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Wednesday, 28 March 2001
Page: 25969

Mr TUCKEY (Minister for Forestry and Conservation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister) (12:09 PM) —in reply—In summing up this debate, might I first thank all of the speakers for their commitment to and support of the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Amendment Bill 2001, which should never have had to come to this House. When the Labor Party first decided that there would be a Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation, they should have made sure that it had exactly the same arrangements as other primary industries— and that, of course, is dollar for dollar government contribution towards research. Let me say that it took this government to take that initiative and, in fact, to have two industry meetings to make sure that, in progressing the FWPRDC, we did so in a manner that was acceptable to industry. One of the arrangements arising from those meetings is that some of the small log processors and preservers and people like that will now pay a lower levy more compatible with their activities within the industry.

The other factor, of course, is that this is a case of the Howard government putting its money where its mouth is. The member for Reid, the spokesman on forestry for the opposition, says that he wants to be checking the next budget to see what additional commitments we might make. He does not have to; he just has to read what it is about at the moment. He might have taken a note of the 2000 selection round of successful applications by the research sector for what is known as cooperative research centres, where real big bucks are expended by this government in one of the better ways that has ever been devised to promote the knowledge nation and research and development within our nation: that is, by forming a cooperative research centre between industry, academia and the government. In the last rounds of announcements, as I recollect there were 19 very substantial grants made and two of them have gone to the forest products industry for very proactive and very forward thinking projects. The first is a CRC for functional communication surfaces, which might sound a bit frightening—one might think it is a computer or involves the Internet. No, it is recognising that paper is still the major form of communication in human society, and nobody should know that better than the member for McMillan.

Mr Zahra —Hear, hear!

Mr TUCKEY —Yes, you know it, but you do not support it. We will come to that in due course. We are not talking about public meetings. We are talking about what you do in this parliament, and when the RFA legislation came on you ducked out of the place. You left the parliament.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—The minister will address his remarks to the chair.

Mr TUCKEY —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Zahra —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order! it is well known that I was assisting the Swifts Creek community in East Gippsland at the time of the RFA bill and dealing with a timber mill closure.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —There is no point of order. The minister has the call.

Mr TUCKEY —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The thing is that an issue outside his electorate was more important than an issue that above all else related to the pulp and paper industry. But what I am talking about here is in fact a $14 million grant of government moneys, over seven years, $2 million a year, to assist the key participants in Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT to get ahead with getting Australia to the top market—the highest value paper products. This is it: the research program will deliver well over $300 million per annum of ongoing benefits to the Australian economy by the development of novel products in the area of high value print media, printed packaging and paper products, security printing and banknote printing; advance writable and rewritable substrates for the communication printing, packaging and supply chain industries; new processes and materials for evolving coating and printing technologies; and postgraduate engineers and scientists for the paper, packaging, surface, information and printing industries. That, again, is putting your money where your mouth is. We do not want to make pie bags—we will make them—but we want to take Australia to the top of the paper industry. And the member for Reid asked what my action is doing!

And then there is the second grant to the CRC for Innovative Wood Manufacturing. Who were the participants? Victoria appears again. I wonder if the member for McMillan knows that these things have even happened. When he had his public meeting, I wonder whether he told people about these initiatives. Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania will receive $16 million over seven years. What is it for? The program focuses on the fundamental properties of microwave energy and its influence on wood modification—a new approach to drying that has been borrowed, I might add, from the Russians, who found they needed a way to unfreeze their trees before they could saw them up. Here we could have a continuous chain of wood drying. I have seen the project in Victoria. I wonder if the member for McMillan has visited it.

This program also focuses on the relief of growth stresses in logs and sawn timber. Of course, the member for McMillan just gave us a little lecture on resource—and I want to come back to that. One of the challenges for industry is using smaller logs. If you try to saw a log on just one side when it is relatively immature, it will bend like Robin Hood's bow. So you have to have the technology and knowledge to overcome that problem if you are going to access that sort of resource which, typically, now goes to woodchips. And here we are, funding scientific research in that particular area.

