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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 935


Mr CONNOLLY(8.02) —This Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill will have a long term effect on the economic and social viability of Tasmania. More significantly than that, it will also have a long term effect on the whole federal relationship in this Commonwealth. For the first time since Federation, leaving aside the whole issue of the Franklin Dam of a few years ago, this Government has now taken upon itself to effect the land management policies of a State government in a most fundamental way. It is using its powers and the legislation passed in this Parliament to establish, initially, arrangements by which protection could be given across Australia to areas which were seen to be of significant environmental importance.

The point here, however, is that the Commonwealth wishes to use, and this Labor Government intends to use, both the foreign affairs power and also the corporations power. The Opposition believes and contends that this is not the purpose for which that legislation ought to be put into effect and we do not believe that the fathers of the Constitution, when they developed the external affairs concept, ever thought that a federal parliament would take unto itself powers to effect fundamental land management issues within the States.

Let us examine the proposal in some detail. Initially, we are told that this legislation is only meant to establish a commission of inquiry to inquire into the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests of Tasmania-an inquiry which will take about 12 months or so to carry out what the Government and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) have told us is a necessary review of the environmental elements which need to be protected because of the fact that parts of this area under contention are adjacent to the South-West National Park, the Franklin-Lower Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. Since the 1930s the Tasmanian Government has been well aware of the long term significance environmentally, as well as the responsibility of the Government to maintain a viable timber industry in south-western Tasmania. If the Government's proposals are endorsed by this House they will have the effect of locking up some 284,000 hectares of Tasmanian State forest which has been set aside for wood production.


Mr Goodluck —Shame.


Mr CONNOLLY —The honourable member for Franklin who just said `shame' does so knowing that he speaks for the vast majority of the Tasmanian people who have had enough of their affairs continually being subject to interference by this Hawke Labor Government. It amazes me that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, who has seen fit to join us for this debate, some time ago when we were arguing, as he then was, the issue of the extent to which a Federal government could protect the interests of rainforests in Queensland, said on numerous occasions to the media and to this Parliament that it was not appropriate that the Federal Parliament should interfere in the land management decisions of the State. I find it extraordinary that we now find ourselves in a situation once again where the same Minister has the gall to come before this House and present legislation which, by any interpretation, can only be seen as the most arrogant interference in the affairs of Tasmania.

This Government has asked for this inquiry for purely political reasons. If the Minister had the courage why did he not simply make a decision that forestry should be allowed to be a basic industry of Tasmania and that these areas which had some problems at this stage should either be subject or should not be subject to forestry management? The opportunity has been missed. I want the people of Australia to understand quite clearly why that is so. This Hawke Labor Government at one time in its early history could claim, I suppose with some justification, that it had on its side the majority of the so-called environmental or greenie vote. But obviously surveys which were conducted demonstrated that that was no longer the case. So we saw, and we will see in the next few days, two pieces of legislation introduced into this Parliament-this Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill, which we are debating tonight, and in a few days we will be seeing another piece of most significant and interesting legislation preventing any searching, exploration or mining activity whatsoever in any part of stages 1, 2 or 3 of Kakadu National Park and, I might add, without any provision of compensation for those miners who have rights in that area and have had them for many years. At least the Minister has not been prepared to suggest that compensation may not be provided in this case.

However, the point I am making is this: The Minister has not had the courage to make a decision. He is playing for time. He wants at least 12 months between now and the next election so that he will not have to face his environmental masters on this subject and have to tell them that there are times when even a Labor government has no alternative but to make the right decision. In this case the right decision undoubtedly is that the Tasmanian Government and the Tasmanian people have every right, subject to appropriate environmental controls-which this Minister knows as well as I have been in place-which his Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) agreed to with the Tasmanian Government. That agreement, which has been signed by both the Commonwealth Government and the Tasmanian Government, will set in place the arrangements by which areas of environmental sensitivity, especially areas adjacent to the national parks which I referred to earlier, are to be protected. Yet for some extraordinary reason, which one can only conclude is totally political, this Minister took to the Cabinet the proposal that the original agreement with his colleague the Minister for Primary Industry should be set aside and that Federal legislation should be put in place.

As I said, there is no doubt that the real involvement of this Government in environmental protection is really a charade. What we are seeing in fact is a tawdry political exercise to avoid the need to make difficult decisions and a hope that an election will take place in the meantime and get you off the hook. It will get you off the hook all right, but you will not be there to pull in the line.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will speak through the Chair.


Mr CONNOLLY —Certainly, Madam Speaker. The point is that this Government does not wish to make decisions which will disturb the environmental movement and particularly that element of the environmental movement which believes-I believe incorrectly-that wood production from native forests should cease virtually under any conditions.

