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Wednesday, 15 July 1998
Page: 6097


Mr ADAMS (10:59 AM) —I was disappointed with the way the Regional Forest Agreements Bill 1998 was introduced. Just dumping it on the table at the last minute is not the way to get bipartisan agreement for what should be one of the most important agreements signed in Australia. The government should have tried to get bipartisan support on this bill. The government has failed to get this legislation through, as it promised, before the end of June. It is now rushing the bill through the House of Representatives so it can say during the election campaign that it has passed the bill through the lower house, but it is only going to serve a political purpose.

What is at issue is that Australia imports $2.5 billion worth of forest and forest products per year. The government's role is to assist, drive, motivate or even insist upon using the levers of government to have industry replace those imports with domestic product and more value added exports. Before the regional forest agreements can be properly implemented, there needs to be in place a functioning wood and paper industry strategy. Without such a strategy, we will once again be chasing capital offshore to value add our wood products in other countries.

With all this on the table, it is important that the regional forest agreement is watertight and can be used as a basis to start developing the wood and paper strategy that will lead to world best practice in the forest industry in Australia. Tasmania is in a unique position to lead the world in forestry. Much of our industry is close to best practice now. It needs some minor adjustments and some major commitments by the existing private sector so we can compete for investment to build on what we already have and we can compete on the basis that we can produce the best timber in a manner that is ecologically sustainable, well managed and capable to fit into a certifi cation scheme equal to anything in Europe or the rest of the world.

I would like to point out to Senator Newman, who had the audacity to comment on my column in the Advocate yesterday in which she strayed from the truth about Labor's record in forestry: where were you 15 years ago when the forestry industry was forced into looking at itself critically? Where were you when the workers and their representatives started to put in place the bones for the sustainable use of forests? Swanning around Canberra like you are doing now, I guess. You were nowhere to be seen helping the workers or the forest industry communities solve the problems that needed to be solved.

I was there working with the workers all the way through to make sure that Tasmania was not left out. I was on the phone to the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, insisting that Tasmania's position was put clearly and that ridiculous forest coups were not put into the forestry reserves. I did not hear a murmur from Senator Newman then.

She was wrong on another point as well. Labor members did visit the north-west coast during Tioxide's closure. But Tioxide telegraphed its closure long before it actually closed, and Labor helped fund a study to look at retraining the work force which led to the setting up of community initiatives to develop jobs. This was done in 1992. The results were put in place in 1993, and I do not remember Senator Newman being there at all. Labor then used the Working Nation program to help those people displaced into other work and to set up schemes in Burnie to develop new industries. By 1995, everything that could be done had been done.

What did the Liberals do about the paper mill closure at Burnie? They announced a few measly dollars after the mill had announced closure. They could not even send the Minister for Industry, Science and Tourism (Mr Moore). They had to send the Minister for Finance and Administration, Mr Fahey, and Senator Newman, and they could not open a paper bag between them.

As I said in my article to the people on the north-west coast—a good half of whom live in Lyons—I would be prepared to work with the Liberals to work with the workers and the company to ensure that we keep jobs in the forest industry in the state. This also includes keeping the paper mill open from October. What does it take to keep those paper making machines open? Who is finding out? It is certainly not the government, state or federal, in power at the moment. Without a strategy, the agreement is hollow and helps no-one.

We have to work with a single voice—workers, politicians, unions and the community—if this is going to work. I remember the forestry rallies in Tasmania. I marched with the Premier of the day, a Liberal, and my opposition Labor colleagues, along with state Labor and Liberal colleagues. I have a photograph on my wall to prove that. Senator Newman was not there. It happened in her city and she was not even there.

We need the industry development strategy. We want to move away from the `harvest and sell Australia' syndrome and put in place a `harvest and make in Australia' strategy. If we do not do something today, we will not have a wood and paper industry in Australia in 10 years time. There will be nothing left. Too many people have put years of their lives into this industry to throw it away now. They have come from all political complexions too.

You, on the other side, threw it away once with resource security legislation. Do not do it again just for the sake of political one-upmanship. All the players in the industry want this to happen in Tasmania. There is a basic agreement on that. We are almost there; it is almost right. It has taken years, but we have almost got there. Please, everybody forget their differences and help us develop an industry program which is in the best interests of the country and the best interests of my state. I support the amendment moved by my colleague the member for Perth (Mr Stephen Smith).