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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 1065

Mr COHEN (Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment)(5.23) —In concluding this debate I would like to deal with the main criticisms which honourable members opposite have made about the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill. Most of the criticisms are misleading, if not positively erroneous. Many have been answered already by my colleagues. However, this is an opportunity to set the record straight. In summary, it was claimed that the Government is interfering with the rights of the State to manage its forests. That, in my view, is totally erroneous. We are simply using our responsibility as a national government to protect the National Estate areas. We believe that this action of setting up an inquiry does not in any way inhibit States' rights. To argue that this legislation is an unwarranted intrusion into Tasmania's affairs is to deny the right of the Australian people to have the national Parliament legislate in the national interest.

One of the things that I found quite disturbing-one seems to hear this in debates about Tasmania-is that some of the Tasmanian members pretend that they belong to another country and that we, as Australians, do not have any interest in, or any right to comment on, what happens in Tasmania.

Mr Connolly —They feel that you treat them differently, and there is some evidence to bear that out.

Mr COHEN —I am a New South Welshman, as is the honourable member for Bradfield.

Mr Connolly —And proud of it.

Mr COHEN —Yes, but first of all I think we are both proud to be Australians. I am an Australian first, second and third. I regard State boundaries as being incidental to being an Australian. I have never thought--

Mr Connolly —But they are a constitutional reality.

Mr COHEN —Yes, absolutely, but I resent the implication by some Tasmanians-that was referred to by one member-that we live on the other island and that sort of nonsense. I believe that the people who live in Tasmania have a right to comment about what happens in my State, because what happens in New South Wales happens to us all as Australians. If the Tasmanian Government is not prepared to act responsibly in this matter, it is encumbent on this Government to honour Australia's international obligation under the World Heritage Convention to identify and, if necessary, protect areas of outstanding universal value. That is the purpose of this Bill.

Most Opposition speakers have completely overstated the possible effects of this Bill on industry and employment. The purpose of the Bill is to establish a fact finding inquiry. The Bill does not make decisions about the future of the timber industry in Tasmania. Compensation will be made available for temporary adjustments in the industry while the inquiry is in progress, if it is needed. Hundreds of jobs will not be lost. Quite frankly, I thought it was very irresponsible of some honourable members to create these sorts of fears in people's minds. Even if some of the logging were stopped in the areas that are involved, it would not have remotely added up to the sort of wildly exaggerated claims that were made yesterday. Hundreds of jobs will not be lost. Honourable members on the other side were fanciful to make those sorts of allegations.

The area which will be affected has also been completely misrepresented. The area to be excluded from logging for the duration of the inquiry is about 284,000 hectares, which will allow the commission to examine claims for world heritage status. The Government understands that the total area planned for logging in the excluded area during the inquiry is only one or two coupes south of Farmhouse Creek in the Southern Forests, one or two coupes in the Lemonthyme, and a small number of coupes in the Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd area and the water catchment area of the Australian Paper Manufacturers Ltd concession. With coupe sizes of about 50 hectares or so, I would be surprised if the total area intended for logging during the inquiry would exceed 600 hectares. It is nothing like the huge areas erroneously stated by Opposition members. Even so, the legislation provides for compensation in the event that industry is deprived of a resource which cannot be obtained elsewhere. But it is clear that for most industry requirements there are sufficient resources outside the protected areas to ensure that no resource problems arise while the inquiry is in progress.

Previous studies have been mentioned by several speakers. This inquiry is different from earlier inquiries which had very different purposes and which were not directed at the world heritage aspects of the contentious areas. I must say that I am delighted to see my colleague the honourable member for Dunkley (Mr Chynoweth), who makes such extraordinarily good contributions on all matters regarding the environment, in the House today. He helps to make up a very large gallery. In any case, previous studies clearly have not led to an outcome which achieves a satisfactory balance between heritage protection and forestry in Tasmania. Differences within the Tasmanian community and elsewhere in Australia on this issue remain, and are clearly evident. This inquiry will provide for the first time a comprehensive and objective basis for reconciling these differences for the lasting benefit of all Tasmanians.

It has been argued that the Commonwealth had approved the State management plan for the Lemonthyme. The plan was prepared in 1983 without Commonwealth involvement. Mention of the plan in the memorandum of understanding does not mean unqualified approval by the Commonwealth. More particularly, the environmental impact statement and the memorandum of understanding did not address the possible world heritage status of the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests area. This Government wants to settle that question now before the values are altered forever by commercial forestry. The most telling aspects of the MOU arrangements are that, despite every effort by the Commonwealth, the Tasmanian Government has refused to respond to those parts of the MOU which provide for consultation when there are differences between the two governments.

Some speakers have referred to the important natural and cultural values of western Tasmania. I remind members that one objective of the inquiry was to report on the world heritage values of defined areas in the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests areas. There are strong concerns in the community that the Tasmanian planning process is not adequate for protection of existing world heritage areas or areas with that potential. This Government has a responsibility to establish the facts about world heritage. From these facts decisions can flow about economically and environmentally prudent and feasible planning in the forests and National Estate areas of the Lemonthyme elsewhere. It seems to me that there are two simple propositions which are basically opposed. On the one hand, the environment movement claims that there are prudent and feasible alternatives to logging in those areas where National Estate values would be diminished. The timber industry and the government say that there are not. It is not a very complex argument. The answers may be complex, but the argument is simple. We are setting up this inquiry to establish fundamentally which of those propositions is true, and we will accept the inquiry's findings. If the timber industry and the Government are proved to be right, there will be a simple answer.

I return to allegations that large numbers will lose their jobs and incomes as a result of the legislation. Many of these claims appear to assume, quite falsely, that all National Estate areas in Tasmania will be locked up, as Opposition members put it, for all time. These claims completely ignore the fact that only two areas, the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests, are affected and that the protection afforded to these areas is interim protection only for the period of the inquiry. They also ignore the fact that in drawing the boundaries of the protected areas the Government quite specifically excluded current logging areas so far as these are known. In addition, the Bill directs the Commission of Inquiry to give priority to identifying areas which are definitely not qualifying areas. The interim protection will be quickly removed from any areas which are so identified by the Commission.

Our more extreme critics allege that 30 per cent of Tasmania will be locked up. While that may be the percentage of Tasmania on the register of the National Estate, it includes the world heritage national parks and Tasmania's other national parks which no one proposes logging. It also includes other areas in which the Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments have agreed that logging can proceed without damaging the heritage values. The areas protected by the Bill are much more like 5 per cent of Tasmania and the protection is only for the duration of the inquiry.

Several members have stressed the need for compromise. The surprising thing about these statements is that Opposition members do not seem to understand that the legislation is designed to achieve compromise. The essential purpose is to examine economically and environmentally prudent and feasible alternatives to logging in areas of possible world heritage quality. Where there is any doubt about the conservation value of particular areas, the inquiry will assess these values. Curiously, Opposition members seem to interpret compromise as meaning a continuation of all current logging plans without systematically and objectively looking for alternatives which might achieve a balance between conservation and development. They seem to have missed the whole point of the legislation, that it will establish an inquiry. The legislation does not make decisions about the long term future of the Tasmanian timber industry. Our critics seem not to have bothered to read the Bill or to listen to the second reading speech. I trust that these explanations will have made clear to the House that the Bill is a sensible way of moving towards ending the longstanding and divisive conflict between conservation and timber industry interests in Tasmania.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Connolly's amendment) stand part of the question.