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Wednesday, 15 July 1998
Page: 6117

Mr MILES (12:42 PM) —I will be making some summary comments about the Regional Forest Agreements Bill 1998 . This is a historic day. We have now got legislation for regional forestry agreements and resource security into this parliament. I have been in this parliament for almost 14 years, and we have been arguing for the need for resource security for about 11 of those years. Today is quite a historic day in this country in regard to providing resource security to the forest industries.

There has been a balanced process. We have looked scientifically at the forests of this country. We are progressing step by step in different regional areas of Australia and signing off on regional forestry agreements. This legislation we are debating today underpins the resource security of those agreements, and is, therefore, quite historic.

Firstly, I will make some general comments, and then I will make a few comments about contributions made by the members of the House. With the introduction of this bill, the federal government has taken another positive step in establishing a stable and secure framework for forest policy in Australia. It will assist in encouraging investment and job creation and will result in flow-on benefits for rural and regional Australia. The Regional Forest Agreements Bill will provide a broad legislative context for all RFAs, with each RFA including provisions to operate in the relevant region. Three RFAs have been signed and the remainder are due by the year 2000. The government has been pursing a strategy to deliver greater long-term security for forest industries through the RFA process. The bill will provide added certainty for environmental groups, for forest and forest related industries, and for the communities which depend on them.

The government's approach is based on four key elements: the RFAs themselves, which promote balanced and secure outcomes for industry and conservationists; complementary state legislation; binding wood supply contracts with the states; and Commonwealth legislation. The legislation is the culmination of more than two years of work to restore the balance to national forest policy in Australia. The government has listened carefully to rural communities dependent on the forest industries for their livelihoods and we have acted decisively by ensuring forest policy is based on common sense.

The bill's approach has four key objectives. First, it ensures that any future decisions about the conduct of approved forestry operations within an RFA region are not subject to federal environmental legislation because these requirements were satisfied under the RFA process. Secondly, it ensures that RFAs are legally enforceable so that the Commonwealth could not unilaterally deny access to forest resources in a way contrary to an RFA and escape paying compensation. I think everybody would regard that as reasonable, fair and long overdue. Thirdly, it ensures the arrangements for terminating RFAs designed to make the states and Commonwealth work through the RFAs to resolve any future conflicts could not be made less onerous. Fourthly, it ensures the Export Control Act 1982 or other similar legislation could not be used to prevent the export of wood sourced from an RFA region. These are real hurdles for a future federal government to overcome if it wanted to water down this bill or the RFA provisions it supports. That is, it will require the approval of parliament after full debate.

In particular, fair termination and compensation provisions will be secured. The Commonwealth will seek to have included in all RFAs provisions which will ensure that a state must pursue compensation claims from industry for a Commonwealth RFA breach which adversely affects existing wood supply arrangements. To meet industry's concerns about termination by consent, the Commonwealth will negotiate with the states to include in all RFAs a requirement that termination by consent will not come into effect unless at least 12 months notice is given, during which time a public review of the operation of the RFA would be conducted. This will provide the opportunity for consultation with affected third parties.

The bill has already received industry support with the National Association of Forest Industries noting, and I quote:

The bill deserves the support of all interest groups in the forest debate and all political parties, as it addresses the key rural issues of jobs and communities as well as forest conservation and sustainable forest management.

This government is serious in its endeavours to bring about a stable and secure policy framework that encourages investment and job creation in forest industries and to provide certainty and durability for the conservation outcomes from the regional forestry agreements.

Mr Deputy Speaker Quick, I know that you are a member of this House who has taken an interest in and been strongly supportive of the forest industries. I am sure that you are interested in this legislation and the debate. I note the contribution by members of the House in this debate, some of whom have been long-time supporters of the forest industries. They have been involved in creating a balanced relationship between the environment and the forest industries. In particular, I mention the member for Corangamite (Mr McArthur), who is a long-serving member of this House. A regional forestry agreement has not yet been completed in his area. Over the past decade or more he has spent a lot of time making sure that the forest industries in this country are given a fair go—even at the height of the activities of the radical environmental movement within this country.

