Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Janelle Saffin talk to blue berry grower at Wollongbar’s Primary Industries Institute yesterday (Saturday), August 14, 2010.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Janelle Saffin talk to blue berry grower at Wollongbar’s Primary Industries Institute yesterday (Saturday), August 14, 2010.

PM's rural pitch

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard pulled on blue jeans and shiny R M Williams boots for a surprise visit to Wollongbar on Saturday, where she made an announcement aimed at winning over farmers.

Ms Gillard stood in a field belonging to the Wollongbar Agricultural Institute to unveil a carbon credit scheme she said could be worth $500 million to the nation’s farmers over the next decade.

Reducing carbon pollution by storing it on their land by planting trees, and finding new ways of using soil so that it retained carbon, could earn farmers credits, Ms Gillard told the media circus that had followed her to the Northern Rivers.

The credits could be traded on international markets, where they would be bought by the polluters, she said.

Ms Gillard said the $46 million a year plan was for a ‘market-based mechanism’.

“Farmers, with their knowledge and their land, will make the decisions. They sell their carbon credits on a market and they get money for doing so,” she said.

“It’s good for our world, good for our atmosphere, as we are reducing our carbon, and it’s good for farmers, as they get an income stream from a mechanism where the money is coming from polluters. It is the polluters who pay.

“I anticipate our indigenous landowners will be also interested in it because it can be a new stream of revenue for them.”

Flanked by Climate Change Minister Penny Wong and Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister Tony Burke, Ms Gillard admitted the scheme sounded similar to a plan proposed by Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull, and said she was happy to give him credit for generating ideas like this one.

She even quoted the ousted Liberal leader on the carbon plan that Tony Abbott was taking to the election: “Having the government pick projects for subsidy is a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale,” Mr Turnbull had said.

Ms Gillard cited Mr Abbott’s unwillingness to put his costing documents forward as another example of this.

Asked whether the proposal would be dependent on an international deal on climate change, Ms Gillard said international trading in these carbon credits already took place.

“What farmers have lacked is a credentials mechanism to do so,” she said, but this scheme would ‘give them the certification they need to verify the credits that they then sell’.

Ms Gillard said the science for measuring carbon that was alleviated by growing trees also already existed.

She said some of the money going into the scheme would be used to develop methods of measuring the amount saved by discovering different ways of managing livestock herds, and different ways of using soil so it stored carbon.

Start-up date for the scheme would be July 1 next year, though there would be some backdating for trees that had already been planted.

Ms Gillard said she would be ‘out and about’ in the next few days talking to the Australian people.

Before the announcement on Saturday she observed cattle feeding before chomping blueberries with local grower, breeder and the NSW Farmer of the Year, Ridley Bell, of Mountain Blue Orchards at Wollongbar.

But Ms Gillard was a good deal less down to earth when asked if she would re-open the Casino to Murwillumbah train line – repeating the message about her Government’s ‘great investments in infrastructure’, which she had witnessed locally with Page MP Janelle Saffin in schools, and in the benefits of the national broadband network.

Pressed on the subject, she merely endorsed the ‘greatlocal representative’ Justine Elliot ‘and her passionate advocacy’ of the rail link.

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