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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8783


Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (18:47): I take pleasure in joining this debate on the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011 and particularly in following on from the member for Calare. As the member correctly indicated, it is unreasonable of the government to seek to bring changes into law without full consultation with our domestic timber industry and also our trading partners. Like the previous speaker, I believe that more time is required to get these changes right. As the member correctly indicated, the policy position taken to the last election by the coalition was that we supported efforts to reduce the impact of illegal logging, particularly on the Australian domestic timber industry. But out of respect to our international trading partners but also—and more importantly, from my personal perspective—out of respect for the domestic industry we need to take time to get this right. As we have found with this government, the devil is always in the detail. There is no argument on this side of the House, I believe, with the principle of pursuing the noble goal of eliminating or at least reducing the impact of illegal logging, but there is concern that we still have not seen any of the details in relation to the regulations and how these will impact on our trading partners and the domestic industry.

There is a great interest in my electorate in this issue because my electorate of Gippsland is one of the few remaining communities in Australia which has survived the death of a thousand cuts imposed by state Labor governments and their partners in the Greens. I do not say that lightly and I do not say it, in any sense, as a way of trying to score political points. But the Greens' influence on the Labor Party at state level has devastated the Australian native hardwood timber industry, and the community of Gippsland, in East Gippsland in particular, has suffered more than most.

Yet, throughout almost 20 years of what I would argue have been unreasonable cuts in relation to access to the resource, the industry has managed to survive, and in small pockets it has managed to prosper. I can report quite favourably in relation to several of the operators in my electorate that I have had the recent opportunity to inspect—both with the Leader of the Nationals and also, just a couple of weeks ago, with the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the member for Braddon. I would like to report to the House that, far from the image of the timber industry that the Greens and some of the inner-city lefties in the Labor Party like to portray, and far from the image they would like to portray of it destroying massive swathes of the Australian wilderness for the sake of creating paper, the reality of the Australian timber industry is something far different. The modern timber mill, for example in my electorate—

Mr John Cobb interjecting

Mr CHESTER: and also in the member for Calare's electorate, is a mix between a processing facility and a manufacturing facility. In my electorate, there is enormous effort being put in by the timber industry to focus on adding value to this precious natural resource, and there have been major investments made over many years to secure the best possible outcome for the Australian people from the resource that we have available to us. The examples in my electorate to which I would like to draw the attention of the House are the Fenning mill in Bairnsdale, which I visited quite recently with the Leader of the Nationals, and also the Australian Sustainable Hardwoods mill at Heyfield, to which the member for Braddon accompanied me quite recently.

These timber mills now operate in a way which I think would take many people by surprise. There are members of the workforce in these mills who hardly touch a log. These are quite high-tech operations now. They have invested enormously in modern technology, to the extent that they are getting the greatest possible yield out of every piece of timber and there is very little waste whatsoever.

One of the innovative techniques which I have been privileged to inspect in my electorate was a finger joining process. It is hard to describe in words, but it involves very short pieces of timber which, in the past, would either have been chipped or thrown into the furnace as wood waste. We are talking about quite short pieces—maybe even less than 50 centimetres—being, effectively, glued together into longer pieces of wood. The end product offers all the characteristics of—in fact it is stronger than—beams made out of a single piece of wood. It is quite extraordinary to see the process. It involves a range of robotics and production line techniques which I am not doing great justice to with my words. I encourage people to go and see how these finger joined products are put together.

That is just an example of how, in a mill such as that of Australian Sustainable Hardwoods in Heyfield, the industry is getting maximum value from this precious natural resource. There are a whole range of products being taken direct to market in finished form. For things such as staircases, the modern builder can rely on a timber mill providing them with the treads and rises to the exact specifications required. It is only then a matter—much like the IKEA flat pack—of going home and putting it together. The modern builder gets it pretty easy when products such as that are coming out of timber mills. The Australian timber industry is operating differently from the way the Australian Greens and some logging protesters would have you believe they operate. They are trying to add as much value as possible to this precious resource.

