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Tuesday, 18 June 1996
Page: 1706


Senator CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Sport, Territories and Local Government)(4.21 p.m.) —I would like to add some comments on this debate. It is actually a debate of a matter of public importance, not an urgency debate as Senator Lees previously said.


Senator Lees —It should be urgent.


Senator CAMPBELL —It is urgent and it is a matter that does deserve debate—debate that focuses on the reality, that focuses on the science, that focuses on the multiplicity of issues that clearly generate an enormous amount of emotion, and quite rightly so, in this place and in the broader community.

People on all sides of this parliament do care deeply about the sustainable use of our forests. In the use of the word `sustainable', I mean ecological and economic sustainability. The two necessarily go hand in hand. There is no need for them to be separated. The processes put in place in some regards by the previous government and which will be added to and supplemented by this government do seek to ensure that we see ecological and economic sustainability more appropriately meshed.

In the most excellent policy launched by the then shadow minister for the environment, Senator Kemp, who happens to have joined us in the chamber, the coalition made it quite clear that it was committed to the protection of Australia's high conservation value native forests. I am sure Senator Chamarette would have been pleased to have seen that when the policy was released. We also have strongly supported the national forest policy statement. This is something that the Greens (WA) and many environmental movements do not support, because they do not see it as the solution to the problem.

I have a pragmatic view. I have been involved in the political and bureaucratic side of the forestry debate for a relatively short time, although I have had a life-long association with forests and spend much of my recreational time in forests, enjoying them for their many values that enhance my life. I do care about forests. However, I do not pretend to care about them any more or any less than any other person in this place. I believe that Senator Chamarette and many of the people she represents have a strong, deep, passionate and genuine interest in the forests.

What we as the government have to do and what the previous government had to do was try to balance those genuine concerns about maintaining old growth forests; try to achieve sustainable practices in other native forests; try to develop a sensible balance with the plantation establishment; and create some economic certainty in the development of downstream processing, which has been missing in Australia for many years. The development of downstream processing, value adding to our forest products and our plantation production, has been missing in Australia because of the economic uncertainty created by the previous government and because of the ad hoc environmental approval processes that often lacked either transparency or any basis in logic or science. The people who were trying to make decisions to establish some downstream processing in Australia were simply not able to do so in the best interests of their shareholders as they were surrounded by economic and environmental uncertainty.

The coalition hopes we can solve that problem by creating a better economic climate in which to make decisions. We also hope to develop more trust between the state and federal levels of government when handling forest issues. Prior to the election of the coalition government there was an enormous amount of mistrust. As Senator Faulkner said, these negotiations between federal and state governments are never going to be easy. The states have significant and virtually total control over land management issues—and quite properly so. The federal government has only the very rough and remote lever of export controls to use as suasion. Senator Faulkner recognised that it is not a particular ly sound policy instrument to use. But we do intend to proceed with those processes.

`It is very hard to balance the economic and ecological outcomes that one would desire as a government and as a community. It is not so hard when you are a Democrat or a Green senator because, ultimately, you do not have to bear much responsibility for balancing those things. I am not saying that you do not have a very legitimate role. It helps to balance the process when the Greens and the Democrats put forward a position which, nationally, is not sustainable.

The coalition is committed to achieving a process of comprehensive regional assessments. We believe that it is only through these comprehensive assessment processes that you can well and truly assess and cover enhanced and valuable data in relation to biodiversity, old growth, wilderness, world heritage, national estate and indigenous interests. We need to assess the ecological sustainability of current forestry practices. Equally, we need to have a thorough assessment of the economic and social consequences of the future regime of managing our forests. The coalition will do this in a way that will develop better outcomes.

We recognise that this is not a debate that is ever possible to win—at least, that is my view. We will never satisfy those people who never want to see a chainsaw go anywhere near a forest—and I really do respect the people who hold those views. We will never totally satisfy an industry that is demanding a resource. But what we can do is achieve an outcome of resource security without threatening the crucial values contained in forests—all of the values that forests contain—and which ensures that we protect forests for future generations in Australia and for people across the world, because this is a global issue. (Time expired)