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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 951

Mr MILLAR(9.34) —In addressing the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill 1987 I would like to place on record immediately my tribute to those conservationists and environmentalists who awakened Australians from an innocent unawareness of the importance of maintaining our environment. But I am also moved to say that some possessed of an excess of zeal have lost their sense of proportion. The ultimate objective, of course, is to strike some balance between the requirement to maintain our environment and the need to succour man in his respective requirements and therein lies the difference.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you will recall the anguish of a comparatively new member in this House in the 1970s who had to witness, by the use of an international covenant, the termination of sand mining on Fraser Island. As a consequence, from that time I have maintained an interest in activities of this nature to the extent that in January I found a few days to slip down to Tasmania to have a look at the Lemonthyme to get a keener appreciation of what it was all about. I must say that at first blush I was very much impressed with the quality of forestry husbandry in Tasmania, the thoroughness with which those activities are applied and addressed and the underlying concern of Tasmanians to ensure that that quite impressive and beautiful State should maintain its essential character. It was quite clear that the activities proposed and actually immediately under way are not new to the Lemonthyme area. There is evidence there of logging operations of years ago. It was rather nostalgic in a way to see the axe slots in logs where the springboards were placed in the days of axe and crosscut saws and to note also that nature, in her own way, is in the process of healing the scars. The stumps and the tops of trees that we left there are in the process of becoming humus in the soil to regenerate forestry growth and ancillary vegetation. It is somewhat striking that this Lemonthyme State Forest, which is in the vicinity of a national park, is seen as an abomination by those with an affinity for the wilderness area simply because it is in juxtaposition with a national park which is so extensive in dimension that it would take a week to walk from one end to the other. Yet because there are three vantage points, those enjoying parks and who have a mind to visit them will see evidence of human activity in the forest area.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask you seriously: To what extent should we go to maintain a wilderness environment? It is a sheer contradiction when one recalls, as most members of this House will have done from time to time flying into or out of Sydney, the view from thousands of feet where great savage scars slash through one-time sleeping hills and magnificent wilderness areas to accommodate the physical requirements of those who need to commute or travel into or out of Sydney. Developments of that nature are still continuing and there seems to be no particular frenzy or consternation by those who derive the immediate benefit. But if we find something distant or remote where there is no injury to suffer ourselves it is easy to become enthused as to the justification of saying to other people, Tasmanians in this case: `Thou shalt not'. But I put it to honourable members fairly and squarely: Who would have a greater concern about Tasmania's well-being other than the Tasmanians?

Mr McVeigh —Michael Hodgman.

Mr MILLAR —The honourable member for Denison is temporarily absent but I have no doubt that he will be continuing his address about proper requirements for the State from which he comes. Indeed, he may be halfway there now. From time to time this House has contested the proposition that the Federal Government, under international instruments, can usurp the powers and prerogatives that previously applied to the State governments. The Tasmanian Government has gone to great pains to ensure that its logging activities can be sustained. The proposal for an 80-year cycle will provide for the regeneration of forests so that there can always be a viable forestry or logging industry in Tasmania. Actually, Tasmania is quite a small island compared with Western Australia and other States. One could drive off the island before lunch. This demonstrates no more and no less than that its resources are limited and, therefore, it has a responsibility to the residents of the State to ensure the maximum and proper utilisation of its resources. I am thoroughly satisfied in this case that the Tasmanian Government and the Forestry Commission have done exactly that.

Of course, it is not a particularly pleasing spectacle to witness the felling of a forest giant that has probably stood for 300 or 400 years. It is brutal at first blush. The debris and the scars on the soil as the logs are driven away seem to be an abomination on the environment. However, as I mentioned before, nature has a remarkable capacity for healing. I also mentioned before Fraser Island, a great sand mass 78 miles long and 14 miles across at its widest. Timber has been logged from that island for over 100 years. The trees are still growing and are still being replaced. The logging activities are continuing. According to the conservationists, Fraser Island is a delicate environment. Indeed, it is worth noting that at the time of the furore over sandmining on Fraser Island an environmentalist and conservationist, one John Sinclair whom I regard as a friend and for whom I have considerable admiration-he gained the Australian of the Year Award for his activities-generated the impression in Australia that the island was so pristine in character that if one sneezed with the wind blowing from the wrong direction the whole sand mass would disappear in a twinkling and to mine the dunes would ensure that the island would disappear. With the benefit of hindsight we can see clearly that the rehabilitation has at the worst been fully adequate and at the best excellent.

To further compound the mischief, the island now suffers a new threat. Because of the notoriety that the island gained from that event, four-wheel drive vehicles have descended upon the island in plague proportions, effecting much greater damage to the island than sandmining ever would have done. The Fraser Island Defence Organisation-FIDO-has a new plan for Fraser Island which proposes that the four-wheel drive traffic come off the beaches for the southern 20 miles and use, would honourable members believe, the bitumen road that was built by the sandminers. This is rather ironic. FIDO also proposes that to minimise the damage being done to the island, more trafficways and tracks be constructed on the island to establish a one-way traffic pattern. That is a long way from what is happening in the Lemonthyme, but I put the point that in hindsight what was done at Fraser Island, no doubt with the best of intentions, was a nonsense. I suggest that in hindsight what those well intentioned conservationists believe should happen in respect of the Lemonthyme will also prove to be a nonsense.

The proposal agreed to with exquisite harmony at an earlier date by the Federal and State governments has somehow proved to be inadequate. No doubt it has become inadequate because the Government, with an electoral twitch, has yielded to pressures from those who it believes may have a bearing on its political fortunes. Let the Government stand up and demonstrate its worth. Let it adhere to its original undertaking which was based on a well informed understanding of what it is all about. Let the Government demonstrate to the people of Australia that it is a government of conviction and, having come to a conclusion, it will adhere to it. We have spent too much time seeking to accommodate the expectations of various groups and bodies within our community, ignoring the truth that in fact our planet is for man to use and that man is not on earth exclusively to serve the planet. Between those two poles there must be a compromise. The State Government of Tasmania has done a great deal to ensure that that compromise requirement is adequately met.

Mr Goodluck —No compromise in this one.

Mr MILLAR —There is no compromise at all except in respect of the principle. The State Government has compromised with nature to the extent that when extracting from the forest what is essential to its requirements and the well being of Tasmanians there will be ample scope within the natural scheme of things for revegetation and the recycling of forests and that there will always be jobs in the logging industry for Tasmanians.

So the folly of it all is that much of what is being done now by the Federal Government under influence is done with laudable intent in a circumstantial way. Everybody believes in preserving the environment. Nobody wants to do a mischief to it. But we have a remarkable capacity for altering logic and reason to suit our own desire. We have no problem making hard decisions when they affect the man living next door. But when it comes to the person in our own house we have a thousand good reasons why we should be immured from the circumstances attaching to what otherwise was pragmatic reasoning and logic.

I do not want to delay the House. I just say again that I went to the trouble to go down to the Lemonthyme. I rejoiced again in the fact that in the middle of January one can visit a part of Australia where snow falls. I have more than a degree of nostalgia, having lived in that blessed State for five years up to the point of joining the Air Force in 1943. I have a feeling for the island and I would not wish in any shape or form to effect an injury on it. I strongly recommend to the Government that prudence should dictate its actions. I ask it to put aside the emotive considerations, to be logical and reasonable and to adhere to the understanding of the agreement at which it arrived.