SHADOW Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has hit back at the Coalition’s brazen attack on Labor’s climate change policy saying farmers should consider future commercial opportunities and not get distracted by short-term political “fearmongering”.
Last week Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce led a blistering attack on the ALP’s policy proposal to introduce federal powers that override the State’s on land clearing laws, if elected at the July 2 poll, which also angered farm groups.
But Mr Fitzgibbon rejected allegations farm operations would be strangled by excessive red tape from an added layer of federal legal oversight.
He said the Opposition’s policy had a long-term focus on sustainable farm output and land management, in offering additional revenue opportunities through carbon trading and renewable energies.
It will also form an integral part of any agricultural policy the senior Labor power-broker announces during the federal election campaign over the next two months.
Mr Fitzgibbon said many farmers were already receiving additional earnings from wind turbines and other renewables and Labor’s carbon plan would expand that investment and for other new technologies, including solar.
“This is the best drought policy a farmer could ever have; that is a secondary source of income through renewables on their own farm,” he said.
“We want to work with the land sector to lift productivity for the soils and water resources that underpin farming operations, to improve income through the storage of carbon in soils.
“There is a lot in this for the farming sector and we want to work with them - but we do need to lift productivity and better management of land, soils and water will be a key to lifting that productivity.”
Labor’s policy aims to capture carbon on the land by “reinvigorating” the Carbon Farming Initiative and its domestic emissions trading scheme (ETS) would be introduced in two distinct phases, with agriculture excluded from the first one.
The policy says the farm sector has made the “most substantial contribution” to emissions reduction in Australia over the past 20 years, largely through State-based land clearing restrictions.
But in pointing a political finger at the Queensland Newman government, Labor has committed to introducing a “climate trigger” in federal legislation to give the commonwealth powers to regulate broad-scale land clearing.
Mr Fitzgibbon said he welcomed the land clearing policy move and accused Mr Joyce of being “desperate” and engaging in typical “fearmongering” on land clearing and the ETS.
“A future Labor government will be doing no more than enforcing our international treaties; the management of the land sector including in Queensland will remain with the State governments,” he said.
“These are Labor initiatives and we are proud of them but I’ll let Barnaby Joyce run the scare campaign and I’ll stick to what I believe is good policy.”
In rejecting allegations the policy resulted from political deals with extreme green groups, Mr Fitzgibbon said no such conversations had occurred with the Greens and would not take place on climate, agriculture or environment policy, more generally.
He said a future Labor government, if it believed a State government had taken initiatives that breached Australia’s international climate obligations, would use a trigger to invoke the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and overrule that State decision.
“The climate change trigger will allow a future Labor government to intervene in cases like the Newman Government’s decision to wind back Queensland’s land clearing laws,” he said.
“This makes it clear the commonwealth has the power to override State decisions that are in breach of international treaties.
“The Labor party is simply saying that when State governments do the wrong thing we’ll correct it.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said the majority of Australia’s gains in reducing greenhouse gas emissions had been from tougher rules on land clearing activities - but the Newman government and now the Baird government in NSW was, “attempting to wind those laws back”.
“We’re not saying we’re going to do anything other than unravel any State decisions that are in breach of international obligations,” he said.
“The Commonwealth is not doing anything; it will not be intervening in land management which is a State responsibility.
“But what we will do is overturn State government decisions which are in breach of those obligations.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said he and Shadow Climate Change Minister Mark Butler had held extensive talks with the National Farmers Federation during the climate policy’s design phase but the land clearing trigger wasn’t mentioned.
But he said the policy was good news for the farm sector and a bipartisan view existed in Australia, on addressing climate change.
“Both of the major political parties are committed to dramatically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions so therefore it only becomes a question of how it’s done,” he said.
“The ALP is using a market based mechanism and will use proceeds from the abolition of the Coalition’s inefficient and costly business subsidy which is in the form of the direct action plan, to re-start Carbon Farming Initiative.
“We are subject to the whims of the international export market (and) we need a productivity agenda and the return of the Carbon Farming Initiative will form a key part of that productivity agenda.”
Mr Joyce said Labor’s land clearing proposal was “an anathema to the principles of commerce and private enterprise”.
“The Federal Labor Party, no doubt to be supported by the Greens and any other independents, has stated that they will bring in a federal policeman to complement the state policeman to monitor the private assets of individuals,” he said.
“If a community believes there is a benefit in acquiring an asset in your living room, in your front yard, or off your property then the community should pay for it - not steal by legislation and enforce by law.
“But the Shadow Minister for the Environment has put this forward as one of the premier policies of what they’re offering the agricultural sector.”