Let me refer to the question of the National Estate Register because this is one of the key elements of the whole package that the Government has put before us. The Government is simply saying that areas placed on the National Estate Register in this context should be free of any economic development whatsoever. The placing of areas on the register does not require agreement. It does not require negotiation. Neither the support of State governments nor the agreement or even the involvement of the owners of land is required in determining whether or not property-and this could involve anybody in Australia-will find itself on the National Estate Register. Legislation concerning the register was brought into this Parliament for a sensible reason. We need to know in advance what, shall we say, the bank account was of Australia's significant environmental property. The Minister finds this whole issue very amusing but I can assure him that the people of Tasmania do not.


Mr Cohen —I was laughing at you laughing.


Mr CONNOLLY —The Minister may do so but this is not an amusing subject for the people of Tasmania. Over 800 Tasmanians are now facing the fact that they are going to lose their jobs. These people, who have wives and children, will have to go on the dole because of decisions made by a Labor government and by a Minister who sits at the table and chortles about the lives of other people.


Mr Cohen —Madam Speaker, I take a point of order. I ask the honourable member for Bradfield not to attribute actions to me that did not occur.


Madam SPEAKER —There is no point of order, but I ask the honourable member for Bradfield to speak through the Chair.


Mr CONNOLLY —Thank you, Madam Speaker. I will endeavour to speak through the Chair if the Minister at the table will take the matter more seriously.


Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member will continue his speech.


Mr CONNOLLY —The National Estate Register covers 30 per cent of Tasmania. Thirty per cent of any State is a significant amount of land. That percentage is certainly more by far than in any other State of the Commonwealth. I think this Government would do well to realise that people living in Tasmania, who are well aware of the sensitivity of their environment, have the fundamental problem of trying to make a living. Right down the line all they ask of governments, State and Federal, is to be prepared to make sensible judgments on the balance between what is ecologically significant, what must be protected and how it ought to be protected, preferably in a manner by which the economic development of some of these resources can be carried out in an environmentally sustainable manner. I do not regard that as an unnecessary thing to ask for. I have been down to the Lemonthyme. I have been to Jackeys Marsh. I have been to most of those places and no doubt the Minister has. I have spoken to people down there who work in the timber yards and the timber mills. I have spoken to people who are involved with equipment and who move logs in and out of the forests and so forth. These men are doing a job. They are not doing it because they want to destroy something. They are well aware of the environment in which they are working. They are doing this work essentially because that is the living which they have chosen. It is the living which their fathers and grandfathers before them chose.

One of the most absurd things about this whole matter is that much of the land which is often subject to environmental protection in the context of what the Minister is asking is in fact land which was the subject of timber getting 100 years ago or, in some cases, even more recently than that. Yet, if one looks at that land today and if one is prepared to be honest, one would have to admit that no serious environmental damage has taken place. I stood on a hill looking across a valley in the Lemonthyme area. I had pointed out to me copse which had been cleared of timber in the past, some as recently as a decade ago. With the exception of some caulification of the leaves which demonstrated younger growth, one would have to admit that there was really no significant change whatsoever. But we have been told by the Minister that one of the reasons this whole area had to be protected is that people going across tracks in the national parks-the Franklin-Lower Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park-want to look out and see a vista which is totally free of human activity.


Mr Chynoweth —Hear, hear!


Mr CONNOLLY —The honourable member on the other side of the House says: `Hear, hear'. I trust that he has bothered to go there and have a look.


Mr Chynoweth —Yes, I have.


Mr CONNOLLY —If the honourable member had gone to the highest peaks of that area-and I hope he can say that he did-he would have to share with me the awareness of the fact that one can see areas of forestry and fairly substantial areas which have been cleared for grazing. But the point I want to make is this: One cannot say that one can look anywhere and find a totally natural vista.

The Tasmanian Government, in the context of the Lemonthyme, suggested to the Commonwealth Government that it was perfectly prepared to organise the copse for the removal of timber in such a way that there would be lines of timber left in place to protect the vista of those few people who use the path across the ridges in case they experienced some emotional strain in seeing that certain areas had been cleared. The Tasmanian Government cannot understand-and certainly the Tasmanian people have every reason for not understanding-how the Labor Government was party to an agreement for the management plan of the Lemonthyme State Forest of December 1983, an agreement which it had accepted and agreed to, the terms of which were included in the agreement between the Tasmanian Minister and the Federal Minister for Primary Industry in 1986. Yet, we have legislation coming before us today. We have a Minister who introduced that legislation with a second reading speech which was noted for its arrogance and for its lack of concern for the welfare of hundreds of people in Tasmania and elsewhere who have to face the fact that the timber industry in Tasmania has come to stay. For those who wish to argue the point, let it be remembered that 14 per cent of Tasmania's land area is already allocated to national parks. That is twice the Australian average.

