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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3963


Senator MARGETTS(11.33 a.m.) —It is ironic that, in the lead-up to World Environment Day 1997 we are seeing yet another example of the government's apparent lack of understanding of the issues involved. They do not seem to understand the issues of ecological sustainability and they do not seem to understand the issues of social sustainability in terms of industry policy and employment.

The regulations we are debating would lead us to view Australia in a similar way to what we used to view countries like Burma or Borneo in relation to the pillage of whole logs from their forests. This is what we are seeing for Australia in 1997. We are not seeing a policy where what we are trying achieve in terms of the industry has been thought through.

The environment movement has been saying for some time—for years, in fact—that we were going to reach the point where woodchip prices would be depressed. We were always told, `It is not about the woodchip industry; it is about sawlogs.' However, the regulations that are before us prove that the policy on woodchips was not about sawlogs at all. It was about volume export of old growth forests which are assumed to belong to the companies. But they do not belong to the companies; they belong to the people of Australia. But we are still assuming that they belong to the companies, because we are saying that governments do not want to have control of what happens to the whole logs that come from our forests.

We are exporting employment. We are going to reach a point where the companies can turn around and say, `We have got to continue to have access to old growth forest because we do not have the resources for other value-adding from the existing plantations or agro-forestry.' Certainly in Western Australia, we have got to have incentives for onward agro-forestry. We have got to be looking forward. We have got to be looking at soil quality, water quality and the whole issue of ecological sustainability.

That phrase—`ecological sustainability'—is not necessarily understood by the government. This is also about social sustainability. It is about where we, as a nation, plan to be in 10, 20 or 30 years time and whether we want to be like Burma in the 1960s or 1970s. I think that is where this government thinks we ought to be—simply giving away our resources with very little control. We are going to have even fewer controls on such things as the multilateral agreement on investment in relation to the ownership of resources.

There is an assumption that these resources do not even belong to Australia—the indigenous people or the rest of the Australian people; that somehow they belong to the companies who want to come and exploit them for whatever lowest value bulk commodity they want. This is not good enough and, in the interests of the conservation of employment, of a strategy for industry in the future and of Australia's valuable forest eco-systems, I strongly support the motion of disallowance.