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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 1017

Mr DUNCAN(12.17) —I support the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill and I do so with a great deal of conviction. In my view, the debate today should never have been necessary. It has been brought on solely by the intransigence and the bloody-mindedness of the Liberal Government in Tasmania. This is the same Government that caused divisions in the Australian community over the Franklin Dam. Let me remind honourable members in this House that the economics of the Franklin Dam in the context of hydro-electric generation in Tasmania are now very well known to have been completely fraudulent. There was never any need for the Franklin Dam. More than anything, it was a power play by the Hydro-Electric Commission and a political power play by the Liberal Government in Tasmania. We all know that that is the situation. We all know now, with the benefit of hindsight and history, that the Franklin Dam would have been a gross waste of the nation's resources.

Of course, the Gray Liberal Government in Tasmania has now decided to repeat that dismal and disgraceful performance in an effort to attack the Hawke Labor Government. The whole debate about forestry management in Tasmania has been based on completely different sets of premises. While the conservation movement has based its campaign on the proper management of forests and the technical details of how to preserve and sustain not only protected forests but also forestry industries and jobs, the Gray Liberal Government has decided to embark upon the politics of divisiveness and of scaremongering-nothing more and nothing less. Here we have a Liberal Premier-and I might say that the use of the word `liberal' in this context is a travesty of the language-and a Liberal Government who have decided to jeopardise for short term political gain not only one of the world's greatest wilderness areas but also the jobs of workers in the forestry industry which they cynically purport to be protecting.

Some people might argue that the Federal Labor Government has been overly cautious in its dealings with the Tasmanian Government. It has been put to me, and I am inclined to agree with the view, that we should have moved much earlier, given our experience with the Gray Government. Nevertheless, we have moved cautiously and, for the moment, I believe that our approach is much more likely to pay dividends than the Gray formula of provocative confrontation. Instead of banning logging outright in the contested or disputed areas this Bill introduces a moratorium on activity for 12 months while a properly conducted inquiry into the matters in dispute can be carried out.

It now seems to me that the approach of the Federal Labor Government is appropriate and entirely reasonable. It means that the conservation movement will have to present its case once again. It also means that the forestry industry will have to justify its position before a properly constituted, independent and, most importantly, impartial inquiry. This means that the debate will move back to the issues of protection of the National Estate and the technical details of managing a sustainable forestry industry. To me that is as much the nub of this debate as anything else. The ripping and gouging that has gone on in the past ought to stop, and it ought to stop right now. The sooner this Bill goes through and achieves that the better for this nation and the better for Tasmania.

It is quite obvious, when we look at the record so far in Tasmania, that very little thought has been given either by the State Government or by the forestry industry to the question of managing a sustainable forestry industry. There has been a forestry industry in Tasmania for many years. Prior to 1970 it was essentially a saw-milling industry operated by small family concerns, subcontractors and small companies. In the early 1970s the woodchipping industry got under way and the whole nature of the forestry industry in Tasmania changed very rapidly. For the first five years or so there was open slather, with anyone who could wield a chainsaw and load a truck delivering timber to the woodchippers. At the same time, the industry became dominated by large companies which, of course, are there now. Most of the small concerns disappeared as it became unprofitable for small scale operations to compete with the big companies. This was compounded because the woodchipping companies were paying prices equal to, or more than, those paid by saw-mills with less restrictions on the type of timber delivered which meant that indiscriminate felling took place and sawlogs, in my view, were most disgracefully sold for woodchipping.

By 1982 some 80 or 90 saw-mills had closed down as their local source of supply was logged out and they were too small to compete with the large mills to transport sawlogs from further afield. Those facts and figures ought to be of great interest to the Tasmanian Liberal members of this House. We have seen an enormous decline in the number of jobs available in the saw-milling and logging industry in Tasmania over the past few years under the Gray Government.

Mr Goodluck —That is not true.

Mr DUNCAN —It is true and the facts prove it. The honourable member for Franklin ought to know better than to come into this House and make that sort of trivial and trite interjection. Since the introduction of woodchipping over 4,000 jobs have been lost. Anybody who cares to look at the census figures will see that that is clearly the case. Four thousand jobs have been lost in Tasmania as a result of the introduction of woodchipping. It seems that no one was very upset about small mills and subcontractors going to the wall but the profits of big companies appear to be far more sacrosanct. I think the sort of bleating that we have heard from Tasmanian Liberal members in this Parliament underscores that entirely.

