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Wednesday, 15 July 1998
Page: 6107


Mr PROSSER (11:51 AM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Regional Forest Agreements Bill 1998 . The national forest policy statement, endorsed by Commonwealth, state and territory governments, sets broad goals for the management of Australia's native forests. It provides the framework for resolution of conservation, forest industry and community expectations for Australia's forests. The blueprint for these goals is the result of comprehensive regional assessments of the environmental, economic and social values of Australia's forests. These regional forest agreements, which have yet to be finalised in my state, are the product of these assessments by state, territory and Commonwealth governments. The Western Australian regional forest agreement covers much of my own electorate in the state's south-west and Great Southern. These forests are unique and deserve the legislative protection that the Regional Forest Agreements Bill 1998 will provide.

The south-west forests are home to a diverse range of flora and fauna. Over 240 species of mammals, reptiles, birds, frogs and fish live in the region's jarrah forests, while 230 different species inhabit the karri forest. Many animals that are now extinct or under threat in other parts of the country, like the numbat and the ringtail wallaby, still survive in these forests.Equally important to the forests of the south-west is the continued viability of forestry industries on which the livelihood of many members of my electorate depend. These industries range from timber production, including furniture, outdoor furniture and joinery, to bee-keeping, seed collection and tourism.

These forests are a major tourist attraction to the region, attracting an estimated 2.4 million visitor trips between 1995 and 1996. The total expenditure from tourists visiting the south-west in that period was estimated to be some $250 million a year, and $70 million a year from day trippers alone. Also important to the south-west are the hardwood and softwood industries, which directly or indirectly employ more than 20,000 people and have an annual turnover estimated at some $850 million a year. Given the importance of these forests to the lives of so many people in the south-west, it is essential that the process of determining the Western Australian regional forest agreement be comprehensive. For that reason, the state and Commonwealth governments have ensured that all stakeholders have the opportunity to contribute to the regional forest agreement process. This has included a stakeholder reference group, public open days in towns throughout the south-west and Great Southern and the release of a public consultation paper.

Some members of the community have criticised aspects of the WA regional forest agreement consultation process, voicing their concern that there has been insufficient time to consider the public consultation paper. The government has listened to that criticism, and both Commonwealth and state ministers recently announced their decision to extend the date for the WA regional forest agreement submissions up until the end of July.

Regional forest agreements are designed to provide a blueprint for the future management of our forests and the basis for an internationally competitive and ecologically sustainable forest products industry. As industry and environmental groups are concerned that future governments may walk away from such agreements, this bill provides the legislative backing to ensure that all groups have confidence in the long-term future of Australia's forests. State, territory and Commonwealth governments have undertaken a comprehensive assessment of the values of our forests to ensure the final outcome is based on the best scientific advice available, rather than emotional argument. The process for assessing this scientific advice has covered areas such as biodiversity, old growth, wilderness, National Estate and the full range of economic, social and cultural values in the south-west and Great Southern areas in my electorate.

During the assessment process, data on these matters has been extensively reviewed and verified by a range of scientists and experts. When the WA regional forest agreement is finally announced, this bill will ensure that both industry and environmental groups are confident that the forests of the south-west and Great Southern will be protected by Commonwealth legislation. This will ensure that the Commonwealth will not be able to agree to watering down any termination or compensation provisions of the regional forest agreement without future legislative amendment.

The Regional Forest Agreements Bill 1998 provides certainty for the future of Australia's forests. That certainty is essential for future investment, enabling the forest industry to plan for the future, while at the same time ensuring the protection of the unique environmental and heritage values of our forest estate. The government has provided some $17 million this financial year to finalise the outstanding scientific assessments or regional forest agreements in the south-west of Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and the south-east of Queensland. It is worth noting that the government spent approximately $31 million last year and $33 million in the 1996-97 financial year finalising the scientific assessment of regional forest agreements throughout Australia.

When the WA regional forest agreement is finally announced, this bill will ensure that both industry and environmental groups are confident that the forests of the south-west and Great Southern will be protected by Commonwealth legislation. As I mentioned, this will ensure that the Commonwealth will not be able to agree to water down any termination or compensation provisions of agreement set out.The Regional Forest Agreements Bill 1998 provides certainty for the future of my state's forests. This certainty is essential for future investment, enabling the forest industry to plan for the future, protecting jobs and giving certainty in that area, while at the same time ensuring the protection of the unique environmental and heritage values of our forest estate.