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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4021

Senator MURPHY(4.22 p.m.) —I express some disappointment about that, Senator Harradine, because a lot of what Senator Parer said was inaccurate. I do not think it is his fault that it is inaccurate; I think he has been given bad advice. I would like to address some of those things. If I can go to the issue of the Country Sawmillers and the letter that I have from them, you said, `Their problem is not our problem; that is a problem for the Tasmanian government because they are the ones responsible for the management of the forests.' But the reality is this: that it has been the Commonwealth government that has issued export licences.

Even with the regulations that we are debating, if you go to subregulation 3, Senator Harradine, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, this is the problem. This is one of the principal reasons why I set about moving a disallowance of these regulations. Subregulation 3 says, `Maximum aggregate mass for year not to be increased'. If you are about removing from the control of regulations the export of wood, how do you do that with any equity? How do you then do that if you have licences that are only issued to the few? That is the problem. Senator Parer said that they have embarked upon an initiative that will bring about investment and industry development and downstream processing. Until that problem is fixed up, that will never occur.

If the government cannot understand that, then that is a problem for the government. I urge the minister and the government to withdraw this proposal for the removal of the regulations until they have addressed those problems. It is all well and good to say, `We want to remove the export control over the export of woodchips and wood'—but only for the few. What about all of the private forest owners and the sawmillers that have to go cap in hand to the three or four export licence holders and say, `Will you buy my wood?' How do they plan for investment? How do they plan for security? Those are the questions that you have not answered, and your department ought to be ashamed of itself.

I will accept the criticism of Senator Parer that we did not do so well, because we did not. We did not deal too well with the export woodchip licences either, but that is no excuse for a government now to continue to not fix it up. That is what you ought to be about. Until those things are addressed, you will never be able to meet the goals and objectives of the national forest policy statement. That statement commits governments—this government included—to doing certain things. It commits the government to community service obligations and some of those obligations are—and very fundamental they are—about creating employment.

I know, Minister, that you know that, in regions of Australia, and in Tasmania in particular, jobs are going down the drain. A letter that was sent to me today raises that very point about the export licences because your subregulation 3 says that the minister shall not issue further licences. How does that help the people plan?

I can recall you mentioning a particular case, namely the one of Asia Pacific Resources, and I did not mention Mr Corbet. And I should correct you, Minister: it is category 8 logs, not category 3. Category 3 logs are actually veneer logs. He was not seeking to saw up veneer logs; he was seeking category 8 logs. I was also referring not to the Bridgewater proposal that the court case was about in Tasmania—and I will correct some of the things that you have also said about that. I was talking about a sawmill that he owns which is sitting there idle with over $1 million being spent on it at Wynyard in the north-west of Tasmania, which he could not buy category 2 sawlogs for. Why don't you ask the forestry commission to address that question, if they are so good at managing a state resource?

With regard to the Bridgewater matter that you referred to and the court case that took place, which is subject to appeal, that addressed a technical point on contractual obligations. Nevertheless, that company had to pay, I think, on that particular occasion, a sum of $20,000, which was a bond. What happened was, for the factual record, that the land that the person purchased to build the mill on unfortunately was part of where the national highway was supposed to run. This was not known. Websters, the company that sold the land to him, did not know about it and it had to be the subject of further investigation by the council. It was not under that person's control.

But let us put that aside. It does not matter that he was just a bit behind time. It is not as though we have so many people popping up proposing projects in Tasmania that we say, `Look, if you don't stick to the timetable that you've got, then we will knock you over.' There are no proposals; there are no people proposing to do certain things. We have had a number announced by the Liberal government in Tassie, none of which have got up—including a very major one in the form of a pulp and paper mill. Do you know why it didn't get up? Because the stupid government told the proponents from Taiwan that they would have to go and talk to North Forest Products about where they would get the resource from.

Let me refer to a letter that was sent to Mr Corbet and other proponents of developments in downstream processing in my state. They say that you have to talk to the exporter for the purposes of getting rid of the residue from your downstream processing activity. Anyone with half a brain will know that you will, in preparing your financial proposal for your development, take account of the market price—that is the world market price—for export woodchips. If it comes down to a residue that needs to be then processed as part of your financial package, then you will make an assessment on what that residue is worth.

But no person apart from those very lucky few who have an export licence can sell their wood—Senator Harradine, this is what is important—because they are offered a piddling amount of money for it. Quite often, as is pointed out in the Country Sawmillers letter, they are under pressure when the major exporters, North Forest Products and Boral, say, `Look, your wood does not meet our specifications, so we're not going to take it,' or `Yes, we will take it, but we will give you $20 a tonne.' How are people in downstream processing in the sawmilling industry supposed to manage under those sorts of circumstances?

