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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1153

Senator TATE (Special Minister of State)(6.23) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

This Bill makes provision for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to examine and report on matters relating to the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests areas in Tasmania. The Lemonthyme area defined in the Bill includes part of the upper catchment of the Mersey River. The findings of the Commission will assist the Government in giving effect to Australia's international obligations under the World Heritage Convention to take appropriate measures for the identification, protection, conservation and presentation of areas of World Heritage.

The Inquiry will examine whether the two areas are or include areas which are of World Heritage value or which contribute to the value of a World Heritage area. The Inquiry will also report on whether there are other areas in Tasmania with forestry resources capable of exploitation in a way which would fulfil certain criteria. First, the manner of exploitation would need to cause no detriment to the Tasmanian forestry industry. Secondly, the exploitation of such areas would need to be an environmentally and economically prudent and feasible alternative to the exploitation of forestry resources in any areas of World Heritage value identified within the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests areas.

The Bill also provides for interim protection of the two areas during the period of the Inquiry. This protection takes the form of a prohibition, except with the consent of the Minister, of certain activities such as the cutting down of trees, construction of roads and excavation works.

Before turning to the provisions of the Bill in greater detail, I would like to deal with the two fundamental issues which lie behind this legislation. The first is this Government's commitment to the protection of the environment, and the second is the sustainable development of the resources of this country within the context of such environmental protection.

One of the most important expressions of the desire of mankind to protect the environment in which we live has found its form in the International Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage: the World Heritage Convention. This Convention was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference at its seventeenth session in Paris on 19 November 1972. The Convention came into force on 7 December 1975. It promotes co-operation among nations to protect areas and buildings which are of such universal value that their conservation is of concern to humanity generally.

Australia was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention in August 1974. Since then the number of Parties to the Convention has steadily increased. 92 countries from all parts of the world are now Parties.

Parties to the Convention commit themselves to help in the identification, protection, conservation and presentation of World Heritage properties. They recognise that the identification and safeguarding of those parts of the World Heritage which are located in their own countries is primarily their own responsibility, and agree that they will do all they can, with their own resources and with whatever international assistance they can obtain, to ensure adequate protection. They agree, amongst other things, to ``adopt a general policy which aims to give the cultural and natural heritage a function in the life of the community and to integrate the protection of the heritage into comprehensive planning programs''. Parties also undertake to ``take the appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures'' necessary for world heritage protection.

In addition to the international obligations which the Convention places on individual countries, it provides a system for identifying the world's natural and cultural heritage properties and a system of collective protection for any such properties that may be in danger. The Convention also establishes a representative list of properties having outstanding universal value as cultural and natural heritage. This list is known as the ``World Heritage List''.

The Convention is intended to ensure that, unlike most of the seven wonders of the ancient world, properties which form part of the World Heritage will be conserved in perpetuity.

There are now 247 places on the World Heritage List. They include the Pyramids of Egypt, the Grand Canyon of the United States, the Taj Mahal of India, Chartres Cathedral in France and the Sagarmatha National Park (containing Mount Everest) in Nepal. Australian properties on the World Heritage List are the Great Barrier Reef, Stage 1 of Kakadu National Park, the Willandra Lakes Region of Western New South Wales, the Lord Howe Island Group off the coast of New South Wales, the Australian East Coast Temperate and Sub-tropical Rainforest Parks (the New South Wales rainforests) and the Western Tasmania Wilderness National Parks. This latter property is one of the last remaining temperate wilderness areas in the world and one of only eight places which meet the criteria of outstanding universal value in relation to both cultural and natural criteria. Honourable Senators will appreciate the unique value of this area.

This Government has always acted responsibly in regard to its commitments under the World Heritage Convention. The Australian community increasingly looks to the Commonwealth to continue to protect Australian properties which form part of the World Heritage. In most cases, this is being achieved in close collaboration with the States and Territories.

I turn now to the series of events which have necessitated this action by the Commonwealth in relation to the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests. In late 1985 when the Government considered the environmental impact of Tasmanian woodchips exports, it was particularly concerned both with the sustainable utilisation of forestry resources and with the protection of National Estate significance and World Heritage values. With this in mind, the Government's decision allowed woodchip exports under specified conditions set out in the Memorandum of Understanding between the Commonwealth and Tasmania signed on 12 June 1986. Under that Memorandum of Understanding a consultative mechanism was established to facilitate co-operation with the industry and with the Tasmanian Government. In accordance with that mechanism, all new logging proposals in National Estate areas were to be brought forward by Tasmania for consultation with the Commonwealth.

