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Monday, 18 June 2001
Page: 24421

Senator FORSHAW (12:31 PM) —The opposition wishes to indicate at the outset of this debate that it will not be opposing the passage of the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Amendment Bill 2001. The bill increases funding to the Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation, and the increased funding will become effective from 1 July 2001. Currently, the funding arrangements are that the Commonwealth contributes $1 for every $2 raised from industry by way of levy payments. This bill will increase the government's contribution by matching $1 for every $1 contributed by industry levies. At first one might think that this is some sort of generous increase from $1 for every $2 to $1 for every $1. However, in reality, the additional funding amounts to only $1.6 million per annum. Further, when this initiative—the sole initiative of Minister Tuckey in the almost three years that he has had this ministry—is compared with the funding established by the previous Labor government under the Wood and Paper Industry Strategy and the RFA process, this increase is not only paltry and minuscule but also an insult to the industry.

It is an insult to industry because Minister Tuckey has been for the last 2½ years running around the country ranting and raving about the wonderful things that he was going to do for the forest industry and for the wood and paper products industry. He announced in 1998 that he would establish an action agenda. Mr Tuckey indicated that that action agenda would be developed in consultation with industry and that the details would be announced in June 1999. Anyone who cares to take the time to read the Hansard of estimates proceedings, the House of Representatives and the Senate will note that the famous action agenda was noted for its lack of action. Indeed, it was not until the end of 2000, some 18 months after the deadline of June 1999, that we finally saw any details regarding Minister Tuckey's action agenda. The only matter of substance in that action agenda was this funding increase of $1.6 million.

Minister Tuckey was asked a question on notice earlier this year by the shadow minister for forestry, Mr Ferguson, as to what other funding initiatives would be contained within this action agenda. After all, this was Minister Tuckey's grand vision for the industry. Minister Tuckey's response to that question on notice, which was delivered on 5 March 2001, stated:

The government is in the process of developing the 2001-2002 budget. Details of funding for Action Agenda items are as yet unknown.

That was a telling admission by Minister Tuckey because, as we all know, he is one who is never short for words. He usually has a lot to say. He has a hell of a lot to say. There is not much substance, but he has a lot to say. But on this occasion, when he was asked the specific question of what other funding initiatives are in this action agenda that the minister has spent two years or more developing, his response was that the government is in the process of developing this year's budget and the details of funding are as yet unknown. For Minister Tuckey that was a short, succinct response that for once said nothing without him making a lot of noise in doing so, which is his usual approach.

It was a short time from March through to May, so we waited for the budget. What was in the budget in terms of funding for this industry? Absolutely nothing. There was not one cent of additional funding for new initiatives for this industry in this year's budget. There was not one cent for any initiative under the famous Tuckey action agenda. So the action agenda, as I said, is characterised by its total lack of action. This minister and this government stand condemned for their failure to match their words with deeds, to match their promises with real dollars to support this industry.

As I said, the opposition is prepared to support this legislation, notwithstanding this government's and this minister's total failure to develop policies to give real support to the industry, because at least the industry will benefit to the tune of $1.6 million by virtue of this legislation. That has only come about because of the intense lobbying by the industry of this government to change that formula with respect to Commonwealth funding. The funds that were originally allocated under those initiatives of the previous Labor government, such as the Wood and Paper Industry Strategy and other plans, are coming to an end or have ceased. This government has not established anything to replace that assistance. This $1.6 million is the only measure that has been announced so far, and it is clear that there is nothing more to come.

As I said, this minister and this government stand condemned for their failure to support the timber industry, the wood and forest products industry. It was the previous Labor government, through the National Forest Policy Statement, that established the Wood and Paper Industry Strategy, the Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation and the RFA process and brought some harmony back to what was a very divisive industry and a very divisive issue. But since Minister Tuckey has come to this portfolio, through his actions and many of his statements, he has turned all that on its head. The only thing that Minister Tuckey can claim credit for, and I do not think he would want to claim credit for it, is that he has led to the establishment of a new political group—which you, Mr Acting Deputy President Lightfoot, are well aware of—the Liberals for Forests group. That is Mr Tuckey's legacy to this industry, and he should be condemned, as I am sure many of his colleagues privately agree.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—That was a small `l' liberal, I think, Senator Forshaw.

Senator FORSHAW —Because of Mr Tuckey's failures in this industry, his remaining time is short. On this occasion, we will support the government's bill because at least it does provide some small amount of additional assistance for the industry.