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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3961


Senator LEES (Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats)(11.26 a.m.) —We will be supporting this disallowance motion for two basic reasons: firstly, because, as Senator Murphy has said, it will further put jobs at risk and indeed, I believe, further ensure the loss of jobs in our forests and, secondly, because already we are seeing, and I speak here in particular about East Gippsland, the decimation of our old-growth forests in particular.

While parts of East Gippsland have been cut over and over for years, there are sections now on the Errinundra that they are deliberately cutting up. Basically, they are ringbarking the Errinundra National Park. The borders look something like an octopus. They are going up into areas they can barely get traction on just to make sure that the national park is never extended.

I will speak briefly today. I want to look firstly at what is happening and give some examples of the relationship between woodchipping and the loss of jobs that has occurred both in the southern forests of New South Wales and in East Gippsland since rampant woodchipping became the way our forests were being `used'. The head of NAFI, Dr Robert Bain, at a debate at Melbourne University a couple of years ago, admitted that 80 to 90 per cent of the logs coming out of East Gippsland were woodchipped.

You only have to sit at the turn-off to the mill on the Pacific Highway at Eden to see how many of those logs are of the type of category Senator Murphy was talking about. They are at least category 2 style logs. They are certainly logs that some of the small mills which have now closed down or are working with only person—because they cannot get access to logs in the forests; they are all going to the woodchipping companies—could have actually used for timber, particularly with some of the timber that is sought after for furniture use. But, no, they are off to the mill.

If you look at what the Victorian government is actually doing as a result of recent forest agreements, you will see that they still have not managed to sell all the timber they were hoping to sell, and the price is rapidly going down. Indeed, prices for woodchips have fallen 50 to 60 per cent—some suggest a little more than that—in the past 18 months. The Victorian government, it seems now—I have not found anyone who will refute this in the Victorian government—is trying to give away, virtually, at somewhere around 20c to $2 a tonne, our old-growth forest in East Gippsland. Even a firewood permit is going to cost you $5, or if you are a pensioner, $3.60—a tonne. But they are offering it at even cheaper prices.

What has happened to employment? We are now sending something like 40 per cent of our forests out as chips, but that 45 per cent of forests is only employing about two per cent of the work force. But at least the work force is having to put the logs onto the mill for the seven seconds it takes for them to be chipped. This regulation will allow those logs to be tipped straight into the hulls of the ships. So we would presume that even more logs will go and that even fewer people will be employed per coupe of forest that is destroyed.

I will not deal in this debate with any of the many other environmental issues other than to look at endangered species and the way threatened species are being dealt with in East Gippsland. Under the forest management plans we have now put in place, they are basically limited to zero population growth—or, if we look at many of the scientific papers, the most likely result is negative population growth. For instance, in the entire area protection is afforded to only 100 powerful, sooty and masked owls, about 50 tiger quolls, and 20 endangered Orbost spiny crayfish—apparently each of those are assumed to have a mate. Most scientists agree that the minimum number for long-term genetic viability of this species is closer to 1,000.

The owls, in particular, do very badly. To make up the 100 owl sites to be protected, `pretend' owls have been mapped in areas where there is no conflict with logging. In other words, if you have a national park, you can put an owl over there. The small number of real owls often receive smaller areas than are viable. They can, in many instances, still have their habitat logged in what are called `special management zones'.

Where a species is detected outside a park or reserve but within several kilometres of the boundary, it is assumed that the species will move, but I do not know how it can be encouraged to do so—presumably the department knows something we do not know. The species is presumed to have protection in the nearby reserve or national park. The fact that many of that species are already inhabiting that area hopefully and may, therefore, not accept newcomers is irrelevant.

Where real owls have been identified, after the imaginary owls have been given protection, the pretend owls are still given preference. I give one example here: the three threatened owl species of Martins Creek are ignored in favour of the department's strategically assumed owls.

The 500-800 hectare site which may be reserved—if an owl is lucky enough to score protection—is, effectively, a circle or hoop put around the owl and it is kept around that owl until the owl finds its way to an area of forest that is not particularly wanted for logging. Then it is allowed to settle, and that area is marked off on a map as a protected area. Powerful owls have only 19 sites with an actual owl that receives the full 800 hectares in East Gippsland—and I stress that 800 hectares is believed by many to be far too small. Sooty owls have only 21 areas with actual owls that score the full and unloggable 500 hectares. Masked owls have only 12 sites with positively identified birds which lie fully within non-logging zones of the required size.

I could go on and talk about a range of other species. I will not do that today. I will simply say that, if we let these regulations through today, even more pressure will be put on these species than is on them currently. As I said before, the Victorian government is trying to sell vast quantities of wood from their forests as quickly as they possibly can and as cheaply as is necessary to get rid of it. These regulations will only help them in their task of destroying the forests.