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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 1014


Mr SAUNDERSON(11.57) —I rise to support the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill-a Bill which will be recognised as perhaps a watershed in terms of the Federal Government's attitude to protection of the environment and protection of areas which are clearly in the world heritage category. These are the sorts of areas for which one should not have to introduce major legislation to protect the areas. One would have hoped-on this side of the House we always live in hope that the Opposition will see the light-that a State government would always look for ways in which to supplement its industries and jobs. I would have hoped that the Tasmanian Government would have recognised the value of the world heritage environment to tourism. But that is something it obviously has not done and it has forced us into the position of having to legislate to protect the environment.

This Bill is based on a number of factors. The Commission of Inquiry will examine whether the two areas are, or include areas which are, of world heritage value or which contribute to the value of a world heritage area. The inquiry will also report on whether other areas in Tasmania have forestry resources capable of exploitation in a way which would fulfil certain criteria. One of the points which will concern the inquiry is the manner of exploitation. This would need to cause no detriment to the Tasmanian forestry industry. A major part of the criticism that is being thrown up by the Gray Government and by Opposition members who have spoken here-most of whom come from Tasmania-about how this Bill will damage jobs and the timber industry in Tasmania ignores the first and prime task of the inquiry and that is to ensure that, whatever is done, there is no detriment to the Tasmanian forestry industry. Secondly, the exploitation of such areas would need to be an environmentally and economically prudent and feasible alternative to the exploitation of forestry resources in any areas of world heritage value identified with the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests areas.

The Bill also provides for the interim protection of the two areas during the period of the inquiry. Opposition members seem to be outraged about that, but given that there is a need for this investigation to be undertaken by us because it has not been undertaken by the State Government-the State Government has refused to co-operate in this area and we have had to resort to this legislation-I think it is only sensible and reasonable that we should have interim protection of the areas under consideration. There seems little purpose in having an inquiry if we still allow the forestry workers to work in and damage an area which may well need absolute protection.

One of the most important expressions of the desire of mankind to protect the environment in which we live has found its form in the international convention concerning the protection of the world's cultural and natural heritage-the World Heritage Convention. This has arisen from a growing desire within the world community to protect what is left of our natural resources and wonders. Certainly, in more recent times, this has become a growing concern throughout the world; except, it appears, in places such as Tasmania and Queensland, where the governments have shown an absolute lack of concern and a total disregard for the responsibility that we, as citizens of the world today, have to protect the natural wonders for the people of tomorrow. The World Heritage Convention was adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation at its general conference in Paris in November 1972. The Convention, which came into force in December 1975, promotes co-operation among nations to protect areas and buildings which have such universal value that their conservation is of concern to humanity generally. Australia was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention in August 1974. Since then the number of parties to the Convention has increased steadily and 92 countries from all parts of the world are now parties. Importantly, parties to the Convention commit themselves to help in the identification, protection, conservation and presentation of world heritage properties. They recognise that the identification and safeguarding of those parts of the world heritage which are located in their own countries is primarily their own responsibility.

That is where we come back to the task of the Federal Government in this case. Protection of our areas is our responsibility. We cannot blame anyone except ourselves for the damage that we are doing. We, as a federal government, must and will continue to intervene when State governments, such as the Tasmanian and Queensland governments, show themselves as incapable or unwilling to take action to protect those areas that should be protected. It is our responsibility and we have agreed that we will do all that we can. This Bill is a part of that activity. In this particular instance the Bill is necessary because the Gray Government in Tasmania has adopted a confrontationist and opportunist attitude and has done nothing to support the proposition to have the areas in Tasmania properly investigated or to ensure that those areas that are of real value, including the ones currently in conflict, are properly examined, that a reasonable view is taken and that those areas that need to be protected are protected in a very careful and managed way.

The history of the timber industry in Tasmania has been a sorry one. While there have been improvements in more recent times there is no question that the work that has gone on in the past, particularly the clear felling operations, has caused environmental damage to many areas in Tasmania. Some of these areas may never recover. Others certainly will take many, many years to do so. We must ensure that the areas which have not yet been damaged are not damaged by inconsiderate and unnecessary activities of a government which has shown a total lack of concern for the environment. I want to speak about some of the debate that has taken place in the House from the Opposition. The honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), for instance, was put out of the House last night because of his behaviour. It was quite apparent to me, in watching the debate, that he was out for a bit of grandstanding.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond) —Order! I am not too sure what this has to do with the Bill, quite frankly.


Mr SAUNDERSON —It is related to the debate and the sorts of information and points of view that were put by the members of the Opposition. I want to cover that because I think it is important when it comes down to the problems that exist in Tasmania.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I will listen to the honourable member with interest.


Mr SAUNDERSON —When these sorts of issues occur it is important that proper and reasoned information be given to the community at large. I do not believe that has been done by members of the Opposition. When any issue in relation to Tasmania comes up, firstly, they weigh up whether there is an opportunity for them to increase their proportion of the vote. They become involved in an exercise to be thrown out of the House so that they can appear on their local television stations or in their local newspapers and talk about how they have taken a firm stand for Tasmania. It does not matter that the point of view that they have taken totally ignores the proper position that should be taken and totally ignores the proper dissemination of information which would allow people to make a good judgment.