These are the very points that I think a government has a responsibility to address. Surely a government must address the problems associated with an industry. We have done it with a number of industries over time. We ought to be thinking about that—and the national forest policy statement commits governments to doing that.

Senator Harradine is right that I did put a very specific clause in the disallowance motion that relates to the Wood and Paper Industry Council and the setting up of it. I thank the minister for the indication that he has now made. It is totally contradictory to the letter that Minister Moore sent to the union saying they had abolished the council, but I thank the minister anyway and the government for at least taking that step. But that does not solve the problem. If you remove these controls totally across the board, then you will have no capacity to ensure that the very things that Senator Parer talks about will occur. You will have removed all right to have a say.

I have been involved with the industry for 16 or 17 years. I have stood beside many company executives and copped a lot of flak from both within and outside my own party for defending the industry. I continue to defend the industry. I think it is a good industry and it has great potential, but I think it needs a lot of help. It needs some guidance, and that guidance should come through governments. I think it is obligatory upon governments to do something, if they can, to improve the process of industry, improve its expertise, improve its opportunities.

As I said, we have done that across a wide range of industries by providing assistance, whether it be in terms of R&D incentive programs, access to market initiatives through the development import finance facility scheme, although DIFF has now been scrapped, or a whole range of other things we had in place to assist industry development.

The problem with this industry is—and we are as much to blame for this as anybody, and I quite freely acknowledge that; I used to have some rather hectic debates within my own party about this—that a process has been put in place where—and this is the only industry in the country that has this set of circumstances—people growing or harvesting something for export have to sell it through one or two others.

You do not say that to wheat growers or to the coal industry. I heard Senator Parer go on about wanting a coal authority. You will not have that, and you do not say it to the sugar producers or anyone else. The only industry in Australia that has a lucky few to whom others have to go, cap in hand—

Senator Parer —That's not true.

Senator Calvert —That's not right.

Senator MURPHY —Senator Calvert, you can shake your head as much as you like but you have had plenty of farmers come to your office and complain about the process.

Senator Calvert —Not under the RFA process. Under the RFA process anybody who has got supply can export. You know that.

Senator MURPHY —Senator Calvert either has not read these proposals or does not understand them. The fundamental problem will never be fixed until you address that issue because clearly the regulations say the mass aggregate cannot be increased and the minister cannot issue new licences. Therefore, how does it fix that problem? It just does not.

The issue is about not just getting a wood and paper industry council. That will be a very significant advance because it will allow people to participate in a debate that will see some real objective thinking with regard to where the industry will head in the future. I appeal to Senator Harradine that that is not the only problem.

If we vote to allow these regulations to be implemented, then we will have removed ourselves from the debate. That would be a very sad day because nothing will have happened—and I will still be here to point this out, and it will not be in the too distant future—in terms of industry development in so far as downstream processing, import replacement and employment generation in this country are concerned. I will come back in here and ask: how many hundreds of thousands of tonnes of hardwood sawlogs did we export last week? And I hope, Minister—that is, if you still are the minister—you will be able to tell me. That is exactly what will happen. The Australian jobs in this industry will go overseas with them. I hope, Senator Harradine, you might reconsider your position and I hope senators will support the motion.

Amendment agreed to.

The PRESIDENT —Before putting the question that the motions, as amended, be agreed to, I point out to senators that, as is apparent from my declaration of interest, I have shares in companies which may have an interest in these matters.

Senator Crowley —I believe it would be appropriate to indicate that I, too, have an interest.

Senator Crane —I must declare, as I have done before, a similar interest in Wesfarmers.

Senator Troeth —I declare an interest in 16,000 eucalypt trees which will undoubtedly become woodchips.

Senator Vanstone —I have the same interest as was declared before and say, as I have said before, that it is not a conflict.

Senator Alston —I recall we went through this exercise a couple of weeks ago and I mentioned that the family company has some Amcor shares. I thought the matter was going to be referred. Has that happened?

The PRESIDENT —It has been referred to the Procedure Committee. They have made a determination which has not yet been reported to or dealt with by the Senate.

Senator Lightfoot —I do not know whether it is relevant. I have 50 acres of pinastas. They are conifers that were planted, at least in part, for woodchips.

Senator Bob Collins —I have absolutely no interest in woodchips at all.

   Question put:

   That motion No. 1 (Senator Brown's ) and motion No. 2, as amended (Senator Murphy's ), be agreed to.