There are a few points I would like to pick up which have been mentioned by opposition speakers. First of all, it was implied that no work was being done on the wood and paper industry strategy. That is quite contrary to the facts. That is being implemented through the established wood and paper industry forum. That committee was set up over a year ago and, of course, the people are already operating in regard to that forum.

In regard to consultation in this area, the opposition are saying that there should be more time for consultation. We do not believe there is a need for more time for consultation on this issue at all. I think we ought to look back a little into the history of the forest industries under the previous government. From personal experience, I know that during the 13 years they were in office we had, I think, 13 inquiries into the forest industries in Tasmania. We did not even get to one regional forestry agreement. The Labor Party brought in the national forest policy statement back in 1992 and in the following four years they were in government they actually did not get—

Mr Kerr —You were supposed to be finished at 12.30.

Mr MILES —I know you do not like to hear what your abysmal record was in regard to the forest industry. The fact is that in four years not one regional forestry agreement was put in place.

The coalition government has implemented three regional forestry agreements, three or four more are very well down the track of being completed and, of course, several more will be completed by the year 2000. In other words, we are a government which actually listens, consults and takes action. The previous government had their hands tied. In 1995 this parliament was encircled by log trucks, with about 4,000 people complaining about the policies of the Labor government with regard to this issue. Of course, the other thing—

Mr Kerr —That was when you voted against the RFA legislation. Do you remember the RFA legislation?

Mr MILES —You just need to listen. I think the member for Hotham (Mr Crean) talked about downstream processing. I would like to remind all those people listening to this debate that there was a great opportunity for downstream processing in Australia—the biggest opportunity in the last 30 years.

Mr Nehl —The pulp mill.

Mr MILES —The member for Cowper reminds me of the Wesley Vale pulp mill—a $1.2 billion project. What did the Labor Party do? Senator Richardson did a deal with the Greens for purely political—

Mr Nehl —Expediency.

Mr MILES —Expediency—that is right, as the member says—and pulled the rug out from under downstream processing. That is why in Tasmania now we have a section of the Burnie pulp mill having to be closed down for commercial reasons. That is what they are saying. I think the company is pre-empting that, and I do not think that should be occurring. At the same time, the reason why that is occurring is the Labor Party's refusal to downstream process with a world scale pulp mill in 1989 in this country. We would have had downstream processing going on but, no, the Labor Party pulled out the rug for purely political expediency, and it was for that reason alone. A lot more could be said about this.

I just want to say a few things about the amendment which has been moved by the member for Perth (Mr Stephen Smith). We are opposed to the amendment. The first part of the amendment states:

"whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House:

notes that Regional Forest Agreements are intended to secure environmental, economic, social, regional community and industry development objectives for two decades;

I want to say that they are all covered in this legislation. When we look at the actual bill itself what do we find?

Mr Kerr —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Members on this side of the House have observed an agreement which limited speaking times, and we did so with the intention to permit this debate to be finished by 12.30 p.m.. The honourable member has been irrelevant to the purposes of the bill. He has omitted to point out that his own party voted against the introduction for resource security legislation in the previous parliament. He is droning on in breach of undertakings given.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Quick) —Order! There is no point of order.

Mr MILES —I know the member for Denison hates these debates because we go over the record of the previous government. On pages 2 and 3 of the bill we talk about environmental values. We talk about economic values. We talk about social values, including community needs. We talk about the principles of ecologically sustainable management. We talk about the management of used forest areas in the region or regions, and we talk about the long-term stability of forests and forest industries.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, the opposition argues in the second part of the amendment that there has not been enough time to consult or that consultation has not taken place. The government sent out invitations to 45 different stakeholders in regard to consultation. We got back 32 submissions out of the 49 stakeholders in this industry. I think that is real consultation. As I said before, this government is not about just having reviews, talking about things, talking about them again and having another talkfest; this government is about action in regard to forest industries and resource security.

Resource security has been debated for at least 12 years in this country. We now have in place a number of regional forestry agreements. This piece of legislation is now underpinning those agreements with resource security. It is long overdue. It is legislation that thousands of families in Australia want to see go through this House.

Question put:

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