The program also looks at surface engineering of machine wood for enhancing adhesion and long-term retention of and bondability for surface coatings. One of the huge problems for our hardwood sector is finding appropriate glues. Maybe that problem will be solved with the way in which we deal with the wood surface—and here it is, listed. There is also the design and manufacture of high value furniture and wood products from microwave modified wood. We know we can actually expand this wood, soak it in fibreglass type resins and produce a piece of wood that is stronger than steel. And, lastly, this program will focus on the design durability of wooden components. The only reason the member for Reid said he would be looking at what we might be doing next is that he did not know what we were doing.

The action agenda is very much alive and well and is making progress on all of the significant factors. Why is that? The member for McMillan might be interested to know that the representative of the trade union movement who is on that particular wood products council demanded of me, and with my absolute support, that it not be another body of industry representatives—the lobbyists. He said, `Wilson, you've got to have the top quality CEOs from the businesses involved.' I said, `You're right, Trevor.' They are the people who are there. The first they said to me was, `We don't want you to put money in the budget. We want you first to smooth the road as a government. We want you to guarantee resource.'

The member for McMillan said that resource is important. The RFAs provide resource but RFAs, as we have discovered, are not worth the woodchips they are printed on until governments have the courage to legislate to guarantee the signature of the Prime Minister or the Premier. Where has that happened? It has happened in Tasmania. The member for McMillan, having previously abandoned the bipartisan approach, now thinks that it might not be a bad idea—but I will come back to that. In Tasmania there is a bipartisan approach and that is why, amongst other things, they receive such large moneys from the Commonwealth: because they stuck to their guns. They did not run off and hide. They went and stood together, Labor and Liberal, and fought for a fair deal for Tasmania's forest products industry, because they believe in people's right to employment. On the day that the federal parliament passes the RFA legislation there will be a discipline on future governments of whatever political persuasion to keep the promises so made, because compensation will have to be paid.

We have just been told the background to Labor's walking away from their own 1992 national forest policy statement, which guaranteed that the Commonwealth would implement RFA legislation. They walked away from it because there was a political opportunity in Western Australia. How was the Western Australian RFA put together? It was put together according to Labor's national forest policy statement. It was a statement that was confirmed by the then Premier of Western Australia. There, clearly on the front page, is her signature—none other than the member for Fremantle, Carmen Lawrence. She has probably forgotten it, but the fact is that she confirmed that that is the way Western Australia and the Commonwealth should go ahead.

That process was followed implicitly. And what did it deliver? It delivered an above-required forest reserve system—it delivered, for instance, 300,000 cubic metres of jarrah sawlogs a year and 170,000 cubic metres of karri sawlogs a year from the remaining forest—that was designated to meet the social impact and the economic impact criteria, which are the two other legs of Labor's national forest policy statement.

What else did they do? As a government we did not just accept those quantities, as described in this case by CALM, the DNRE of Western Australia. We put two of the best academics in Australia to work on this issue. More importantly, we used a Victorian person and an ACT person. Why did we do that? We did it because they are academics in the two leading schools of forestry in Australia—undisputed. The member for McMillan says, `We are going to have a wonderful committee now in Victoria to look at resource.' So they ignore the University of Melbourne and go off to the Southern Cross University—if you drove through its campus and blinked, you would not see it. Why has Minister Garbutt gone and got a professor from Lismore, or wherever it is, when living within Melbourne is the very best school of forestry in Australia? The message is that the Victorian government does not stand behind its own academic institutions.

Mr Zahra —Rubbish!

Mr TUCKEY —He says, `Rubbish!' Why didn't you take on Ferguson, the recognised professor at that particular university? I will tell you why. It was because you knew what he would say. At our request and at the request of the Wombat Forest Protection Society, along with Dr Turner, he has already done an assessment in one area where we did not trust the then Kennett government. And you tell me not to fight with state governments. Marie Teehan went to the press and told me to butt out. That is my position—I have never ever put party politics into the forest debate. That has been your job, and you have done it.

Mr Zahra —That is absolute nonsense.

