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- Start of Business
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr TIM FISCHER)
(Mr McDOUGALL, Mr COSTELLO)
(Mr GARETH EVANS, Mr TIM FISCHER)
(Mr NUGENT, Mr COSTELLO)
Regional Headquarters Program
(Mr BEAZLEY, Mr TIM FISCHER)
Former Government Business Enterprises
(Mr HICKS, Mr FAHEY)
(Mr MARTIN, Mr TIM FISCHER, Mr BRUCE SCOTT)
(Mr LLOYD, Dr KEMP)
(Ms MACKLIN, Mrs MOYLAN)
Wreath Laying Ceremonies
(Mr DONDAS, Mr BRUCE SCOTT)
(Mr TED GRACE, Mrs MOYLAN)
Fraser, Mr Justin
(Mr TAYLOR, Mr TIM FISCHER)
(Mr GARETH EVANS, Mr RUDDOCK)
(Mr WAKELIN, Mr SHARP)
(Mr SAWFORD, Mrs MOYLAN)
(Mrs DRAPER, Mr WILLIAMS)
ABC: Rugby League Broadcasts on Radio
(Mr MAREK, Mr JULL)
Kids Help Line
(Mr BEDDALL, Mr TIM FISCHER)
(Dr NELSON, Mr SHARP)
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: ADDITIONAL RESPONSES
(Mr KELVIN THOMSON, Mr ACTING SPEAKER)
Newspaper Clipping Service
(Mr SLIPPER, Mr ACTING SPEAKER)
Minister for Family Services
(Mr SAWFORD, Mr ACTING SPEAKER, Mr LEO McLEAY)
- JOINT HOUSE DEPARTMENT
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- AUDITOR-GENERAL'S REPORTS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- WOODCHIP EXPORT REGULATIONS
- APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 1996-97
- MATTERS REFERRED TO MAIN COMMITTEE
- Western Australian Police Force
- Textiles, Clothing and Footwear Industry
- Tribal Colours of the Pacific
- Information Technology
- Captain Cook Commemoration
- Lindsay By-election
- Procedural Text
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Alice Springs to Tarcoola Rail Line
(Mr Tanner, Mr Sharp)
(Dr Lawrence, Mr Warwick Smith)
(Dr Lawrence, Mr Warwick Smith)
(Mrs Crosio, Mr Sharp)
Western Sydney Regional Development Organisation
(Mrs Crosio, Mr Sharp)
Aboriginal Land Councils
(Mr Tuckey, Dr Wooldridge)
(Mr Mossfield, Mr Downer)
(Mr Crean, Mr Prosser)
New Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Building, Barton ACT
(Mr Hardgrave, Mr Jull)
- Alice Springs to Tarcoola Rail Line
Tuesday, 17 September 1996
Dr LAWRENCE(4.43 p.m.) —I want to address this issue today because I think it is important to look at the whole concept. It is not just a question of whether or not the woodchipping arrangements are satisfactory from the point of view of industry—I think we can clearly say that it has already been demonstrated that that is not true. It is also a question of the impact that it has on the national forest policy generally. With my responsibility as shadow minister for the environment, I was obviously very keen to have a good hard look at the new regulations when they emerged from government.
We heard very early on—in fact, during the election campaign—that this was to be an area, like many others, where there would be no change. I want to emphasise that fact because I think it is important for members opposite to realise that their Prime Minister (Mr Howard), the then Leader of the Opposition, very clearly said to the various conservation groups and the public through press statements and answers to questions during the campaign that there would be no change in this area. No change was contemplated. There would be no change from the existing regime. We would not get any more woodchips. A Liberal government would basically follow through with the national forest strategy and the wood and paper strategy.
As was the case with a lot of other areas, this has shown to be absolutely the reverse of what happened. In so many cases, the Liberal Party promised that it would do what we were doing if it got to government, but it has now done precisely the opposite. This is one of the great betrayals.
Whatever else you might say about it, the community understood when they elected this government that it would not make a change to this regime. So the changes the Liberal government have introduced have been in the face of very explicit statements that were made during the election campaign by the current Prime Minister in front of every conservation group in the country and with beautiful pictures being taken in the forest. I think the imagery is not lost on a lot of people.
This series of woodchip decisions are a setback for the environment. I just want to draw the minister's attention to the views of the Australian people on this matter. The minister was quoting from a couple of sources that I think both of us, for different reasons, regarded as perhaps less than ideal, having either bias toward the Greens or bias toward the industry side. I suggested, by way of interjection, that he could do well to look at the Australian Election Studies which are conducted after each election. In those studies, people are asked how they responded to various issues and how important those issues were in determining their vote. I think it is important for all of us, as we go to the community and talk to them about industry policy in this area and forest policy generally, that we know the views of the community at large.
