House of Representatives, March 20 2023

Dr HAINES (Indi) (10:51): I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that:

(a) the Government has set a target of net-zero emissions by 2050; and

(b) Australia’s agriculture sector currently generates 16 per cent of Australia’s national emissions;

(2) notes that climate change represents a serious and present threat to the Australian agricultural sector’s continued productivity and profitability, including on the international market;

(3) further recognises that:

(a) the Government is continuing to support a carbon market through the use of Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs), including under the Safeguard Mechanism (Crediting) Bill 2022;

(b) the Government is encouraging farmer participation in new markets including the:

(i) ACCUs market, via programs such as the Carbon Farming Outreach Program; and

(ii) biodiversity credit market through the proposed Nature Repair Market Bill; and

(c) Australia’s agriculture sector may need to retain their own credits for carbon in-setting, in order to comply with international trade requirements that will require farmers to address their own emissions;

(4) further notes that agricultural extension officers have historically played an important role in translating science into practice for Australia’s agricultural sector; and

(5) calls on the Government to do more to encourage farmers to deploy low-emissions technologies and practices, and participate in carbon and biodiversity markets, by:

(a) providing ongoing and increased investment in agricultural and climate science research and development, including in accurate measurement of soil carbon and nutritional additives to reduce methane emissions in livestock;

(b) funding a network of 200 context-specific, trusted and neutral agricultural extension officers through providers such as Natural Resource Management or Landcare organisations to provide educational outreach services and advice on technology, products and practices that will help farmers lower their emissions and subsequently participate in new carbon and biodiversity markets; and

(c) allowing farmers to certify their products as net-zero through a dedicated carbon neutral certification standard for farms through the ClimateActive initiative which would help farmers access price premiums for their products and protect their access to overseas markets.

Agriculture is a vital industry in my electorate, but farmers are concerned about their place in a changing world. Climate change will inevitably impact agricultural productivity and profitability. At the same time, there’s a lot of talk about agriculture playing a part in offsetting our nation’s largest emissions under the government’s safeguard mechanism. Our farmers currently generate 16 per cent of Australia’s emissions. Right now, countries and groups around the world, like the European Union, are considering tariffs on Australian agricultural imports because we haven’t done enough for a sustainable agricultural production. That’s why today I’m presenting practical action for the government to support our farmers taking action on climate change.

John Paul Murphy, a cattle farmer from Lurg in my electorate of Indi, told me that he feels, as an average farmer, he is treading water waiting to see what happens next. Recent accounting on his farm shows that 80 per cent of his farm’s emissions are directly from methane. And John Paul knows that adopting new practices and offsetting methane will be critical for the future profitability and productivity of his farm. But he’s concerned that farmers hastening quickly into the carbon market may ultimately be disadvantaged because they may need to offset their own emissions first. And many farmers I speak to across Indi, including John Paul, tell me that they want to play a part in reducing our national emissions and they’re looking to become climate neutral themselves.

They talk to me about the challenges in navigating the carbon measurement, auditing and certification, and they express genuine concern about the integrity of carbon credits. Farmers have also told me that when there is an historical change in agriculture, farmers navigate that change through agricultural extension and farmer groups. A recent survey, released just last week by Farmers for Climate Action, of 600 farmers found that 94 per cent of respondents want to change their practices if it will benefit themselves and the environment, but 70 per cent of them had not been involved in any climate and agriculture extension program. Government has clearly fallen short in supporting our farmers in recent times, but we can change this. I’m bolstered by the government’s $20 million Carbon Farming Outreach Program. The program intends to develop and deliver a training package and tools for farmers and land managers on carbon market participation and low-emissions technologies and practices. It’s a good start, but it’s nowhere near enough.

In the lead-up to the last election, I called on the government to fully fund a network of 200 agricultural extension officers, based in 20 regional areas across Australia, over four years. I make this call again today. The Parliamentary Budget Office costed my policy at $132 million over four years. The government must significantly expand on their initial $20 million pledge if the support that farmers are calling for is to be actually delivered. Under my policy, the 200 extension officers would work with farmers one on one and through local agriculture and natural resource management groups to adopt the technology, the products and the practices that would help them lower their emissions, access carbon credits—for offsetting or insetting—and achieve net zero. These extension officers would translate the science into practice, delivering the research on how to improve soil carbon and accurately measure it or what nutritional additives need to be used to reduce methane emissions in livestock. The advice must be from trusted neutral, independent officers who know the specific environment that each farmer is working in, because the techniques applied in low-rainfall, poorer soils will be different to those in high-rainfall, organically rich soils.

When we’re debating the Safeguard Mechanism (Crediting) Amendment Bill 2022 this week, I call on my fellow members to think practically about how offsetting will work, to think practically about how it will impact our agricultural sector, a sector that feeds and clothes us and cares for our beautiful natural landscapes. Agriculture is a foundational industry that enriches our nation. Let’s not set up our farmers for failure. Let’s listen to their calls for support to navigate the risks and gain the opportunities in the carbon market. The government has made some long-overdue first steps. Let’s scale it up and deliver a robust, trusted network of extension officers to see it through.

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