across my electorate. Carbon sinks were quite popular back when the Rudd-Gillard government were talking about this. I can tell you now they have gotten to a certain height and stalled. They have stored carbon, but they are now sterile environments that are no longer increasing the amount of carbon that’s stored. If that had been left as cropping land, an active, healthy environment would be storing carbon on a regular basis, and the environment would have been a lot better off.
Back in 2009-10, my electorate looked a bit different to what it does now. The town of Kandos was in the Parkes electorate. The day that the Labor government announced their intention of a carbon tax—which, incidentally, we all know history shows didn’t go through—the Kandos plant shut down, and it’s still shut down now, instead of producing cement in New South Wales. All these people over here live in capital cities. I listened to the member for Melbourne talking ad nauseam about his care for the environment. Where does he think those buildings came from? Where did the cement, the glass, the steel that built those come from? They came from regional Australia. But what’s happening now is that if you want to buy cement for construction in New South Wales, it comes through the harbour—it comes into Port Botany on a ship—from somewhere else where they don’t have the environmental standards that we do here in Australia. Newsflash for those opposite: the atmosphere covers the entire globe. We don’t just fence off what is over Australia. Buying cement from Indonesia or somewhere else where they don’t have the same quality controls as we do here is actually a negative outcome for the environment.
This is a very frustrating situation, because the cost of everything in my half of NSW is exacerbated by this. If you’re a young mum in Bourke and you want to go and see your doctor about the baby you’re going to have, it’s a seven-hour round trip in a second-hand Commodore. As the cost of fossil fuels is forced up through this mechanism, it will be the people in my electorate that pay. It will not be the wealthy people in the leafy suburbs. They will just pay a bit more. They will tick the green tick on the plane as they take the kids to Hawaii for Christmas and feel good about themselves. But the people that I represent will pay the price, despite the fact that they’re the ones that are already doing the heavy lifting for the country.
It’s very frustrating to be here and see the disconnect from members of parliament who have absolutely no idea how our economy is structured. There are two things that have made Australia great. One is its ability to produce clean, large amounts of food, and the other is its ability to have cheap, reliable sources of energy.
The irony of all of this is that the answers we are looking for are in the Parkes electorate. At Broken Hill, we have the Cobalt Blue project and we’ve got the magnetite project, which anyone over on that side probably doesn’t understand; magnetite is the ore that you would use if you wanted to make green steel. We have a huge deposit of lithium near Condobolin, in the little village of Fifield, that will be developed. We’ve got rare earths at Dubbo. These are all the materials that we’re going to need if we going to have more electric vehicles and ultimately reduce our emissions. They’re all in my electorate. These people are gearing up to do their bit.
Another great example is the Inland Rail. The infrastructure minister, at the Press Club two weeks ago, called the Inland Rail a vanity project. One double stacked container train on the Inland Rail takes 150 trucks off the road and saves hundreds of tonnes of carbon. So a practical way of reducing emissions through transport is the Inland Rail. Since the change of government the minister now is sitting on the Schott report for months. Right across my electorate there’s a real concern about whether they have the ticker to see this project through. It’s one of the great infrastructure projects of this country ever, and now there is concern. The government on that side is all about image, all about signalling virtue, but they seem to be completely unaware of a genuine, practical way of actually improving our environment.
The idea that businesses, if they exceed their prescribed limit of carbon, if they can’t, as the member for Grey indicated in his contribution, if there is a short in that market, paying a $275 a tonne fine will be devastating for Australian industry. So what are we going to do? Are we going to move our manufacturing? We have had a big lecture this week in this place about manufacturing. So now we have a policy that we’ll move manufacturing out of Australia into countries where they don’t have these restrictions around them.
Mr COULTON: Member for Perth, it’s all very well in the leafy suburbs overlooking the Swan, but he needs to come out and talk to the people in my electorate that are actually doing the heavy lifting for this and are now looking at getting slugged again through this process. I was in the parliament that saw off this crazy policy 11 years ago. Nothing would make me happier than to see this policy off again this time. Under the policies of the previous government, emissions were reducing and the economy was growing. Why was there a need to come in and change things around, give things a different name, and basically go back to the Rudd-Gillard era and bring a piece of legislation that was roundly defeated the last time it did?
I believe this is a critical time. I do get frustrated that, as we have seen today, some of the interjections we have seen over there are like it’s some sort of a joke when we’re talking about future of our country, the future of regional Australia.
Honourable members interjecting—
Mr COULTON: We have Heckle and Jeckle over there. If we weren’t reducing our emissions, if the previous government’s policies weren’t working, they might have a point. But we’re exchanging something that’s working for a philosophical virtue-signalling policy that is going to be devastating for regional Australia. It’s going to put us at a disadvantage to our trading partners. Those opposite will wear the consequences of this ill-considered piece of legislation.