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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 1006

Mr MILES(11.03) —It was interesting to hear the previous speaker, the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Mr Griffiths), say that the Federal Government is charged to govern for all Australians. I could not agree more with that. But the simple fact is that this nation has a Constitution which limits the powers of the Commonwealth. What is going on here today is another illustration of a centralist government wanting to muscle in on the responsibilities of the States. That is what this legislation is all about. That is why the Tasmanian people are fully supportive of their five Federal members of this place and Liberal senators in the other place for their stand on this issue. It is not that we say that we are Tasmanians first and that we negate our right to be Australians.

Mr Goodluck —I am.

Mr MILES —We are not saying that.

Mr Chynoweth —Bruce is.

Mr MILES —No, he is not saying that at all. He did not say that he is not an Australian. He recognises the importance of also being an Australian, of being part of this great nation of ours. But what we are saying today in this debate is that the legislation is a political stunt and that the Government is using the constitutional position created by the dams case to muscle in again on a States issue. Land use in any State in Australia should remain the province of that State. That is the essence of this debate.

Since the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) is in the chamber, I would like to say that he did not actually get into this Parliament because of the environmental debate in Tasmania; he got here because of the incompetence of the Whitlam Government. That is how it came about-because of the incompetence of the Whitlam Government and the honourable member's ability to campaign at that time. So he has not got here just on environmental issues. Of course, in the last year or two that has helped in Tasmania. But it has helped only because the Australian Labor Party has misread the Tasmanian people and has been prepared to follow all the extremist groups and to pander to them and not to look after the core people of this nation. It has deserted the Tasmanian family man, his wife and children. It has deserted them federally. That is the simple fact. If that were not so, I am sure that it would have more representatives here. The Tasmanian people know that the Labor Party has deserted them. In this case they know that it is a centralist government and they know that Tasmania is getting a raw deal.

The Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill 1987 should really be called the `Constitution Demolition Bill' because it is all about re-arranging the powers between the Commonwealth and the States and overriding the States. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and his Ministers have again decided to cut to threads, firstly, our founding fathers' precepts embodied in the Constitution that land use was a State responsibility and, secondly, the Tasmanian forestry agreement signed on 13 June 1986. This Government, which is noted, particularly in Tasmania and, I am sure, throughout the rest of Australia, for doing a lot of talking but taking little action, wants to get chummy with the rabid greenie preservationists. That is what is going on. It wants to disembowel the livelihood of hundreds of Tasmanian families. This must be the first time in Australia's history that the Constitution has been used to throw Australians out of jobs. That is what this Federal Government is doing. It is using the Constitution to try to override the State Government on land use to throw Australians out of jobs. It is a shocking state of affairs that the Australian Constitution can be abused so much, to the point where it will throw hundreds of families in Tasmania out of jobs.

This Government has never shown that it really cares for small people. It has never shown compassion for the remote States of Australia and their people and it has rarely displayed any principles with regard to environmental matters. Let me illustrate. Why is it possible to have a uranium mine in South Australia but nowhere else in Australia? Why does the Labor Government have that position on that environmental matter? Why will it support South West Tasmania being part of the world heritage area but not support, and force, the world heritage listing of Daintree? Why not? Simply on political expediency, because Tasmania has five House of Representatives seats and Queensland has 24. If the Government got into a fight with a fairly large State it would lose House of Representatives seats hands down and that would mean it would be out of government. So there is no principle.

This Government cannot say that it defends world heritage areas. It does not. It uses this as a political football in this Parliament. It is interesting, because the tropical rainforests of the world are regarded as having greater genetic diversity than the temperate rainforests-the Tasmanian areas. Yet this Government does not do anything about Daintree. It will not take it to the point where it took Tasmania-of using the Constitution to bash the States. The only principle this Government has is that it always looks after the big unions and big power blocs in our society. It is vindictive against the small States and is interested in political expediency. They are the principles. In hindsight, the overwhelming majority of Australians now realise that giving this Government the reins of power is like giving Dracula charge of the Red Cross blood bank.

The very deceitful approach of this Hawke Government in honouring its agreement of less than a year ago with the Tasmanian people is seen in the fact that, in the second reading speech of the Minister for Environment and Conservation (Mr Cohen), he mentioned the National Estate four times, three times on page 6 and once on page 12. Many people here would lead us to believe that the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests really are world heritage areas, and the previous speaker spoke about Kakadu National Park, other great places around the world and several others of the 247 world heritage areas. They are not included in the World Heritage List, yet world heritage is mentioned 33 times in that speech he gave to the House. The Minister did not point out to this House or the Australian people that the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests are National Estate areas and he mentioned the National Estate only four times. That indicates the type of deception that is running amok throughout mainland States in regard to this issue. Many mainland Australians believe that the Tasmanian Government and Tasmanian saw-millers are cutting down world heritage trees. It is simply dishonest to imply that sort of thing. The Minister should have concentrated in his speech on talking about what National Estate areas really are and what is allowed to happen in those areas.

If this Bill referred to world heritage areas, the Australian people may very well be concerned, but that simply is not the case. A listing on the National Estate simply means that, in the opinion of some people, an area has heritage qualities. As the Australian Heritage Commission says, it does not mean that the resources of these areas are locked away. In other words, logging is permitted in forest areas, as is mining for minerals. Of course, it is purely theoretical to say that an area can be listed as a heritage area and then say that it is possible for mining or harvesting of natural timber to continue. In reality, it is very different. Let me put it this way. Why would a company survey for minerals or plan to use timber resources when there is no guarantee that the resources can be used, once found? The economic uncertainty that the Franklin Dam case caused in Tasmania is monumental. It is monumental because companies cannot plan as they do not know whether the Federal Government is going to muscle in and use an abusive side of the Constitution-as it now has-to force Tasmania into a corner.