The Prime Minister himself very clearly indicated that he understood—indeed, he claimed—that the environment was now a mainstream issue. It was not the province of the fringe groups. He underlined that he understood, even if members opposite do not, that this is something where there is a lot of unanimity across the community—your voters, our voters, swinging voters, old people, young people, the rich and the poor. The environment enjoys much greater prominence as an issue of importance in changing people's votes.
If you look at those fairly robust and reliable Australian Election Studies, they tell us that in 1987—and this is a rise from about five per cent in the previous decades—31 per cent of people said that the environment was important in determining their vote. That figure is not 100 per cent, but it is almost higher than the percentage for any other single issue at that time. The issues of employment and education are sometimes ahead of the issue of the environment. That rise from five per cent to 31 per cent was a revolution. It stuck. By 1990 the figure was 52 per cent. It was sustained at pretty much that level, even in 1993 when the environment was not a particularly strong issue in the election campaign.
I am looking forward to seeing the 1996 data, given the view that the opposition put forward prior to the election about its environment policy. I am sure that people would have considered it important, but they would have believed, particularly on forest issues, that there was not going to be any difference between the two parties. That is what they were encouraged to believe—that there were no differences. Therefore, they could discount the environment when they were casting their vote.
It is not only the environment generally that is considered important. There is also widespread consensus, using these same studies, on the specific issues that deserve the attention of government. For example, in the 1990 AES—the Australian Election Studies survey—88 per cent of people nominated greenhouse as a very or fairly urgent problem; 93 per cent nominated soil degradation. Eighty per cent of Australians—this is a different survey from the one the minister quoted—considered the logging of forests to be an issue of fairly or very urgent importance.
The other thing that needs to be understood by members opposite as they go about undoing the policies that they promised to the community is that even though the respondents generally, the voters, were fairly pessimistic about the prospect for resolving some of these problems—and, as it turns out, rightly so—they were generally prepared to trade off some of their economic wellbeing in order to protect and improve the environment. They tell us, for instance, that they are prepared to pay higher taxes to engage in industry restructuring; in other words, they are prepared to make some trade-offs that they believe are important for the community.
Take the issue of logging as an example. I am not necessarily recommending this; I am just trying to lay out the community view. If as representatives we do not represent the community view, then we are doing a very considerable disservice. In these same questions, when people were asked whether the government should ban logging, even if it meant a loss of jobs and export income, 47 per cent—a figure that surprised me—actually agreed with that proposition; 33 per cent were neutral; and 20 per cent thought we should keep logging. Similarly, 66 per cent said that they were prepared to pay higher taxes in order to increase spending on the environment, while 21 per cent opposed such imposts. I am not recommending those as policy positions, but simply indicating that this a very strong view held in the community.
Mr Bob Baldwin interjecting—
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Vaile) —Order! The member for Paterson.
Dr LAWRENCE —To conclude on the point of the community views about this, the 1996 ABS publication Australians and the environment shows that 71 per cent of respondents surveyed in 1994 ranked environmental protection and economic growth as being of equal importance. So Australians are saying, `We think you should get a balance between the environment and economic growth.' A further 18 per cent actually ranked the environment ahead of growth. A very small minority, especially in my own state, ranked economic growth ahead of the environment.
I want to turn now to the specific changes that have been recommended and to indicate why I think, from an environmental point of view, they are devastating. I know the minister seeks to make reassuring noises that this really will result in no change, that governments will still be able to find the necessary reserves to meet national forest policy criteria. I point out that, simultaneously with introducing these changed woodchip export regimes, they are actually changing the criteria in the national forest policy—something they also said they would not do. I think that is very important. The minister is slipping and sliding and saying, `Fifteen per cent is a target, but we are not going to reach it in a lot of cases.'
Mr Bob Baldwin —What we said is that we wouldn't destroy small country towns, and that's what you have done.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The member for Paterson is stretching the friendship.
Dr LAWRENCE —The minister is simultaneously saying, `There will not be a problem in getting adequate reserves.' He can't have it both ways. He can't have the argument both that there is enough and that there is not enough.
If you look at the changes, in my view, they spell disaster for a lot of our native forests; I agree that that is not so for all of them. The increase in the ceiling is, in some ways, perhaps not even the most significant setback for forest policy. The shift away from those criteria was not even announced as a matter of public policy but was slipped into a document circulated to the states. That is the way to do it, according to the minister. You don't make the announcement, you just change the rules as you go along. It is clear to a great many Australians that native forests are under threat from the coalition's plans.
