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Fruit And Nut (Research, Development And Extension Trust Fund) Repeal Bill 2019

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 8 August 2019

Tags: Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, the day has finally arrived. We have been looking at the Notice Paper for months and months, looking at the Fruit and Nut Industry (Research, Development and Extension Trust Fund) Repeal Bill. It sat there for many months now, and finally the moment has arrived when we can debate this repeal bill.

The Greens will be supporting the bill, of course. It is, as the previous speakers have indicated, a technical bill really, that repeals the Fruit and Nut Research, Development and Extension Trust Fund, and winds up the fund pool that was established in 1982 to support particularly apple and pear growers, and to assist them in managing threats and risks to their crops. I remember coming here as a young journalist, and the major biosecurity concern at the time was fire blight coming in from New Zealand apples, and finding the space as a small island operating in a national policy context was quite difficult, but we managed to steer our way through that as a state. As far as I know, fire blight has not been established in Tasmania.

Dr Broad - No, never.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Dr Broad and the minister.

The only question I have for the minister specifically in relation to the repeal bill is, if he could fill the House out on how much funding has been dispersed in total over the life of the fund, and maybe some details on the projects that were supported through that fund. There is only passing mention of it here in the fact sheet and second reading.

I also want to take a moment to talk about the single most pressing challenge confronting our primary producers, this parliament, Government and Tasmanians. It is the challenge that was not mentioned by the minister or Dr Broad, and that is the fact that Tasmania's climate is changing, and it is changing rapidly. We have access to some of world's leading research on projections of climate impact out to the year 2100 and that work is called Climate Futures. It had scientists working on it from UTAS, IMAS, CSIRO and the Australian Antarctic Division, and it provides quite fine detail of the landscape changes that we can expect to see over the next 100 years. What recent events have taught is that even Climate Futures now is becoming outdated, because the effects of global heating are happening at a much faster rate than scientists had projected in the original intergovernmental panel on climate change reports.

Scientists are now saying regarding the rate of global heating, that the things what we are seeing now - including the 22.5 billion tonnes of ice that melted off the Greenland ice sheet between 31 July and 1 August this year - were the impacts that scientists were telling us we would not be seeing for another 50 to 60 years.

We need to understand that, while it may be possible right now to grow the world's best apples and cherries and pears in Tasmania, the situation is going to change. There is a range of foreseeable impacts, and there is a large area of unknown about how fast our primary producers will have to adapt. We know that there will be less rain. There is already less rain on the east coast, but when you look at the Climate Futures maps you can see a drying across the centre of Tasmania, through the Midlands, through Gondwana. You can see that there will be a moister area of the state that runs down to the Tasman Peninsula and south-east Tasmania, but there is no question that in broad terms it will be warmer, there will be less rain in areas that have historically been rich farming lands, and there will fewer frosts. If we do not have those seasonal and regular frosts, there is a range of crops that we are no longer going to be able to grow. Those are the crops that are dependent on the cold snaps in the soil to begin the next phase of their life cycle.

I encourage the minister, in this important portfolio of Primary Industries and Water, working with our primary producers and leveraging off the brand, to take a real interest in some of the Climate Futures work and call in the scientists who contributed to that. We have Professor Nathan Bindoff here at CSIRO. There is a whole cohort of scientists who have contributed to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change work, including my colleague, Dr Rosalie Woodruff. It would be wise of the minister to start that conversation with those scientists and primary producers, representatives from the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, TIA at the university, and bring forward some of that important work that needs to be done. Look at those in determining how we support our primary producers to make the shifts they are going to have to make to respond to global heating and how we make sure we are growing enough food on the island to feed our people.

I have two more points to make before I wind up on this momentous bill. To any member who has not read Bruce Pascoe's book, Dark Emu, I thoroughly recommend it. It talks about the incredible sophistication and complexity of the agricultural and food production processes of Aboriginal Australians. We could learn a lot about how to manage land from Tasmanian Aboriginal people and First People from around the country. One of the areas of the book I found most interesting was in the description through historical texts of the quality of Australian soils when the first Europeans came here and started to move into the landscape. They found that through the tens of thousands of years of quite sophisticated land management of Aboriginal people and their cropping processes, we had a quality of soil here in large parts of Australia that was very fluffy and rich soil. These were soils that had been tilled, worked and used over many generations. It did not take very long -

Mrs Rylah - It is a humus.