Whereas before 1983 States knew that they had a definite constitutional responsibility, now States are faced with uncertainty. Political uncertainty leads to business reticence to invest. In turn, it means that people lose jobs. No jobs means hardships for wives, children and families as they are forced to live on government benefits. The broken promises of this Hawke Government on issues central to one in seven workers in Tasmania are monumental. The effect of this legislation will be to lock up 240,000 hectares of Tasmania, throw hundreds of people out of work and cost millions of dollars in lost investment. That is the practical reality of this situation because of the uncertainty. Just outside my area, in the electorate of the honourable member for Lyons (Mr Burr), there is the possibility of a new pulp mill, but that has been put on ice simply because investors do not know whether the resources are going to be available. Let me make just one or two comments about resources and try to put some balance into this debate.

The honourable member for Jagajaga (Mr Staples) said that we are cutting down 20,000 hectares of trees a year. I am not sure whether that figure is correct but I assume that it is. In 1983-84 Tasmania reseeded 6,500 hectares of eucalypts on government land. Approximately another 2,000 hectares per year are reseeded and planted on private land. Those figures have not been quite that high for the last 15 years but they have been around 4,000 hectares a year for at least 15 years. The interesting fact is this and it comes from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation: A poor natural forest produces one cubic metre of hardwood per hectare per year, a good natural forest up to about five or six cubic metres. The CSIRO then states that in a good well managed plantation one could produce between 30 to 50 cubic metres, at least six times as much. Let us say that we are cutting 20,000 hectares a year, if the honourable member is correct, and that we are replanting about 8,000 which can produce at least six times the quantity of wood that has been cut from natural forests. It is equivalent to 48,000 hectares of wood. That is the difference and that is where this argument always flounders because neither side uses all the facts. It wants to use just one set of facts to sustain its argument.

Honourable members have said in this House before that they want a balanced debate on this issue. I am putting some of the balance into this debate by saying that one can cut 20,000 hectares, if that is what we are cutting, and one can reseed and replant at 8,000 hectares a year and have the equivalent result of planting 48,000 hectares of natural forest. That is the situation; that is the factual scientific position of growing trees.

Tasmania is very concerned, and has been for a number of years, about its environment and again the facts support Tasmania's position. Tasmania has three times the area of national parks of any other State. If the other States, and particularly this Government which is dominated by people from the mainland-it does not even have a member from Tasmania in the House of Representatives-would do what Tasmania has done, Australia would be better off. They should take the lead from what has happened in Tasmania. We have reserved vast areas of our State. The area which is now in reserve is equivalent to the reserved areas in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria which are on the mainland. That area is now out of bounds.

The national parks in Tasmania are excellent areas and we have reserved them. Not only have we looked after our natural environment but we have looked after our natural environment in those areas in which we are woodchipping and in which we are getting out sawlogs. The way in which the Forestry Commission is supervising that work means that those forests are being looked after sensitively and carefully. We are watching our water resources and making sure that tracts of land are left for particular species of plants to grow. We are ensuring that there are places in Tasmania where one can go and see the old forest species that have been there for hundreds of years. There is no doubt about that. We are ensuring that trees are not logged close to the small streams which ultimately make up the rivers. We are being sensitive about the way in which we are logging. Not only that but the types of machines which are allowed to be used in logging have to be of a particular type so that the soil is not compacted in those areas. The Tasmanian Government has set the trend in Australia in how to handle and to manage sawmilling and chip operations. We have set a trend and it is a very important trend for the rest of Australia.

In summing up this debate, firstly, we are facing a constitutional problem because this legislation affects land use which is a State responsibility. Sawlogs have nothing at all to do with exporting but this Federal Government wants to force the Tasmanian Government into a tenth inquiry into this industry. It is absolute nonsense and the Tasmanian people vehemently reject that position. Secondly, as I have said, Tasmania is being sensitive to the logging areas. No State in Australia is as well forested as Tasmania and I can see no State being as well forested as Tasmania will be in 50 years time. That is the simple fact of the situation. Tasmania is being very sensitive to this issue and the Minister there, Mr Ray Groom, is doing an excellent job in keeping a cool, level-headed approach to this whole issue. If some honourable members say that the Premier or imply that the Minister for Forests are intransigent, it is simply not the truth. Those people are willing to talk; they are willing to listen; but they are not prepared to negotiate the constitutional position of Tasmania with this Federal Government or any Federal government.

Finally, I make the position quite clear: This issue is about National Estate areas; it is not about World Heritage and that is a vital difference. We have to make sure that in this debate there is clarity of thought and understanding as to what the issue is really about. The only reason this Government has brought this Bill into this Parliament is a political one. Why does it not make the decision right now? Why have a tenth inquiry in 15 years? There is absolutely no need. It is a stalling tactic to drum up a political issue on the mainland of Australia for votes. It is as simple as that. Why was this Bill presented this year, an election year? Why was the matter not sorted out two or three years ago? They were not election years but this year is an election year so the Government wants to get the numbers. This Government is to be condemned for this approach. Why does it not make the decision that it could make and get on with the job so that people in Tasmania know whether they will have jobs next week? At this rate the Government is prepared to let people dangle at the end of a string not knowing whether jobs will be there for a year or in two or three years time.