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Tuesday, 9 February 1999
Page: 2261


Mr O'CONNOR (10:47 PM) —The lack of political maturity of this government was amply demonstrated by the government's action earlier on in gagging the debate on the Regional Forest Agreements Bill 1998 . There were two members who were disadvantaged by the gagging of this debate: the member for Paterson, who has had a longstanding interest in the New South Wales timber industry; and me, who has some portfolio responsibility in this area. The puerile excuse given was that there were some quorums that were called in the course of the day. That was the reason for the government to gag this very important debate.

The RFA Bill that we debated in this House today is a very important piece of legislation—to the workers and business persons who derive their livelihood from the forest products industry; to regional communities that are sustained by economic activity generated by this industry; for the environment movement, which has a legitimate interest in protecting conservation values in our great forests; and for the nation, which derives over a billion dollars in valuable export income from this industry.

No-one in this parliament pretends that legislating in this area is an easy task. I entered the parliament in 1993 and I remember very well the enormous efforts that were put in by Labor ministers at the time to develop a policy framework that would provide policy certainty to an industry that previously did not have it, that would create a process where interested parties with differing aspirations and objectives had some chance of reaching agreement, that would provide security of employment to workers in the industry and, above all, that would provide the development of an industry strategy that would stimulate value adding investment in the forest products industry and create more jobs. The outcome of that process, the National Forest Policy Statement, set the blueprint for reconciling conflicting interests and developing the industry further.

The opposition has in this debate set out amendments and we have put those amendments on the floor of the House. We have set out the markers. These markers were put in by Labor ministers when the RFA process was originally negotiated with stakeholders. They are markers that have been restated by Labor shadow ministers. They are markers that we restate now to ensure that our original objectives are met and that the integrity of the process is maintained.

Firstly, the RFA process must be able to stand up to scientific scrutiny. Without this, there can be no community confidence in the integrity of the process. Secondly, there must be an adequate provision for this parliament to review the adequacy of any future RFA. Not to provide this would be a betrayal of our commitment to achieve balance between competing interests and the objectives we set in the early 1990s for policy in this area. Thirdly, there can be no bipartisan agreement on this legislation where there is no demonstrable commitment by the government to the full implementation of the National Forest Policy Statement and the Wood and Paper Industry Strategy. There can be no agreement on this legislation until the government is prepared to implement a meaningful industry strategy for this particular industry. (Quorum formed)