Ms O'CONNOR - You are right, Mrs Rylah. It is humus in the soil but it was another quality in the soil that they found. It was not simply the vegetation that had gone into the soil, it was the way Aboriginal people had planted their seeds, the crops and the native grasses they grew. This wonderful book also reveals that Aboriginal Australians were the world's first bakers. We were the world's first known millers of a whole range of grasses and native wheats. There is a lot of knowledge in the book and in Aboriginal people about how to manage the landscape in a hostile climate -

Mr Tucker - Fuel reduction burns.

Ms O'CONNOR - With your inane interjection, Mr Tucker, I do not know what point you are making. We support strategic and scientifically founded fuel reduction burns. What we do not support is Forestry Tasmania torching forests after they have clear-felled them. You interrupted what I thought was a story the House would be interested in about how Aboriginal people managed the land. As a farmer, I thought you would be interested, but I must have been mistaken.

After colonisation and European farming techniques and sheep grazing techniques moved across the country, the incredibly rich, fluffy soils were compacted all over the country, yes, by hooves, and those old ways of carefully and managing the landscape with nature were largely forgotten. The great thing about Bruce Pascoe's book is that it busts and completely does away with the myth that we were dealing with a nomadic, fragmented people when the first Europeans arrived. There was sophisticated agriculture and complex societal and civilisation structures were in place. Every member of this place should read that wonderful book, Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe.

I want to address a matter Dr Broad raised in his contribution and he has raised it before. That relates to the level of foreign ownership of agricultural or production lands in Tasmania. Right now, as far as we know, and these were the figures I saw recently from ABARE, we are sitting at about 25 per cent foreign ownership of agricultural lands in Tasmania.

Dr Broad - That is forestry as well.

Ms O'CONNOR - Production land is what we call it.

Dr Broad - That would be Forico and Norske Skog.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, probably. I am not quibbling about the data. We have the highest level of foreign ownership of production lands of any state or territory in the country. We are just a little island so we need to ensure we are protecting Tasmania's interests. I acknowledge the importance of being able to attract foreign investment to Tasmania, but it is the right of government and of sovereign parliaments to adjust policy settings in response to the growing level of foreign ownership in Tasmania and concerns that exist within our community about that. We have not criticised the Government over the levy it has imposed on the purchases of agricultural lands by entities that are based overseas.

Dr Broad - That is the farm tax. That is the land tax that is going to be applied every year, not only on a purchase. There are two issues. There is the FIDS -

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, I know about the two issues.

Dr Broad - There is also a land tax that is going to apply every year from 1 July, an actual land tax, 1.5 per cent.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is a privilege to come here from other parts of the world and farm Tasmanian soils. I do not understand what the problem is with making foreign investors pay a surcharge. We are talking about multinational corporations that are well aware it is the right of sovereign governments and parliaments to make policy settings, so the argument that this is a sovereign risk situation is garbage.

Dr Broad - It's not garbage.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is garbage because any company or corporation that invests in another country does so knowing that country will have a lawmaking body of some sort and that laws and policies can change. They must change to adapt to different or changing circumstances from time to time. Dr Broad is well out of touch with the community's views on these things. You talk about us setting up straw men and you are doing exactly that with this. Most of the companies coming here from overseas are large multinational corporations, well able to pay a bit extra in land tax.

Dr Broad - They will go somewhere else.

Ms O'CONNOR - We know Labor has a problem with China. You cannot adjust -

Dr Broad - We do not. What is the problem?

Ms O'CONNOR - Part of the problem is that, federally, Labor has taken massive donations from Chinese businesspeople who are closely connected to the Chinese government. One of Labor's major donors, dealings with whom led to Senator Sam Dastyari's removal from parliament, has been banished from the country.

Dr Broad - That is my fault, obviously.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, Can I have a little bit of discipline, please.

Ms O'CONNOR - People who work in strategic policy and academia in Australia, respected commentators, will tell you Labor has a problem with its relationship with the Chinese government. They will tell you that because it is a statement of fact.

Of course we will be supporting this legislation. It is technical, it is long awaited and the day has finally come when we can debate the Fruit and Nut (Research, Development and Extension Trust Fund) Repeal Bill 2019. What a day it is.