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Tuesday, 6 June 2000
Page: 14699


Senator MURPHY (7:00 PM) —I wish to take note of the regional forest agreement for Gippsland and to say a few words about the final signing of these three regional forest agreements. It is good to see that they have finally been done. I just hope that there will be more employment as a result of these agreements being signed. I suspect that in Victoria they will probably lead to more employment because the Victorian government, both the current Labor government and the former Liberal government, has taken a different view to that taken in my home state on what we should be doing with the forest resource.

When this process started, a long period of time ago, it was intended that it would generate a significant amount of employment and that we would see an industry develop. I am talking about an industry developing in manufacturing terms, with greater utilisation of the resource that we take from the forest. But in many instances that has not occurred, and that is the sad thing about this whole process. Despite the current federal minister making a lot of claims about his proposals to assist the generation of employment, nothing has happened. I noted an interjection earlier from Senator McGauran about Labor not supporting the regional forest agreement legislation. We did not support it, simply because the current government, which had given a commitment to implement the proposals that were put forward on industry development, reneged on those issues. You did not set up the council envisaged under the former Labor government, which you committed yourselves to prior to the election. You did not stick with that commitment. You did not set up anything. You set up a bit of a forum, and then you let that lapse. That is the reason we opposed the legislation at the time. You had all the opportunity, but no. Your problem was that you could not cop a situation where workers would be represented on a council by their union, a situation that would actually drive some development in this industry. That is the only body that has driven industry development. The unions were the ones that the industry came to when the issue about access to forests was a live issue. They were the ones that rallied their members. They were the ones that rallied workers to fight for continued access to native forests.

But what did they get for all of that, and what did the workers get? Very little, I would suggest to you. They certainly have not got job security and they certainly have not got industry development. Here we are, a country that produces a very small proportion of the world's wood products; we intended to have a great increase in manufacturing but we have seen a very significant decline in manufacturing. In particular, we are not utilising the hardwood species in this country to the extent that we should—not to anything like the extent that we should. Yet we know that there is a huge marketplace out there, particularly in the industrial hardwood area. We know that the major populations of the world, such as China, have a huge requirement for wood that we as a country could be supplying in manufacturing terms. But what are we doing? We are exporting a lot of it as woodchips and all-round wood. Frankly, I cannot accept that, and I hope that at some point in time this government will wake up and the minister will get on with the job and start heading down the road to proper and appropriate industry development and resource utilisation.