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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14905


Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (5:07 PM) —I rise to talk about the motion moved by the member for Cowper relating to the regional forest agreement process. Unbeknownst clearly to the member for Eden-Monaro, I do know something about this issue. He would have to concede that this is a national issue—that is, it is a federal matter dealing with all the state governments and the Commonwealth. This issue is important to this country because we need to find a way to get the right balance for an ecologically sustainable future but, at the same time, we need to ensure that employment in regional areas is protected wherever possible. The difference between those on this side and those on the other—



Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR —I hear the member for Eden-Monaro making some comments across the chamber. We do not know what how-to-vote card he was handing out on New South Wales election day but, as there was no Liberal candidate running, I presume it was for another political party. The fact is that the Labor Party and Labor governments deal with these issues by looking at the balance between ecologically sustainable outcomes and employment. We have concerns for workers in this industry and, at the same time, we have concerns to ensure that the forests are protected and there for our children and their children.

Therefore, the RFA has an impact on my electorate as well. Indeed, a large proportion of the Wombat Forest is in the electorate of Burke, and I therefore have concerns about the way in which the RFA was debated, obviously in a term prior to my election to office. It has an impact on the way in which my communities are going to cope with the changes. I have spent quite a significant amount of time discussing these issues with the major employer in Wombat Forest—Black Forest Timbers—their work force and the environmentalists in the region. Clearly there are some concerns about whether their future is a bright one. So that there is no mistake from those opposite, can I say that I do have concerns about jobs in the region, and I meet them directly. When I turn up to a workplace, I do not just go into the boss's office; I talk to the workers. That is what we do on this side of the House—we speak to the workers directly. I have concerns about where we can find work for those workers if they are to lose their jobs and how they can acquire the skills to ensure that they maintain employment. It is a big issue for us on this side of the House.

I will not take the word or the assertion of the mover of the motion that the Carr government has been in any way in breach of the regional forest agreement, but I can say this: everyone would agree that we need to ensure that there is some certainty for everybody in this area. There needs to be certainty to ensure that the communities are happy and that there is proper environmental protection. There needs to be certainty so that there can be some decent investment, which will ensure that there is regional employment and that that employment is sustainable. That can only be endured if the plan put down by state and federal governments is ecologically sustainable. That is the underpinning of this area of policy. Therefore, the attempt to have a few shots at the Carr government has missed the point. Clearly, the mover and the speakers from the government on this issue should have focused their energies on looking at ways that we can get that balance right.

Just for the record, and by way of contrasting the comments made by the member for Eden-Monaro, interestingly, even though this Bracks government made decisions to ultimately close the Wombat Forest and, indeed, made a decision to close the Otway State Forest, the Greens in the area split their tickets in preference to the Liberals. That is, they put them on the preferred area of their how-to-vote cards. I do not know what arrangement was undertaken there between the Liberal Party and the Greens, but I agree that, on occasions, there should be greater scrutiny of the way in which the Australian Greens preference. Clearly it is not always policy pure. Quite often there is scrutiny of the major parties and the way in which they preference. I listened with interest to the comments made by the member for Eden-Monaro. I draw the attention of the House to the fact—and certainly I was most disappointed—that the Greens could not clearly see that in relation to our area we were the preferred party and the preferred government of Victoria. (Time expired)