Mr Bob Baldwin —We said we wouldn't destroy small country towns and that's what you would have us do. You would pack them up and send them all off. Where to? The long-term unemployment queue, which you believe is Valhalla. You have no idea.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Paterson should be warned of the provisions of standing order 304A. That is the last warning.
Dr LAWRENCE —The members opposite, including the minister, would have us believe that the change to the ceiling is the only significant addition to these woodchip regula tions. It is really only excess wood supply—it is the thinnings and the excess sawlog material that cannot be used for any other purpose. That is what we would be led to believe. He would like us to believe that that is the only change.
But, in addition to the change in woodchip ceilings, there is a very significant change, too, in the approval for what could amount to unlimited logging on privately owned land. I think the conservation movement too understands how significant that is. They have focused their concern on that issue because they know that if you are really interested in maintaining a decent level of vegetation cover in this country, you cannot allow for that open slather on privately owned land.
Furthermore, a lot of it is in the hands of the big woodchipping companies. So it is an almost certain guarantee that the woodchip exports from this country will not be 5.2 million tonnes or 6.2 million tonnes, but well in excess of that—and the minister knows that. He says it will be a case-by-case analysis. I, for one, will be fascinated to see how he manages to define a degraded forest, in light of what we understand to be the national forest policy where, in some cases, the only forest that is representative of its type may well have suffered some form of degradation over years of logging and interference from other sources.
What we have here is an incentive to clear more land when every environment report recommends against such a practice. It is not only bad from the point of view of forest policy, it is also bad from the point of view of general environment policy. I am sure that, if the minister sits back from that from time to time, he will realise that that, and the removal of penalties to the states not making sufficient progress towards a comprehensive system of forest reserves, will completely derail the national forest policy. You will have a lot of forests on private land depleted. You will have state governments with no incentive to meet the comprehensive, adequate reserve system requirements. Simultaneously, you will have a government basically saying that they do not care any more about the criteria.
As I said, they have already moved to water down the Commonwealth's criteria for a national system of forest reserves. This is critical. The minister says, `Oh, well, we're above the IUCN recommended level.' Yes, we are, in some cases, but has Australia ever been frightened of being in front? Do we always have to come from behind in the eyes of this government? If you look at their attitude to greenhouse and other issues, why is it that they think that Australia should be second or third or last in the line in this area? Because we are a relatively new nation from the point of view of European settlement, should we go the way of Europe and North America? Should we destroy all our forests? Should we go the way of developing nations in South-East Asia who, without adequate controls, are ripping into theirs as well?
This was precautionary and decent. The 15 per cent level was one that was settled on after a lot of discussion as being reasonable and achievable and without significant dislocation to the forest industry. I think that is a fair conclusion from a whole lot of independent observers, not just on the conservation side. The worst impact here will be on high conservation value native forests. As I say, I think it is worse than the green light to record levels of woodchip exports. There is no guarantee at all now. We have none from the Minister for the Environment (Senator Hill), who is always taking second place to the Minister for Resources and Energy—
Mr O'Keefe —Primary Industries.
Dr LAWRENCE —Sorry, I have given him a new title—Agriculture.
Mr Anderson —Two wrong.
Dr LAWRENCE —Primary Industries—they change all the time. The Minister for the Environment is always taking second place to you. I commend you for that amount of personal power, but it is bad for the environment that Senator Hill is always trailing along behind you saying, `Yes, Minister, no, Minister', when it comes to the protection of our natural resources. We have no guarantees from this minister and no guarantees from the Minister for the Environment that the goal of establishing a truly comprehensive adequate and representative reserve system can be achieved, because the criteria are all being diluted. In my own state of Western Australia, the government there and CALM have the view that we have only got two forest types—karri and jarrah. They overlook all the regional and other varieties that it is clearly very important to preserve. With a state regime like that how can we guarantee, even with a 15 per cent criterion, that we are going to get decent preservation?
In addition to scrapping the 15 per cent benchmark, the coalition has abandoned the previous government's sliding scale to protect 60 to 100 per cent of old growth forests depending on the percentage remaining within each forest type. We have already heard the minister hint at the fact that it is going to be too difficult to achieve some of these criteria in some places. They have done away with the sliding scale and they have done away with the target—it now becomes something they might achieve. The end effect of that is that rare and biologically diverse species remaining in our old growth forests will be bulldozed without a whimper from the federal government.
That is the consequence of the combination of policy changes we have seen from this government: a change to the ceilings; forestry on private land leading to an increase in woodchip exports; and a reduction, a dilution, of the criteria necessary to achieve decent forest protection in this society. The green movement is now awake up to you. The wider community will gradually realise that what you told them during the election campaign was the opposite, in fact, of what you intended to do and what you are now doing in government.