Unfortunately, however, towards the end of last year, Tasmania allowed forestry activities to be undertaken in sensitive National Estate areas, including areas which may form part of the World Heritage. Despite requests from the Commonwealth, Tasmania continued to allow forestry operations in these areas.

The Commonwealth was most particularly concerned about logging in the Lemonthyme and the possibility of logging in the Southern Forests. These areas are immediately adjacent to the eastern boundary of the Western Tasmania Wilderness National Parks, an area which is already on the World Heritage List. It is likely that the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests may themselves be or include areas of world heritage. The Commonwealth was concerned that logging operations could therefore have a damaging effect not only on the Western Tasmanian Wilderness National Parks but possibly on World Heritage values in the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests areas themselves.

As soon as forestry operations commenced in sensitive areas in late 1986, the Commonwealth attempted to pursue with Tasmania the Memorandum of Understanding mechanisms for consultation, negotiation and the settlement of disputes. The Government suggested that no logging take place in the sensitive areas of the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests pending a review of prudent and feasible alternatives. An open and comprehensive review would be seen by the whole Australian community as a responsible course of action, and could establish circumstances in which the forestry industry could continue to operate in Tasmania with assured future supplies, but without unduly damaging important heritage values. In taking legislative action, the Government fully recognises the importance of the forestry industry and its need for long term government and public support.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the expert international body which advises the World Heritage Committee on natural environment matters, is also concerned about the situation in Tasmania.

IUCN reported recently on the World Heritage area as part of its responsibility, on behalf of the World Heritage Committee, to monitor areas on the World Heritage List. The IUCN recommended that a review of the adequacy of the boundaries of the World Heritage area be undertaken. IUCN further advised that, in its opinion, the optimum boundary should include the full range of the natural and cultural features of the South West Tasmania ecosystem. The views of IUCN strengthen the concern of the Government about forest operations near the boundaries of the area already inscribed on the World Heritage List.

In spite of repeated approaches by the Commonwealth, the Tasmanian Government has refused to agree to mechanisms for establishing a public review to resolve whether there are alternative forest resources to those in the contentious areas. The Tasmanian Government has also refused to place a moratorium on forestry operations in the contentious areas.

Given its obligations under the World Heritage Convention, the Government has been left with little alternative but to enact legislation to establish an Inquiry into the World Heritage values of the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests and into prudent and feasible alternatives to forestry operations which would adversely affect those values. The issues are complex, but there is a need to settle the debate once and for all. It would be nonsense to suggest, as the Tasmanian Government has implied, that the review would mean the end of forestry in Tasmania. It simply involves a cessation of operations in the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests in certain areas for a limited period. The Bill provides for payment of compensation for losses directly resulting from that cessation.

In establishing an Inquiry the Government is addressing the question of obtaining optimum development and benefit to the community of a valuable resource without unnecessarily degrading heritage of outstanding universal value.

I turn now to the Bill itself. There are two major aspects. First, in Part II, it establishes a Commission of Inquiry to report within twelve months. Secondly, in Part III, it provides interim protection, for the duration of the Inquiry, from damaging or potentially damaging activities in the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests areas.

The areas which form the focus of the Inquiry (that is, the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests areas) are defined in the Schedules. The Southern Forests area excludes areas already being logged or in which the Commonwealth has agreed forestry operations might proceed. An important definition is that of a ``qualifying area'', which is any area, the whole or part of which is within the Lemonthyme or Southern Forests areas and which itself forms part of the World Heritage or which contributes to the integrity or values of areas of World Heritage. Qualifying areas do not, however, include areas already inscribed on the World Heritage List. The function of identifying areas which contribute to the integrity or values of a World Heritage area is important. Activities in areas adjacent to World Heritage areas such as logging, forest fires or water pollution could have a damaging or destructive effect on those World Heritage areas which Australia has an obligation to protect and conserve. They could also have a damaging or destructive effect on the manner of presentation of those world heritage areas.