We are faced with a problem in that people in Tasmania are not sure about which way to go. They are concerned about their jobs, and that is a natural concern that anybody has, but they are not provided with reasonable information by people who know better, such as the people in the Tasmanian Government-the Gray Government-and the members of the Opposition from Tasmania. They say: `Yes, you have a right to be worried about your jobs because you will lose them all. Thousands of jobs will be gone. You will all be out of work. Everybody in Tasmania will be out of work. If you stop a few small coupes, a few small hectares, from being worked in the timber industry thousands and thousands of people will be out of work'. It is the sort of scaremongering which is calculated by members of the Opposition to frighten people into voting for them at the next election. It is not calculated to provide reasonable information which will allow those people to make a proper judgment about heritage areas, about the need for preservation and about the need for proper work considerations in these areas. They simply think `What is in it for us in terms of the opportunity for us to be elected?'-a simple opportunist political position. So we saw the honourable member for Denison thrown out yesterday. He was simply in here to provoke a situation, which is what he did. He will be out there getting a bit of publicity.

The honourable member for Braddon (Mr Miles) was interjecting before, saying: `Wait for the vote. Wait for the vote'. It is obvious that that is the consideration of members of the Opposition. They are not concerned about the fact that if their view were to get up precious areas of our world heritage may well be gone forever. They are not worried about that. They are just saying: `The Government has picked up an issue from which we can exploit a few extra votes in Tasmania, so wait for the vote'. That may well be, but it seems to me that a much better position for us to be taking up is the principled position-the preservation of those areas for the world heritage is what we should be about. We should be preserving those areas that need to be preserved.

One of my comrades has talked about the Opposition's policies. It becomes a bit more difficult day by day to know what the Opposition's policy is because the Liberal Party of Australia does not have a spokesperson. As was pointed out, the spokesperson for the coalition is a member of the National Party of Australia, Senator Collard. Within the National Party now we have a party within a party. Senator Collard is from Queensland, and we are not quite sure whether the 10 or 12 Queensland members are in or out of the coalition. We are not sure whether he is speaking on behalf of the Liberal Party any more or whether he is espousing Joh's policies. We might have one policy; we might have two policies; we could have three policies from the Opposition in relation to conservation areas. Because the Liberal Party does not have a spokesperson, we are not quite sure what its view is, except that we know that it is opposing this Bill, so we can assume only that it is opposed to the preservation of important areas within our country.

The National Party has expressed a laissez-faire approach-let the States decide. States such as Tasmania and Queensland have shown what they think of world heritage, the National Estate and important unique areas within their confines. They will destroy them as quickly as they look at them. Joh, whom the Queensland National Party people now seem to support, is not in the national Parliament, but he says he is coming; he is on the road. He must be walking as it is taking him a long time to get here. What is Joh's attitude? He would dam the Franklin, an area which is now in the World Heritage List and which it is now no longer disputed is a unique area in the world. Joh's view is that he would turn back the clock; he would dam the Franklin; he would flood the area because he does not believe we should protect anything. He can mine the sands; he can destroy all those areas in Queensland-protect nothing, destroy the lot. It is obvious that we should be concerned as a community at large that that sort of attitude exists in people who are in such an important position as a State Premier.

The critics talk about the fact that significant areas are being locked away and that many Tasmanians will lose their jobs because of that. Let us look at the facts. The area to be excluded from logging by this legislation for the duration of the inquiry is 284,000 hectares. This is not a huge area, as some people would make one believe. The way some people are talking one would think it is not only the whole of Tasmania but also Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Also, because it will be temporary, the reality is that we are talking about only a few small areas. It is not as if those 284,000 hectares would be worked by the Forestry Commission or the timber industry. It is not as if all the trees in those 284,000 hectares were to be cut down. We are talking about a few coupes here and there throughout the whole area. If people in the Opposition are trying to tell us that the few coupes that will be set aside and not be worked for 12 months means that the industry in Tasmania will be closed down, they had better brush up on their argument because nobody will believe that. The industry knows that that is a joke and so does the community at large. It will be a temporary injunction which will prevent a few small coupes being worked in those 284,000 hectares until the inquiry finishes.

The logical thing is to prevent those areas being worked simply because it is no use going back and looking at the bare earth with just the stumps left and saying: `Yes, we have decided it was a very important area, but it is a bit of a pity that we chopped the trees down'. Obviously, if we have an inquiry we should not destroy what we are looking at. The economic impact will be absolutely minute because the timber industry has other reserves to go to. There is no question that we really will damage the area.

I have spoken in this House before about the attitude that exists in Tasmania. I have been there and I have spoken to people from all walks of life. I have spoken to members of the community, to conservationists, to unionists, to people who are working on the sites and to the companies. I have also spoken about the attitude that exists within the companies that they run Tasmania, that the Government is just there to do what the companies want and they can do what they like. I have spoken about the thuggery that exists within the companies. We have seen people, who have been quite rightly protesting about the destruction of important environmental areas, being assaulted and assailed by others brought in by the companies. The companies are being forced to alter their attitudes to conservation; it has not been something which they have generally come to respect. Here is an industry that they are involved in and there is a need for them to be careful about the conservation of important areas and to preserve the industry in the long term. Shortsighted policies, a lack of concern about the future and a general disregard for environmental issues have led to the great concern that exists today.

There is no question that in more recent times the companies have improved their attitude. The reality is that there is a need for us to step in because of their attitude of wanting the whole lot, unreserved, and the State Government's attitude of not being prepared to co-operate because it is politically opportune for it to be seen to be in confrontation with the Federal Government. For those reasons we have been forced to introduce this Bill. As I said at the very beginning, I think the passing of this Bill, the subsequent inquiry and the decisions that are likely to flow from that, may well be a watershed in terms of the approach that is taken to other important areas in Australia.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.