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Thursday, 26 August 1999
Page: 7810

Senator BROWN (11:00 AM) —What codswallop! The minister says this is an insurmountable constitutional problem. It is of the government's own making. The government has set out to discriminate between the states by giving each of the states the power to essentially dictate its own RFA. So, they are different between different places, or they can have an RFA or not. All this is overcome by this government taking its proper responsibilities for Australia's forests and dealing with them in a responsible manner right across the country.

Any constitutional concerns that come out of this are the responsibility of one Prime Minister John Howard. He is there to look after the interests of all of us. Not here he is not; he is discriminating between states. Yesterday the parliamentary secretary told us that it was necessary to have a different definition of what a reserve was to protect the environmental amenity in each of the states. The government is dictating this discriminatory process between states. She gets up here and says that somehow or other we therefore cannot allow the ultimate outcome here, which is parliamentary scrutiny. Either you set up a situation where there may be some constitutional question or you deny parliament its right, responsibility and obligation to vet agreements which deal not only with the national heritage but hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money. What an absurd situation and what a silly argument from the minister.

The fact is that the government is being discriminatory because the woodchip corporations want to be discriminatory. On top of that, the Labor Party is entering into the discrimination as of 1 March this year and saying that agreements before that do not get brought before parliament, but agreements after that do. Senator Forshaw says that that means there has been more scrutiny of the regional forest agreements before this magic date of 1 March. Really? Has any regional forest agreement had more scrutiny than the Western Australian one, or more public attention?

Senator Forshaw —Yes.

Senator Sherry —Yes, Tasmania, for 15 years.

Senator BROWN —That is quite ludicrous. The senators interjecting know full well, if they are honest, that it is the intervention of the Tasmanian Labor Party that is denying Tasmanians their right to have a regional forest agreement scrutinised. It is their anti-public attitude that is at the core of this.

Senator Sherry —That's not true.

Senator BROWN —I have no doubt Senator Sherry is going to get to his feet and say why it is that he thinks parliament should scrutinise the Western Australian agreement but he would deny that same right to Tasmania and make Tasmanians second class. That is his position on this.

The question to the Labor Party has to be: why has 1 March become the date for the cut-off? There has been no explanation from Senator Forshaw. The question to the parliamentary secretary is: are you not simply using a potential constitutional showdown of your own making to deny parliament its responsibility to be vetting these very important regional forest agreements?

Finally, I have a couple of comments on the parliamentary secretary's asseveration that some one per cent will be harvested per annum. Forests live more than 100 years; the great trees of the forests live for many centuries. You do not have to have fifth grade mathematics and an envelope to work out that this one per cent cut a year means the overcutting of forests and denying these forests the ability to grow to the stage where they have nesting sites for owls, bats and possums. It is cutting down the ecological component of those forests.

In the same paragraph the parliamentary secretary talks about ecologically sustainable management, having agreed yesterday she did not know what that meant. She could not defend the term. She was in a totally hapless position because the advice backing she has had could not come to the rescue either. Because it is a lie; the whole concept of ecological sustainability used in the way it is put in the regional forest agreements is a lie. That is at the heart of this matter, and the Australian people know that. When you move in, firebomb, poison and cut down forests and call that ecological sustainability, you are engaged in a lie.

What sort of parliament are we to be not only promulgating such a lie and taking it from the regional forest agreements but denying ourselves the ability to scrutinise it and see how it measures up to the reality of the on-the-ground destruction of our forests?