The Commission of Inquiry will be asked to report on the extent to which the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests areas are, or include, qualifying areas. The identification of such qualifying areas has not been wholly confined to the areas defined in the schedules for the reason that the boundaries of those areas may inadvertently omit small areas of world heritage.

The Inquiry will also be asked to report on the extent to which there are environmentally and economically prudent and feasible alternatives to the exploitation of forestry resources in those qualifying areas. Consideration of alternatives will include delays in resource exploitation.

In establishing the guidelines for the Inquiry, the Government has had a number of considerations in mind. There is naturally concern for the future of the timber industry in Tasmania and the Inquiry will be directed to search for alternatives that imply no diminution in the activities of that industry, taking account of recent trends and possible future developments. The Inquiry will also be asked, where appropriate, to look at the opportunities for deferring logging of the sensitive areas for as long as possible. In pursuing its task the Inquiry will always keep in mind the need for sound forestry management practices to be employed and for a sustainable yield to be achieved. If some logging in sensitive areas may be necessary to avoid detriment to the industry, the Inquiry will be asked to determine how this might be carried out with least damage to the values of the areas.

Thus the Inquiry will be able to assess forestry resources within Tasmania which might be available as an alternative to damaging areas of World Heritage.

In setting out the functions of the Commission of Inquiry, the Bill recognises the need not to cause detriment to long term forestry operations and employment of persons in Tasmania.

Provisions for conduct of the Inquiry, the powers of the Commission, offences, and administrative matters draw largely on the provisions of the Royal Commission Act.

The Bill also provides for protection of the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests areas during the period of the Inquiry. Without the consent of the Minister it will be unlawful for anyone to carry out forestry operations or other potentially damaging activities prescribed by the regulations in those areas.

There are at present some mineral exploration and small scale mining activities proceeding in the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests. Certain mineral activity will be allowed in these areas during the inquiry period in accordance with agreed Tasmanian guidelines for minerals activities in conservation areas. It could be expected that the appropriate consents for such activities, including fossicking, will be issued at the time the Act comes into effect.

Apart from these exceptions, the prohibitions will apply until 42 days after the end of the inquiry period, or in any case 42 days after the date of the notices following the final report. In the event that part or all of the areas are identified by an interim report of the commission as being `definitely not' qualifying areas, the prohibitions will cease in areas so identified on the date of the public notification of these areas following the interim report. This notification is required to be given within 14 days of the Minister receiving the interim report.

Provisions are also made for compensation to be payable to persons who refrain or are prevented from carrying out actions made unlawful by this legislation and therefore suffer direct loss or damage. In the case of persons, other than those directly engaged in actions made unlawful by the legislation, who have a good case based on losses arising from the operation of the legislation, the Government will consider compensation, as a matter of policy.

On two recent occasions, in December 1986 and January 1987, the Government has stated its determination to protect contentious National Estate areas in Tasmania which may be of World Heritage value and its intention to undertake a review of alternatives to forestry operations which might damage these areas. The Government agreed that negotiations should be pursued as far as possible with Tasmania with the objective of reaching agreement on this matter. Since little progress has been made in these negotiations, Ministers have felt compelled to introduce this legislation. However, even at this stage, the Government would be prepared to proceed in co-operation with the Tasmanian Government if it would agree to suspend logging in sensitive areas while an inquiry take place.

Mr President, the course of action proposed in this Bill is not one which the Government would have sought to employ if it had a choice. This Government's record on environmental and heritage matters has consistently been one of co-operation and consultation with the States and Territories. Indeed, the Government thought that it had established just such a mechanism with the memorandum of understanding relating to Tasmanian forestry operations. The Commonwealth would much prefer to move in co-operation with the Tasmanian Government and so will, over the next few weeks, continue to seek the Tasmanian Government's agreement to a co-operative approach. If agreement could be reached, the Commonwealth would not proceed with the legislation. As long as there seems to be no prospect of coming to an agreement with the Tasmanian Government on this matter, however, Commonwealth legislation, as a matter of last resort, is the only responsible course left open to enable Australia to give effect to its international obligations.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Senator TATE —I table a revised explanatory memorandum relating to the Bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator Kilgariff) adjourned.