As I said before, when the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment faced a similar problem he had in Queensland, he ran away from it. `We must not interfere in State decisions', he said. Why is it that the Government always wants to pick on Tasmania? Why does it blame the Tasmanians for saying to this Government: `We want no part of you. We will not send a single Labor Party member of the House of Representatives back to Canberra because there is nobody in the Labor Party who is prepared to protect Tasmania's interests'. Madam Speaker, I would like to stay on this theme a little longer. Mr Batt, the leader of the Labor Party in Tasmania, has gone on record on numerous occasions emphasising the fact that he supports 100 per cent everything the Gray Government is doing down there to protect Tasmanian interests from this grotesque takeover bid from Canberra. At least they are united on that.

The Tasmanian political scene is united in the belief that one must always seek a balance between what is rational environmental protection and conservation on the one hand and the fundamental needs of Tasmanian men and women to be able to earn an income to protect their children and have a reasonable standard of living on the other hand. These are things that this Government once again wants to take from these people. On the one hand the Government is complaining about people having to go on the dole and on the other hand it is forcing people on to the dole. They are being forced on to the dole by the Government's policies. This is happening not because of the policies of the Tasmanian Government, not because of the policies voted for by the Tasmanian people but because of the policies forced on the Government by an extraordinary belief that if it does not win the greenie vote it will lose the next election. Be that on your conscience. I say that to the Minister through the Chair, Madam Speaker.


Madam SPEAKER —Actually you are not. If you were to say `they' instead of `you', you would be speaking through the Chair.


Mr CONNOLLY —I think it is also worth noting that in 1985 the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment stated:

There is no overriding environmental reason why wood production forestry should not continue in Tasmania.

He made that statement. He will now probably defend himself by saying: `I am giving myself a way out in this proposal'. One of the conditions of this Commission of Inquiry is to try to find alternatives. I would be only too happy to show the map to the Minister, because I really doubt whether he knows what is on it. If he looked at a map of Tasmania and compared this area with the areas that are already listed with the Heritage Commission he would see it for what it is-a third of the island of Tasmania. And the Government is wondering why people are less than impressed with the arguments, the tomfoolery and the ridiculous way in which it has handled this issue!

The Government is using the foreign affairs power and it is trying to use the corporations power-all to crush the rights of a State government and to protect the interests of its own people who have made it absolutely clear on numerous occasions that they do not want anything to do with it. They just want the right to be able to manage their own affairs in a responsible manner. No State in this Commonwealth has given more for environmental protection or allocated more of its land to achieve the standards of World Heritage listing than Tasmania. Yet the Minister has the effrontery to talk in his second reading speech about the glories of World Heritage listing and how the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources is concerned about the marginal areas around the edges of the World Heritage listing areas of Tasmania. How much nonsense does the Government really expect the Tasmanian people to accept?

Apparently the Government is convinced-so it would have us believe-that there are alternatives to logging these areas. Some 2 1/2 years ago a review was done of the Tasmanian timber industry. The Hawke Labor Government gave funds to the Forest Action Network to produce a booklet on alternatives to logging in National Estate areas. It developed a document, which I trust all honourable members opposite who are so interested in this subject would know is a forest industries strategy for Tasmania. The most interesting thing is this: When this Hawke Labor Government made its decision to support forest industry by signing on 30 June 1986 the memorandum of understanding between the Minister for Primary Industry-representing the Hawke Labor Government, let me make it quite clear-and the Minister of the Tasmanian Government, it already had this report. It was not new intelligence; it was not something that just appeared many months afterwards. As I said initially, the simple fact of the matter is that what we are seeing is nothing more than a simple, plain, typical Labor political trick. Once again it is tilting at windmills; it is blowing up balloons and letting them off into the air, and it is hoping that it will convince other sections of the electorate long enough that they will be stupid enough to vote for it at the next election. One thing is perfectly obvious: The Government's vote in Tasmania will probably be worse at the next election than it was at the last election and it will certainly know the reason for that. There is not a single member of the Labor Party from Tasmania in this chamber-and I think that is the bottom line in this issue. Nevertheless, the Government has made these decisions and it has to live with them.

When the Federal Department of Primary Industry gave advice to Ministers in the Cabinet, when the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment gave all his reasons why certain things were necessary, and while he had the support, we are told, of a certain senator from my State of New South Wales who became a born again greenie, the simple fact of the matter is that the Department of Primary Industry had already conceded that the document gave alternatives that were hopelessly optimistic in an attempt to justify the resumption of vast areas of Tasmania. Clearly, therefore, the whole basis of this proposed inquiry is specious. There is no economic or environmental basis for further inquiry.