The development of sensible logging plans which would see far less wastage, far fewer incentives to chip sawlogs or young growth and the development of new and faster growing plantations, has not taken place. Instead, the Tasmanian Forestry Commission has served up to the Gray Government plans which are based on outdated management systems, obsolete export pricing structures and assumptions on annual forest yield which are not soundly based. These assumptions have been criticised not only by the conservation movement but also by the Department of Botany at the University of Tasmania. In August 1985 Professor W. D. Jackson prepared a damning critique of the environmental impact statement which is now being used as the basis for the Gray Government's plans for the forestry industry. He argued that there needed to be a move towards intensification of the pulpwood industry, major changes in forestry management of sawlog forests, and a review of the uneconomic production levels in the industry. Professor Jackson argues that the production of pulpwoods for export and domestic use is 19 per cent above a sustainable yield. And the Gray Government wants to go ahead with plans which are designed to ensure that the percentage of sustainable yield will increase above 19 per cent! Goodness gracious, one would think that the Gray Government wanted to see the whole island turned the way in which the area around Queenstown has been turned. I find it extraordinary that Tasmanian members, who purport to like the sort of environment that exists in Tasmania, come in here and promote policies which are going to denude vast areas of Tasmania.

If one talks to ordinary decent Tasmanians about their concerns for what is happening to the environment of their island, one hears lots of them saying: `We do not like what has happened on the east coast'. The honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) would know this as well as anybody. It is a generally well held belief in Tasmania that woodchipping has not been a good thing for the island and for the State's economy. People at large, in all walks of life, have made those sorts of comments to me. People at Orford have said to me how dreadful it is to have woodchipping going on and to see vast tracts of beautiful native virgin bush just demolished by the slash and burn and by the clear felling. I believe that that sort of sentiment is probably the real sentiment of the Tasmanian people in this matter.

I believe that Professor Jackson, in talking about the need for sustainable levels of wood production, is right on the mark. He points out that the methods of forest management which entail clear felling, log extraction, slash burning, aerial seeding and fuel reduction are grossly inefficient and uneconomic and are no longer practised by any of Australia's major pulpwood competitors. We start to feel more and more like a Third World country when we see big Japanese companies coming down here and simply wanting to rip out the raw materials of this country, the natural resources, and ship them off somewhere else with a few Australians collecting jobs out of them along the way. It is pretty disgusting and it sticks in the guts of any decent Australian who has an element of nationalism in terms of the way in which he looks at how this country is being run. Professor Jackson also shows that plantation control and production is far more cost efficient and takes into account different species requirements. Jackson says:

The argument for intensive forestry by plantation methods is so overwhelmingly convincing compared with the shockingly low yields . . . at present being attained by natural thinning stands that one can only be concerned that the companies are making such large relative profits compared with outlay that they are not interested in changing to more efficient methods which would greatly lessen the environmental impact.

On the other hand, intensification by plantation would improve the prospects for sawlogging, replace low quality chip exports with high quality pulpwood, double export potential by increasing yields, prevent the erosion of Australia's export markets and export base, provide more jobs in Tasmania and greatly reduce the visual impact and environmental damage to the Tasmanian forests. These are the proposals which have the support of the conservation movement, which the Gray Government says has no interest in the future of the forest industry or Tasmanian workers' jobs.

In fact, it is obvious that the Gray Government's obsession with scoring political points has blinded it to the facts of modern management and technical practices in the forest industry. But even worse, it has blinded it to some of the even more obvious facts. For instance, the areas in dispute contain only 14 per cent of Tasmania's long term woodchip timber and 12 per cent of its saw logs. Those areas could, with no further management, stay untouched well into the next century without making a difference to the industry. If modern management of plantations and forests were adopted so that improved recovery and yield could occur, they would never need to be cut. That is a very compelling argument when we consider that this Bill is talking only about a 12-month moratorium. There is no need to log these areas in the next 12 months. Adequate areas are available elsewhere which could sustain the industry during the next 12 months while the Commission of Inquiry looks into all of the issues and brings down a fair and balanced report. There is no need for the rush. There is no need for the Government of Tasmania simply to bolt into this issue and continue to carve up these valuable areas of National Estate. The Parliament ought to reject the political point scoring approach of the Liberal Government in Tasmania.

