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Monday, 19 September 1994
Page: 874

Senator CHAMARETTE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Resources. I draw the minister's attention to comments that the Minister for Resources made on the ABC's Lateline program last Monday, 12 September, when he said:

. . . no old growth forest of high conservation value has been logged for woodchips.


If areas of high conservation value are put forward by a State forestry commission for export woodchips or for any other activity, and those areas are of high conservation value, they will not be approved for licence.

I ask: what steps does the Commonwealth government take to ensure that areas of high conservation value are not put forward by a state forestry agency for export woodchips and, therefore, what substantiation can the minister give for stating on national television that no areas of old-growth forest of high conservation value have been logged for woodchips?

Senator COLLINS —The minister has advised me that his comments reflect the approach adopted by all mainland governments when they signed the national forest policy statement and that the conditions of that statement are being adhered to. Negotiations are currently in place with Tasmania for that state to sign the NFPS as well. In that policy statement it was agreed that forest management agencies will avoid activities that may significantly affect those areas of old-growth forest or wilderness that are likely to have high conservation value.

  This is the basis on which the mainland state forest management agencies select areas for harvesting. Tasmania adopts a similar approach and has identified areas of high conservation value that are currently excluded from timber harvesting. In assessing applications for woodchip export licences, the Department of Primary Industries and Energy examines proposals to assess their environmental impact and seeks advice from agencies in the environment portfolio. Specific advice can also be sought from states on the processes in place to give effect to the NFPS undertaking relating to high conservation value old-growth forest.

  The minister for the environment is expected to provide advice on the licence renewals for 1995 on the application of the NFPS. The identification of individual coupes as having high conservation value must also be seen in a regional context, taking into account the extent of areas of a similar nature that are already in reserves or subject to prescriptions currently preventing logging. That may be a condition that Senator Chamarette would not agree with, but that is the way it is done. The Minister for Resources noted that in the licences he had approved, high conservation value areas were not included. He also emphasised that in approving licences for 1994, the previous minister for resources, on the advice of the environment minister, did not approve the export of woodchips from some areas which states had proposed for logging, and these were subsequently withdrawn.

Senator CHAMARETTE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In a letter to the Victorian campaign coordinator of the Wilderness Society on 17 August, the Victorian Department of Conservation and Natural Resources stated:

. . . the licensing and export of unprocessed resources such as woodchips is a Commonwealth responsibility.

How can the position of the minister be sustained in view of that letter? On 30 August 1994, in answer to a question without notice, the minister said:

Because of the states' responsibilities and technical expertise, the Commonwealth depends on the states in the first instance to monitor exporter's compliance with the harvest conditions which are attached to export licences.

Did not the minister mislead the Senate when he said that? What exactly does the Commonwealth do to ensure that it is fulfilling the responsibilities that are laid down?

Senator COLLINS —As Senator Chamarette has been advised on previous occasions in Senate estimates hearings, the national forest policy statement is a combined approach to the conservation of Australian forests by Commonwealth and state governments. I might add that, much as Senator Chamarette criticises this policy approach, until it happened there was nothing. Despite criticisms of it, this was a major achievement for forest conservation in Australia and for the forest industry because it replaced what was there previously, which was nothing.