Just for the record, since the Minister seems to have some difficulty in this area, I wonder whether he is aware that there have already been no fewer than nine major public inquiries into forestry and forest-based industries over recent years. For the benefit of the House I would like them to be listed in Hansard so that nobody on the Government side can claim that he did not know this particular gun was loaded. They are: In 1972, the Tasmanian Legislative Council Select Committee `Inquiry into Forest Regeneration'; in 1975, the Federal working group report entitled `Economic and Environmental Aspects of Export Hardwood Woodchip Industry'-Parliamentary Papers Nos 116 and 177, for the benefit of those people who are interested in reading them-in 1975, the Senate Standing Committee on Science and Environment report `Woodchips and the Environment'; in 1977, the State Government Board of Inquiry into Private Forestry Development in Tasmania by Mr Justice Everett; in 1978, the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment `Woodchips and the Environment' supplementary report; in 1981, Senate Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce report `Australian Forestry and Forest Products Industries'; in 1985, the Tasmanian Legislative Council Select Committee `State Forestry Report'; in 1985, Tasmanian Legislative Council Select Committee report `Woodchip Export Licences'; in 1985-in the same year; there were three inquiries that year-`Environmental Impact Study on Tasmanian Woodchip Exports Beyond 1988' and the `Supplement to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Tasmanian Woodchips'. Good heavens, if ever there have been in the whole history of this nation more inquiries into one little bit of earth which is called Tasmania-a beautiful island which is a part of this nation-or more inquiries into one industry in so few years, I would be very surprised indeed. Yet this is the sort of nonsense we have to go on with. I will quote the letter from the Minister for Primary Industry to the Tasmanian Minister in which he stated:

. . . the view field of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. The Forestry Commission plan provides for management of logging operations so as to minimise any compromise to the visual amenity of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair area.

He continued:

The Government does not propose to limit logging in the area beyond those limits already proposed in the Tasmanian Forestry Commission's 1983 management plan.

I think this House deserves to get from the Minister some explanation of why it was that in 1983 an agreement was reached with his colleague, representing the Hawke Labor Government, and the Tasmanian Government in which it was said without any equivocation that no further change was proposed beyond the agreement reached in the context of that Tasmanian Forestry Commission 1983 management plan. I have already told the House that that management plan was not only agreed to by the Labor Government but was also a very well conceived document to protect the very areas which this Minister claims are under threat. I find it extraordinary that all the proposed boundaries in the areas adjacent to the national parks are the same boundaries which have been chosen by certain environmental groups as the basis of what they see as the greater South West Tasmania environmental protection area.

Madam Speaker, in accordance with the rules of this House I cannot speak directly to the Minister, so I would be pleased to do so through you. I honestly think he has been sold a pup. I think he has once again been prepared to listen to a few voices which his Government helped to fund to prepare a report on precisely these issues. When that report came before the Cabinet the Minister's own Department of Primary Industry said that the report was absolutely optimistic beyond all realms of possibility because the fact is that Tasmania has very limited long term potential for forestry generation unless there is a sustainable policy. When those opposite take areas which are not within national parks, which it is not necessary to give 100 per cent protection for all time, and when they are trying to say now that these areas might-`might', not `will' or `do'-contain some aspect of world heritage significance I just remind the Minister that in the provisions of world heritage listing he has to be able to establish beyond all reasonable doubt that elements in that area are so unique that their destruction will be a lasting loss to humanity and to the environment, which I hope all of us wish to protect.

What we are seeing in Tasmania today is a sell-out of the very lowest order, a sell-out of the interests of Tasmanian workers and their families, a sell-out by a Labor Party which claims to be one of compassion and concern. In fact we are seeing here a sell-out by a Labor Government that believes that the interests of the 900-odd Tasmanian workers, their families and their children are expendable. That is something that those opposite do not concern themselves with and, Madam Speaker, on behalf of the Opposition, I assure you that we do. For all those reasons I move:

That all words after ``That'' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

``the House declines to give the Bill a second reading and condemns the Government for seeking to delay the making of a decision on the forest industries of Tasmania and calls on the Government to make a decision on that matter forthwith''.

Those opposite should have the courage to make their decisions. That is what they are elected here to do. We as a competent Opposition will match them right down the line and will prove, if they want to destroy the forestry industry in Tasmania, how wrong they are. In a nation that at the present time has such massive economic problems, for the Minister to be gyrating around the world and trying to sell to the Australian people the alleged need to protect a relatively important nearly a quarter of a million hectares of land is absurd.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. Is the amendment seconded?


Mr Smith —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.


Madam SPEAKER —Before I call the next speaker, I point out to members of the House that if they wish to speak to the honourable members opposite they are obliged to do so through the Chair. They have to use `they' and `the Government', not `you' and `your Government'. Otherwise they are personalising their entire speech.