What is happening and what will keep on happening while the Gray Government persists in its irrational behaviour is that logging teams will drive past most of the forest-in undisputed areas-to log National Estate areas. That is what is happening today and what will continue to happen unless this Bill is passed. This cannot and should not be allowed to continue. We have a conservative Tasmanian State Government which is more interested in division, scaremongering and the pocketing of high profits by wealthy companies than in the protection of our environment or the preservation of a profitable, sustainable, job generating forestry industry. Why else would it be happy to sell off Tasmania's most beautiful natural resource for only $7 per tonne, while down the line the processing companies receive up to $800 per tonne for the finished products? That is a question that all the economic rationalists on the other side of the chamber ought to be asking themselves during this debate and into the future. Why is it that we are flogging off on the cheap Tasmania's valuable and beautiful natural resources for the pitiful sum of $7 per tonne when we could be getting $800 per tonne for the finished product? Why else would the Tasmanian Government be happy to jeopardise the long term employment prospects of timber industry workers while outdated management practices destroy the resources on which the forestry industry is based?

I remind the honourable member for Franklin that some years ago there used to be timber cutters around Queenstown. All that area was ripped and gouged. There are no jobs for timber cutters in that area these days, as he would know full well. If people like him, with the irresponsible, short term approach they have, are allowed to get their way, the result inevitably will be that much of Tasmania will look like the tragic area around Queenstown. That would be an absolute disgrace and an absolute disaster. People ought to think very carefully about that situation. A lot of people in this nation, and most people in Tasmania, have been to Queenstown. The people of Queenstown try to make the best of the situation by saying: `Come to Queenstown and see this devastated area. This is the only area in Australia where so much damage has been done to the environment. In our strange way, we have made a cultural plus out of it. We play football on ovals where there is no grass; we like to make a big thing out of it'. I do not blame these people for trying to turn Queenstown into a tourist area. There is no harm in trying to make the best of the disaster-that is an understandable human trait. But let us get it clear: This Government and this Parliament have national responsibilities to all of the Australian people, not only those whose case is put here. We have a responsibility to future generations to make sure there are jobs in the long term in the Tasmanian forestry industry. That is what this Government is intending to do and that is what we will continue to do.

Some Opposition members from Tasmania-and most of the others, I am sure-have not had the opportunity that I have had to hike through the beautiful forests and wilderness areas of Tasmania and to go down the Franklin River to see the sort of natural beauty that exists in that part of Australia. I can tell members of this Parliament--

Mr Uren —They haven't got your romance of the soul.

Mr DUNCAN —I appreciate the Minister's interjection, but if conservative members of this Parliament with any sensitivity at all had had the opportunities that I have had to see the beautiful wilderness areas of Tasmania, this Parliament would vote this Bill into law unanimously. As I said, why else would the Tasmanian Government be happy to jeopardise long term employment prospects in the timber industry unless it was simply involved in cheap, nasty political point scoring? That is all it is. Why else would it quite happily contribute to the unnecessary destruction of Australia's natural heritage and indulge in the sort of political chicanery it does to justify its mismanagement and its support for vested interests?

I would like to make one other comment about the behaviour of the forestry industry. According to Press reports this week-and I noted one in the Adelaide Advertiser of Monday-the pro-logging lobby has set aside $2m a year for the next two years to campaign in marginal seats. Allegedly, I am a marginal seat holder and I welcome the chance to debate this matter with the forestry industry anywhere in this nation. Most Australians know quite well that conservation and a well-managed forestry industry need not be incompatible. Let representatives of the Tasmania forestry industry come into my electorate and have a proper debate about the maintenance of our National Estate. I would welcome it. I suspect that the people of Makin would welcome it as well because all the people in my electorate to whom I have spoken about this issue have urged me on and have congratulated the Government on the fact that we are protecting the National Estate and a sustainable logging industry in Tasmania.

I have had a chance to speak to ordinary Tasmanians a number of times in recent years about logging of the State forests. They know and the people of Tasmania know that one cannot keep logging Tasmania in the style and manner and at the rate that those forests have been logged in recent years. The honourable member for Franklin knows that perfectly well but he is not prepared to admit it. It is in the interests of all Australians to bring about the moratorium that this legislation introduces so that the level-headed, unemotional, technically competent and modern approach can take into account the needs of the forestry industry in Tasmania. I support the Bill.