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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 996


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (15:27): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Employment (Senator Abetz) to a question without notice asked by Senator Milne today relating to the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement.

We heard some weasel words a little while ago, and I still do not have a straight answer to the question I asked: Has the Abbott government made a formal decision to repudiate the Tasmanian intergovernmental agreement, and have you made a decision to repudiate the boundaries of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area? What I got from Senator Abetz was a shouting match about the policy that went to the election. Part of that policy was to seek to repudiate the World Heritage area and a statement, 'We have a duty to represent the truth to the World Heritage Commission'—and it is 'committee' not 'commission'—'and we intend to do so.' That is not an answer to the question, 'Has the Abbott government decided to repudiate the intergovernmental agreement and has the Abbott government decided to repudiate the boundaries?' What we now have is a fair amount of game-playing going on with the government in relation to that Tasmanian intergovernmental agreement, and I can tell you that people in Tasmania are not going to appreciate the mess that they are now being left with, because there is no clarity. I am interested that when I asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment it was Senator Abetz who chose to answer for the government, suggesting to me: is it the Prime Minister running the policy on this or is it Senator Abetz? That is the answer people want to know, because we have an intergovernmental agreement signed by the federal government and the Tasmanian government. Money was meant to be set aside to be delivered. We have now had $7.2 million delivered, as was required, but there is no commitment as yet to further funding or to upholding the intergovernmental agreement, and Senator Abetz has said that he, or somebody, is going to inform the World Heritage Committee of what the Liberal Party policy is. That is not an answer to the question of whether or not it stands.

This is where Prime Minister Abbott now has to come out and make a very clear statement, because in Tasmania people assume that the money being allocated for the intergovernmental agreement for this year signals that the agreement stands. People will also be making an assumption that the acknowledgement that that stands means that the World Heritage area, with the minor boundary modification passed this year at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Cambodia, also stands. What is at risk here is Tasmania's global reputation, because all that will happen if you fiddle with the boundaries and try to tear them down is that the World Heritage Committee will declare the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area to be World Heritage in danger. That will destroy jobs in the tourism industry and undermine Tasmania's brand as clean, green and clever. It would threaten the jobs of the very people who Prime Minister Abbott and Senator Abetz would say they want to help, because the forest industry in Tasmania is saying, 'Don't tear down the World Heritage area,' because they know as well as anyone that what will happen as a result of that is that the chances of ever getting jobs in the forest industry and markets overseas would be torn asunder and Tasmania would be driven back into the forest wars that went on for a long time to the detriment of the state.

It is in nobody's best interests for Senator Eric Abetz's views to be put forward as the views of the Abbott government, but that is what is going to happen as of today unless Prime Minister Abbott comes out and makes clear what the situation is. So I put it very strongly to the Prime Minister: Prime Minister Abbott, do you support the World Heritage boundaries as they were agreed at the meeting in Cambodia this year—yes or no? Are we going to stop this nonsense of Senator Abetz suggesting that he is going to write and suggest that they be torn down? Secondly, are we going to see the intergovernmental agreement and the money honoured, or is this a one-off payment for this year that is then over? They are the questions that Tasmanians now deserve an answer to, because there is going to be gross confusion now as to where the Abbott government stands on this. Putting Tasmania at risk with a 'World Heritage in danger' listing threatens jobs in a state where we are already struggling and we need to make sure we create many more jobs. That can be done if we secure the World Heritage area and the money for the management of the reserves. That is what was agreed, and that is what must be delivered by the federal government. No-one is going to rest easy until the Prime Minister says whether it is he or Senator Eric Abetz who is running this. Is the future at hand here, or is it just a belligerent policy based on bad behaviour such as we have seen from Senator Abetz in the past? (Time expired)

Question agreed to.