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Thursday, 15 May 1997
Page: 3419

Senator BROWN(11.10 a.m.) —The point of the question is that this is legislation to spend public moneys on the repair or the enhancement of the environment. I cannot see how commercial tree planting operations are covered by those aims. The minister says that this program has been in operation before. That immediately raises the question: are moneys from the Natural Heritage Trust Fund being diverted into other government programs? We had a long and unsatisfactory debate about that last night where the minister refused to accept an amendment from this side of the chamber which would prevent states from double shuffling money.

We now need to look at whether government is internally shuffling money in the Natural Heritage Trust Fund to give to the loggers, the tree planters, the plantation owners and goodness knows which companies. It is a blatant question up-front, but the minister simply has to answer it. How is commercial tree planting with a commercial imperative going to fulfil the desired outcome of environmental excellence and environmental enhancement? It is a pretty simple question.

It is a lot of money, no matter what the minister says, and it is money that ought to be going towards the prime objective of enhancing Australia's environmental future. I cannot see how you can justify putting $22 million of this fund into commercial tree planting operations which are for profit when there is so much to be done in terms of stopping the awesome destruction of native vegetation across the country with the loss of biodiversity, the destruction of native forests, including rainforests, and the loss of the environmental amenity.

Could the minister also say why $4 is being spent on revegetation for every dollar that is being spent on stopping the destruction of current native cover? In other words, you are spending four times as much on repair as you are spending on stopping the damage. One has to wonder whether that is not simply a formula for a much bigger repair requirement further down the line. What is your answer to that, minister?