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Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Page: 80

Senator NETTLE (3:27 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation (Senator Abetz) to a question without notice asked by Senator Nettle today relating to the logging of native forests in south eastern New South Wales.

In July last year over 600 people held a peaceful protest at the Eden woodchip mill to call for an end to the logging of native forests in south-east New South Wales and north-eastern Victoria for export woodchips. I had the great pleasure in joining those hundreds of people at this peaceful protest. The New South Wales and Commonwealth governments have both ignored the public sentiment that we do not want our native forests and the habitat of important plants and animals destroyed for export woodchips. Over one million tonnes of woodchips were exported from Eden in 2006.

In 1995 I first became involved in the community campaign to ensure that the native forests of south-eastern New South Wales were not destroyed for export woodchips. At that time the Labor state government made promises to protect our forests and then failed to deliver on those promises. Since then—and before then—many committed environmentalists have campaigned to protect the forests of south-east New South Wales, and this important work continues.

As the world grapples with climate change, the need to protect our native forests becomes even more urgent. The government, which has ignored climate change for the past decade, is now desperately thrashing around looking for solutions that do not require any real change. On 29 March this year the government committed $200 million to a global initiative on forests and climate. On ABC radio the Prime Minister recognised the importance of forests in combating dangerous climate change. He said:

In fact 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from clearing the world’s forests and that is second only to emissions from burning fossil fuels to produce electricity and its more than all of the world’s emissions from transport, more than all of the world’s emissions from transport.

But when it comes to cutting down Australia’s forests, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry are gung-ho.

On Monday, the Australian reported that the coalition would be making the logging of native forests a key issue in certain marginal seats in the coming election. The article indicated that they intend to attack the Labor Party and most particularly the Greens because the Greens have a policy of protecting our native forests. The Greens see the hypocrisy in paying money to Indonesia to stop cutting down their forests—which, by the way, we think is a good thing—while at home the government are going to run a scare campaign against conservation and protection of our native forests.

When Mr Howard spoke on ABC radio he was right in saying that forests are crucial in stopping catastrophic climate change. They are huge banks of carbon. They pull carbon out of the atmosphere and secure it in soil and wood. They also stabilise our hydrological systems. Logging in the native forests of south-eastern New South Wales has silted up rivers and altered the natural hydrology of the region. We all know how important water is for our society, our economy and our environment, and yet we continue to deforest and alter the natural hydrology systems in New South Wales.

Dr James Watson has studied the effects of forestry on climate change and recently presented findings that showed that the logging of 10,000 hectares of forest in Victoria in 2005 led to the release of 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere. Nine thousand hectares of native forest in south-east New South Wales are logged every year to feed the Eden woodchip mill in order to export woodchips to Japan and another 9,000 hectares of native forests are logged on the Victorian side of the border. Using Dr Watson’s calculations, this logging represents 18 million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution. This is a huge amount. As I said in my question to the minister, it is 22 times the amount saved by banning incandescent light bulbs and the equivalent of all the cars on Sydney’s roads.

Our forests are not only beautiful places that provide vital habitat to many and varied creatures; they play a crucial role in regulating the world’s climate. To log them for woodchips, as if they were just a commodity to be exploited, is short-sighted and plainly stupid. The government should urgently conduct its own study into climate change effects of logging in our native forests and stop the logging of the native forests in the south-west of New South Wales and the north-east of Victoria. These trees are used to fuel the Eden woodchip mill and are exported overseas with no benefit for the local community here. The finances of the operation at the Eden woodchip mill mean that the taxpayers of New South Wales suffer a loss because of the logging of our precious native forests in south-eastern New South Wales. State Forests of New South Wales subsidise the woodchipping industry and the royalties that they receive are far smaller than the costs that are incurred. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.