Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (19:10): Minister, I’m sure you’re aware of the enormous contribution the farming sector makes to Australia. The sector generates more than $50 billion a year in direct returns and $150 billion in total with the value added if food manufacturing is included. The sector is the backbone of our rural towns, and their ability to survive and prosper is of paramount importance. The income these rural communities generate in turn makes a huge contribution in our cities, where many of the jobs in manufacturing and the supply chain are situated. Of equal importance is the role agricultural landholders play in caring for our environment. They manage the vast majority of Australia’s landmass. Essential to their prosperity and success is the security of their supply chains and the control of its costs. A major part of that supply chain challenge is fertiliser, in terms of procurement and import and also in terms of supply at a reasonable price.
Australia has some of the oldest and most degraded soils in the world, and, as such, fertilisers are essential building blocks of good farming practice. Australia imports most of our phosphate and nitrogenous fertiliser. There’s no good reason for this. After all, we have all the required raw materials right here in this country, and we should be manufacturing locally. I’m pleased to report that, with the recent establishment of Centrex’s Ardmore phosphate mine in north-west Queensland, we are on the way to eliminating the import of around 400,000 tonnes a year of phosphorus fertiliser. However, we use around 2.4 million tonnes of nitrogenous fertilisers a year and import about 90 per cent of that. Nitrogen fertiliser is made from natural gas, and Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of gas as LNG. That gas, or an equivalent, is then turned into nitrogen fertiliser in another country, and we transport it back to Australia and distribute it for use. Clearly, we should be able to do so much better, especially when we consider how much anxiety the shortage of AdBlue caused 12 months ago. The product is made from urea, and the shortage of AdBlue came about because of an international shortage of urea.
Just in case anyone might think that we could reduce our reliance on fertiliser or that somehow we could cope with a major interruption of supply, we should consider Sri Lanka. In April 2022, in an incredibly misguided attempt to somehow save the environment, they decided to ban chemical based fertiliser. The result was a 35 per cent drop in rice yields and a 50 per cent drop for tea and corn, leading to widespread shortages and an explosion in prices. The policy-induced shortages led Sri Lanka to rely on credits with other nations to feed their citizens. The decision delivered bankruptcy to a poor nation, and, despite its cancellation 12 months later, their farmers, as a result of their losses, have been largely unable to purchase fertiliser for the new crop. It’s a man-made disaster. Naturally, Australia’s not likely to ban the use of fertiliser, but it does highlight the potential for damage from an interrupted supply, and, given the current tensions of the world and rapidly changing market conditions, who is to say that’s not on the cards?
That’s why we should develop local capacity. I’m sure the minister is aware that the coalition government provided support for two projects in WA to deliver local urea manufacturing capacity: a $220 million low-interest loan for Perdaman to build their facility on the Burrup Peninsula plus a $255 million low-interest loan to the WA government for an upgrade of port infrastructure. The former government also provided a $2 million grant from the Modern Manufacturing Strategy for Strike Energy to develop a urea plant in the south of the state.
The Perdaman proposal has already attracted a significant amount of criticism. The minister for the environment recently blocked a submission to halt the progress of construction due to concerns relating to Aboriginal arts. Recently, the federal parliament passed bills enshrining a 43 per cent emissions target in legislation. Unlike a general target, which Australian governments have previously set and met, a legislated target has now provided an avenue for third parties to seek judicial intervention to determine whether or not a project should go ahead.
My question to the minister is: can she guarantee that the legislated 43 per cent target will not be used by activist groups to delay or derail these projects, which are so important to Australian farmers and our national security? (Time expired)