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Wednesday, 15 July 1998
Page: 6109


Mr CREAN (11:58 AM) —I am supporting the amendment moved by the Labor Party. There are a couple of brief points I want to make. Firstly, this legislation should really have been introduced before now. If this government was to honour its election promise, it should have enabled a circumstance in which the Senate could also have dealt with it and passed it. We face the very real prospect of this being the last session of parliament before an election is called, yet this vital piece of legislation will have the capacity to be passed through only one chamber of the parliament, the House of Representatives.

The other point I would make on this question of timing is that we did have an opportunity for this legislation to be addressed in a bipartisan way, because both sides of the parliament are committed to ensuring resource security. Labor when it was in government set in train a process by which we called for security of resource for this important industry, but said that there needed to be an industry policy together with the resource security. What is the point in securing the resource unless you are going to value add the resource itself? What is the point in just securing the entitlement to resource, if it is to go out as woodchips rather than as finished timber or paper products? The only way in which you are going to encourage the value adding dimension is not through resource security alone, but through an industry policy attached to it.

This is the bit that this government has totally ignored. It has failed to do anything to advance the wood and paper industry strategy, which was an important component of our resolution of the resource security debate, and it has done nothing to advance a coherent industry policy in its place. The important resource agreement was signed in Tasmania as far back as November of last year but we are only rushing this legislation through for debate on the very last day of the sittings, a reconvened day, in July—some seven or eight months after the agreement was signed off in Tasmania. So it rings a bit hollow for this government to be talking about the significance of this when it has done nothing to address expeditiously the certainty that this legislation seeks to give. Given the bipartisan support that it was aware Labor would be prepared to give, it strikes us as odd that the government is only bringing it forward now.

The closure of the Burnie pulp mill underscores the lack of an industry policy by this government. Essentially it is a government that does not care about intervening with industry to ensure that they honour their obligations. It is a government that is not interested. Just as it was prepared to allow BHP to walk away from its obligations to invest in a new arc furnace, the latest technology to keep Newcastle going, it has failed to intervene to hold Amcor, the company responsible down in Burnie, to its obligation to value add the resource rather than, having secured the resource, see it go out as woodchips.

It is interesting that the member for Braddon (Mr Miles) is in the House because the Burnie pulp mill is in his electorate. How ridiculous it appears that in Tasmania, with agreement on the resource and with a guarantee of resource to the industry, we are now going to have a position in which one boat, one ship, takes out more woodchips from the state, because the pulp mill has been closed, and another vessel brings back in pulp to be converted into paper. Why can we not develop a circumstance in which that value adding capacity, that vertical integration, from chip to pulp to paper, occurs in Tasmania itself? Of course, it will only happen if you get an industry policy and this government is not committed to an industry policy.

The Prime Minister (Mr Howard) would not call up Stan Wallis, head of Amcor, to ask him to reconsider the position. This is the person he can make a phone call to about tax policy, but not about keeping the mill open in Burnie. Instead he sent in the receivers, the Minister for Social Security (Senator Newman). The Minister for Industry, Science and Tourism (Mr Moore) went to Paris and the acting minister, Minister Truss, called the workers `bludgers' as the reason for the mill closing.

The alternative is a Labor Party in office. We have already been down there to talk to the work force and the management. We have had those discussions here in Canberra with them. As well, we have met with the Amcor management. We are prepared to ensure that they honour their obligations under the resource agreement, and that is to develop together a partnership for a value added strategy. Labor in office, when it wins the next election, is prepared to immediately convene a meeting of the parties—not just Amcor, but the interested players in the pulp and paper industry—to make sure that out of a regional forest agreement we also get the important part of the equation that this government allows to go missing, that is, a commitment to an industry policy, a commitment that will provide security for the work force, not just the current work force but a strategy by which we can create more jobs for the future, by value adding the resource and not seeing it continue to go out just as woodchips.