Nats senator axed for protecting rural land

02 Dec, 2008 04:05 AM
Nationals Senator Fiona Nash.
Nationals Senator Fiona Nash.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has dumped a member of his shadow ministry for crossing the floor in the Senate to vote against up-front tax breaks for carbon sinks.

Senator Fiona Nash, the now former-shadow parliamentary secretary for water resources and conservation, joined three other National senators in crossing the floor to back a Greens disallowance motion on the tax breaks yesterday.

The move directly defied Mr Turnbull, who helped design the tax breaks as environment minister in the Howard government and spoke in support of the scheme at a joint party meeting last week.

It is understood Mr Turnbull called Senator Nash yesterday morning to ask for her resignation, which she wrote up on the spot.

Senator Nash last night said that, although the decision to cross the floor had come at a personal cost, she said voting for the bill supported her rural constituency and she believed the tax breaks would allow big business to easily take over good farming land.

Senator Nash's axing came despite Mr Turnbull on ABC radio yesterday backing the rights of the four National Party senators to vote for the disallowance bill.

"We’re not like the Labor Party. We are a broad church and people are entitled to take a particular position on a matter of conscience," he said.

The Age revealed on Wednesday that the four National senators, Senator Nash, Barnaby Joyce, John Williams and Ron Boswell, along with Liberal senator Bill Heffernan, had spoken openly against Mr Turnbull’s position in last week's joint party meeting.

Senator Heffernan last night spoke against the legislation but refused to cross the floor.

The fifth National senator, Nigel Scullion, abstained from the vote, essentially saving his Human Services portfolio and avoiding division with his party colleagues in the Senate.

A spokesman for Nationals leader Warren Truss last night played down the decision to drop Senator Nash and said a replacement for her portfolio was likely to be named today.

"Mr Truss respects Senator Nash's decision and those of the other senators but understands because of her stand there was a price to be paid in terms of her ministerial position," the spokesman said.

The Age also revealed on Wednesday that Senator Nash had been involved in negotiations for several weeks with Greens senator Christine Milne, who spearheaded the disallowance motion.

Senator Milne said yesterday the tax breaks for carbon sinks, which are generally large tree plantations, came with little environmental oversight and would become a "tax rort" for large businesses.

Senator Milne added that big business would use the plantations as a way of getting around reducing their carbon emissions when an emissions trading scheme was introduced in 2010.

"What we have here is the plantation industry wanting yet another major handout from the public purse, along with the coal and aviation sectors, looking for a cheap way to avoid reducing their greenhouse emissions at source," Senator Milne said.

The Greens yesterday also presented the advice of Melbourne tax lawyer Michael Bearman, who later said the tax breaks extended to the land purchased for a carbon sink, despite explanatory notes put out by the Treasury Department suggesting the opposite.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett told question time the split vote in the Coalition showed Mr Turnbull had been unable to unite his party on the climate change issue.

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Richie 10
2/12/2008 5:04:54 AM

Climate change is a political Tax issue not a Truth issue. It will not affect our lives like stupid political decisions will. As a nation we don't know where the benchmark of TRUTH is any more, we are LOST.
Roger Crook
3/12/2008 5:01:57 AM

There is mounting evidence that we are good at predicting the weather but not the climate. The latest bloodless sport is denigrating those who disagree with the scientifically unproven proposition of global warming. Fiona Nash is right of course. Over 70% of the high rainfall area of our Shire in the south of WA is now planted to Blue Gums. Apart from a few jobs it is hard to find any benefit to the community. The costs have been loss of food production, damaged roads, closed schools, difficulty finding volunteers for fire fighting, constant road-train traffic on unsuitable roads and so on and so on. As a country we have made the decision that tax-break trees are more important than food. Oh, bye the way, all the wood chips are exported, so that we can buy back the paper. Farming land has become another mine. Malcolm Turnbull and his party are wrong, wrong, wrong.
3/12/2008 5:02:32 AM

What are the Nationals for if not to look after rural interests? There is no necessary coincidence of views between the Libs and the Nationals and this should be recognised, especially when in Opposition. Soon the Nats will have little or no rural support at all to speak of!
3/12/2008 5:42:07 AM

Congratulations Senator Nash for voting as you believed you should and as you indicated you would. Voters want their representatives to make decisions based on sound reflection and judgement as to how it may affect their electorate, and they will thank you for it and remember you had courage of your convictions. The days of blindly following leaders and party dogma should be past and it is a poor reflection on Malcolm Turnbull, but not surprising. He has not learnt the lessons of the past. If more Howard Ministers and MPs had spoken up in the Party Room and vocalised what they privately believed , we may have had a different election outcome.
Green farmer
3/12/2008 5:51:43 AM

Just when I was starting to think that Malcolm Turnbull was looking like a good alternative Prime Minister he starts to act like Beattie did in Qld (dumped a Labor member for her stand against the Traveston Dam) and shows his desire for dictatorial power. This issue has nothing to do with the environment but everything to do with giving rich city people tax breaks and devaluing our rural economy. The Coalition parties will never form a good government for Australia until they recognize the importance of the rural economy and the need for vibrant rural centres even as alternative retirement places out of the urban rat race as well as to serve the rural industries.
3/12/2008 6:06:49 AM

Food security is obviously not an issue for Turnbill or Rudd. This tax break will give a leg up for the tree farming corporates under pressure from falling returns and share price. Well done Nash and co for backing the family farmer - go the next step and resign from the coalition.
3/12/2008 6:12:00 AM

I was impressed with Senator Nash when I met her in Canberra earlier this year. Now I am even more impressed. Make no mistake, this is the kind of leader that the bush needs......young, intelligent and courageous! What a shame that as soon as you stand up against Big Business you get cut down to size. The logic of this bill still escapes me. We give a tax break to companies so they can take land that is producing food out of production so they can plant wall to wall trees that serve no other purpose than a carbon sink?? Surely, just when it looks like we finally might be getting some research dollars to investigate the claims that perennial type pastures can sequester similar amounts of carbon as the trees, it would have been worth holding off on this tax break. And make no mistake, these trees won't all be headed for marginal land either. They get better survival rates on the better soils and rainfall, so that's where they will be targeting.
Brian Sullivan
3/12/2008 6:14:17 AM

I think Malcolm is getting a little precious about his pet issues. He should be practicing what he preaches regarding 'concious votes'. A bit of time in the bush would do him good!
3/12/2008 6:16:29 AM

Ah Malcom, looking after your mates at the big end of town !
3/12/2008 6:42:39 AM

Good for you Fiona, this bill will lead to all sorts of problems, least of all the tax breaks for Pitt Street farmers who can go and buy good farming country and get volunteers to plant the trees donated by the government.
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