Mr TUCKEY —Well, of course. So all of a sudden you can support the RFA bill when Geoff Gallop has won government in Western Australia—on a policy of what? I want to get back to those quantities. How were those quantities confirmed? We got Professor Ferguson. We believe in the Melbourne University. Apparently, the state government of Victoria does not. We got Dr Turner. Then, to guarantee to the people of Western Australia that it was fair and above board with a couple of eastern staters on it, we invited the Environmental Protection Agency of WA to nominate a third party. And they did. It was a person called Noel Fitzpatrick.

There is a piece of paper that says that those three people confirmed those wood quantities were sustainable; the resource was there to guarantee jobs for everyone. Why have we had a collapse in resource? Firstly, my colleague Richard Court lost his nerve and removed from the resource base a large area of land. Then Gallop has come along—the absolute rent seeker—and decided to take away all of the jarrah resource, the land where it has to be found. What is he going to achieve from that? He has contracts to meet, just as the Victorian government has, for another six years, notwithstanding all the hoo-ha of the member for McMillan calling a public meeting to scare the hell out of everyone six years before it can happen.

The reality is that the Western Australian government has got contracts to meet. It does not want to put up any money to buy people out of those contracts, so what is it going to do? It is going into regrowth area preserved for the future of the industry and is taking out three trees instead of one to meet those contracts. That is what it is going to do. At the end of that, goodness knows what will happen, but predictably the industry will collapse for lack of resources.

The member for Reid wants me to say all the wonderful things we are going to invest in when we still do not know whether Labor will back legislation in the House. We will give them the chance, but we expect them to vote for it as it is, because it is a simple process of saying that the parliament in Canberra will back its promises to the forest industry with money. That is all it says. It does not say anything else. Tasmanian senators have stood up in the Senate and supported an amendment that says, `We, the senators of Tasmania, are not to be trusted, and all deals done between the Tasmanian parliament and the Commonwealth government should be vetted by senators of all other states, because we're not to be trusted on our own.'

What an amazing situation! That is what it is all about. It was a device so that the member for McMillan could have a public meeting, put his hand over his heart and say, `We're still for the RFA, we're still for our NFPS policy, but we just have a couple of modifications.' Those modifications would have guaranteed that not one RFA would have ever been concluded because the Senate was never going to agree to them. They are the issues that need to be considered when these people stand up and suddenly offer the olive branch. Bipartisanship started in 1992, unlike what is said by the opportunists that now occupy the opposition benches. You would remember, sir, that when Prime Minister Keating came up with the NFPS we supported it. Every state Premier, from the various political parties, has their signature there, including the current member for Fremantle. The only party throughout Australia that has stuck with it, at this point, is us—the federal coalition. And the honourable member opposite says, `Don't fight with state governments.' I fight with them on behalf of the people who live in his electorate. I do not have any sawmills in my electorate, but I stand by them when the member for McMillan goes scurrying away on the day.

The Swift Creek sawmill had been closed down for months, if not years. The federal parliament has had listed on the Notice Paper for a long period of time that there be a vote on the RFA legislation—and the member for McMillan chooses that day to duck out of town. He then decided that he needed a bit of publicity, so he swapped seats with a lady and said, `I'll sit in Melbourne for a week.' I congratulate him because he got publicity for it. He sent this lady to his electorate to talk to the workers. I bet she did not tell them she voted against the RFA legislation. That is in black and white in the Hansard record.

These people talk about looking after workers. You cannot saw wood if you have got no wood. You cannot value add wood if you have got no wood. That is what our commitment is. I am waiting for Sherryl Garbutt to agree that we can pay that $2 million plus to various sawmills, loggers and others. Do you know why she does not want to pay it out? There are two reasons: the first reason is that the people who are going to get the money are not part of a unionised workplace and the second reason is that she wants the money for exit money. She has told me that—in other words, buying people out of their jobs. What are you going to do? Are you going to give a three-fingered sawmiller a job in a restaurant, serving at tables? They want jobs in the timber industry. There is sufficient resource there. When Sherryl Garbutt's committee has finished its deliberations, if it tells her there is not enough wood in the areas in which her government said there was enough wood, it is her job to find some more wood. There is plenty of it there; that is my message. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.

Main Committee adjourned at 12.30 p.m.