That industry is operating right now in a very heavily regulated environment. There are exhaustive certification processes through which they can prove the sustainability of the resource they are harvesting. But they are often competing against imported products made from timber which is, to say the least, of dubious origin. It might come from illegal harvesting in foreign nations or it might involve a process which is not environmentally sustainable. So I do support, in principle, the efforts to tighten up the trade in illegally harvested timber. I think there would be many benefits to the domestic market. Having said that, I repeat my initial concerns and those aired by the member for Calare, that this government has failed to consult with the industry and has failed to produce the regulations or give any detail whatsoever about how this legislation will operate in the real world.

This issue of cheap imported products is only one of the challenges facing the Australian timber industry. As I mentioned earlier, the policy directions taken by state governments, influenced by the extreme views of the Greens, have been an issue. But resource security is, I think, the key issue facing the industry. I reflected just before on the amount of investment which has occurred in the Gippsland timber industry in recent years. The continuation of that level of investment will require resource security. The people who are going to invest in the future of the timber industry need to know they are going to be able to access this resource for many years to come. You cannot make business decisions based on resource allocations which might change at the whim of a government influenced by the latest protest activity of the Greens.

I think the Australian Labor Party would do well to reflect tonight on their relationship with the Australian Greens, particularly when it comes to the issue of the Australian timber industry. The workers in the timber mills throughout Australia expect more from the Australian Labor Party on resource security. I say to the Labor Party that, if you cosy up to the Australian Greens, you will never have a place in the hearts and minds of the working people of Australia, particularly those in our traditional industries—those in Australian timber mills. I call on the government to reflect for a moment at least on the legislative arrangements they have put in place at state level which have compromised the timber industry throughout Australia.

I note the arrival in the chamber of the member for Braddon. I take this opportunity to thank him for visiting Gippsland. I mentioned just before, Member for Braddon, that you had been to my region and had been to the Australian Sustainable Hardwoods mill in Heyfield. I greatly appreciated the time you put into coming to Gippsland. Your visit was appreciated by the workers and I think the mill owners in particular appreciated your enthusiasm for the activities going on there.

The mill at Heyfield now processes 150,000 cubic metres of hardwood timber per year. For those who do not follow the timber industry closely, that amount could end up being the entire annual production out of Tasmania if the current agreement goes through. That is a disturbing trend. I worry about the future of industries in Tasmania when we get ourselves in the position where one mill in Gippsland is going to produce output equivalent to that of the entire state of Tasmania.

The opposition is not being churlish in objecting to this legislation or in putting forward the amendments which will be distributed. We are not being churlish—we are concerned that the government is expecting this side of the House to take them on trust. But I am afraid the well has run dry. There is no reservoir of trust or goodwill to draw on anymore for those on this side of the House when it comes to this government. This is, after all, a government led by a Prime Minister who said before the last election that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led.

Mr John Cobb: She didn't say that, did she?

Mr CHESTER: Yes, Member for Calare, that is correct. She did say that.

Mr Kelvin Thomson: He has run out of things to say.

Mr CHESTER: I cannot believe that the government would expect this side of the House to take them on trust when they are led by a Prime Minister who was prepared to rule out a carbon tax before the last election—to say one thing before the election and do the complete opposite afterwards.

I note that the member for Melbourne, I believe, suggested I had already run out of things to say. That is an interesting comment from a man who is cosying up to the Greens and prepared to sacrifice jobs in traditional industries in communities like Gippsland but who then seeks to come in here and have a go at a member who actually represents workers in the timber industry.

Mr Sidebottom: He is the Greens member.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Order! Please continue, Member for Gippsland.

Mr CHESTER: I am sorry, I think—

Mr Sidebottom: He is confused.

Mr CHESTER: I must correct my error from my moment of confusion. It was not the member for Melbourne at all. It was the member for Wills. Is that right?

Mr John Cobb: He is just about a Green.

Mr CHESTER: The member for Wills could not make it in time to join in the debate but now criticises those who seek to fill in when the Labor Party cannot furnish a speaker for this debate. I do find it amusing that anyone on that side would criticise a member on this side for being prepared to speak on their behalf.

Debate interrupted.