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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3959

Senator BROWN(11.13 a.m.) —This motion, which is now jointly hosted by Senator Murphy and me, brings together the interests of people working in the industry, as we have just heard—the sawmilling industry itself and environmentalists. What is happening here is that the government is moving to lift the lid on any control of the export of unprocessed timber out of this country. The control authority moves out of this parliament and out of the responsibility of the ministerial offices in this parliament to the head offices of the big woodchip companies in Australia—in Melbourne, in Sydney and in Perth.

That is not good management. That is not what the Australian people want. That is not what the people working in the industry want. It may suit the profit lines of this resource extractive industry, but it is not in the interests of the people who own these forests—that is, the public of Australia.

I say at the outset that, if these regulations were to go through—if this disallowance motion were not to succeed—the outcome would be that, as regional forest agreements are signed around the country, ministers will have no control mechanism over the export of whole logs and woodchips. With the support of Senator Harradine, already regulations have gone through to lift control on plantation forests in Australia.

This would immediately extend the lifting of regulations, as far as ministers are concerned, to East Gippsland, where a regional forest agreement—which comprehensively sold out the environment of the East Gippsland forests—was signed by Mr Howard and Mr Kennett earlier this year. After June or July this year, it would also apply to the forests of Tasmania, to Victoria's central highlands and, a little further down the line, to the forests of Western Australia, where at the moment citizens in the forests—in the Giblett block in particular—are trying to protect some of the most statuesque forests in the world from the very woodchip companies that these regulations hand control to. It is a remarkable affront that the government would present these regulations to the Senate and to people who have any sensitivity at all to the good management of the forests, let alone to the wild forest environment in Australia.

The negative effects on both the environment and jobs are obvious. I point out to the Senate that, for every 100,000 tonnes of sawlogs exported overseas, 1,000 Australian jobs go with them. Let me put that again to the three government members who are in the Senate: for every 100,000 tonnes of sawlogs exported, 1,000 Australian jobs are exported with them. Also, hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, of value added profit are exported to the manufacturers in the Northern Hemisphere. So environmentally, economically and employment wise, opening the log and woodchip export industries to even greater export of jobs and profits is a stupid and irresponsible way for the management of our forests to be going. If allowed, the regulation would usher in an acceleration of the export of whole logs. As I have said, that already is being allowed to happen out of plantations.

Let us see how the situation has changed recently. It is unsung to the wider public and unreported by the press gallery, nevertheless it is actively pursued by this government and was by the previous government. In 1992, North Forest Products in Tasmania began export of whole logs from its pine plantations in the north-west and promptly closed the Massey-Greene Sawmill. It now exports 200,000 tonnes per annum. In 1994, a 1,100 tonne load of whole logs from native forests was exported from Tasmania.

As I have said, earlier this year the government lifted the control on export of logs and chips from plantations irrespective of whether they were covered by a regional forest agreement. Some Tasmanians have been shocked by the news in recent months that there is even export of whole logs of Huon pine—the rarest and most valuable of Tasmania's rainforest timbers and which have grown for hundreds, if not thousands, of years by the rivers in the wetter areas of Tasmania. They are being exported as whole logs.

That is no investment in the future of the craft and high quality design industries which are special to Tasmania, which create jobs and which create enormous value added profit for the island state. As Senator Murphy has said, we have the highest rate of unemployment in the country. For these reasons, we do indeed need a wood and paper industry strategy as indicated in Senator Murphy's motion. I would like to move an amendment to Senator Murphy's motion. I move:

Motion No. 2, paragraph (a), after `investment' add ,`in Australia's existing plantations'.

I hope that the Senate will accept it.

We really need the concentration of this whole industry to be focused on the resource which is not only the resource of the future but is the existing wood resource in this country—that is, the plantations. That is where the jobs and investment ought to be from here on and into the future while we protect, as promised by past governments and this present government, the high conservation value and wilderness forests in the four states that are threatened by the woodchip industry in particular.

It has to be put across to many parliamentarians and then to the public that the plantation resource in this country is adequate for the whole of the nation's needs. In fact, it is in excess of Australia's needs. One of the driving components of the idea that we should be lifting the lid on any restrictions on the export of whole logs is that we have too much resource in our plantations to meet our domestic needs. Recent figures show that existing now in plantations—these are mature plantation sawlogs which have passed their commercial harvest dates—are 24 million cubic metres of sawlog timber. That is 2½ times the annual cut of sawn timber from both native and plantation timbers right around Australia.

   There is existing there, past its commercial cutting date in plantations in Australia at the moment, 2½ times the nation's requirements on an annual basis for sawn timber. We can, with our massive plantations beyond those coming to their commercial harvesting date, meet our nation's needs and, in fact, allow for expansion in the industry. The big woodchip companies know that. Entities like Forestry Tasmania, the former Forestry Commission of Tasmania, know that. But they want to continue to exploit at give away prices the native forests in Australia while continuing to make money out of those plantations.

There should be management brought into this process. Eighty per cent of Australians want what is left of our wild forest protected. There is a government responsibility to meet that huge public impulse to protect our forests and to move across to the plantation forest base, which is not only adequate for the whole of the industry's needs but in excess of what the industry needs in 1997.

I moved the amendment so that we would get, through a wood and paper industry council—to use Senator Murphy's words—a council to drive a wood and paper industry strategy and encourage industry development, downstream processing and investment in Australia's plantations. What we do not want to see is the past obscene drive by the big companies like Boral, North and Wesfarmers to continue to decimate the magnificent wild eucalypt forests and rainforests of this country. It is totally unwarranted. It cannot be supported.

It is irresponsible, whether one is looking at the country's environmental wellbeing for the future or whether one is looking at a long-term sustainable industry, which must be transformed into a plantation based industry immediately. The resource is there and we have no need to continue to maraud world heritage value, national heritage value, state significance value forests in Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and indeed, if the industry has its way, Queensland as well.

I recommend the minor amendment I have made. I support Senator Murphy's added clauses, which would cause the government to establish a wood and paper industry council. Of course, above all, I would support the disallowance motion whereby the Senate insists that the government maintain the responsibility to the elected people for the proper management of our forest and the protection in particular of Australia's wild forests, the wildlife and the ecosystems, which are there and which ought to be there for all future generations to enjoy.