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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1232

Senator COLLARD (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(6.07) —The Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill, I must say at the outset, has nothing to do with environmental considerations. It is a nonsense of a Bill, and it has been brought about by pure political considerations. There will be a lot of debate on this Bill because, even though the Bill concerns Tasmania, the principle involved concerns any State of the Commonwealth. I will deal with the Bill just on the surface. A lot of my Tasmanian colleagues will deal with it in far greater detail. I will allow them to do that.

This Bill comes about first of all because of a little bit of market research by the Australian Labor Party. It found out that there was a perception amongst young voters that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) had no credibility with the young people of Australia. It also reckoned that young people were very idealistic. So Mr Bob McMullan and Senator Richardson put their brains together and decided that conservation was an idealistic issue. It was something they could do something about. If they could get the Prime Minister hooked on conservation, it would do something for his image. So we now have a Prime Minister who is a born-again greenie.

All converts become a little overzealous. We know this. We know that people who used to have a drinking problem and who have reformed become very zealous. We even know of smokers who reform and become very overzealous. I must say that my colleague Senator Sheil is looking at me. He does not come into that category. He is not overzealous about either of those things. He enjoys both of them as well as his game of tennis. But, like all converts, we have an overzealous Prime Minister. Instead of doing his trip to Damascus he went on a pilgrimage to Kakadu with half the Press gallery to record the scales dropping from his eyes. We all know the results of that. A few pieces of legislation are still to come into this place dealing with that trip to Kakadu. A new management program was brought in, mining in what used to be known as the buffer areas was not allowed, compensation was not allowed, and all the rest of it.

While this metamorphosis was taking place, Senator Richardson was becoming more involved and went to Tasmania. He travelled a lot more comfortably than I did when I went there. I went around in one of Australia's own, in a Falcon station wagon with people from the Forestry Commission. I could be wrong, but I understand that Senator Richardson did it by helicopter when he had a look at areas--

Senator Richardson —The Forestry Commission took me in a helicopter and so did the greenies, you see.

Senator Robert Ray —We have caught up with advanced technology.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Order! Senator Collard has the floor.

Senator COLLARD —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I was rather enjoying that. It did confirm that Senator Richardson did it in a helicopter. I did it in a Falcon station wagon. I understand that the helicopter did not transport him to look at the places that really mattered and that he saw some places that would never be logged and was told that they would be logged and all the rest of it. So, of course, when our born-again greenie came back from Kakadu and the scales had dropped from his eyes, the Government had to do something else to keep up the momentum. The Government thought: `Why not clobber the Tasmanians? They are fair game'. That is what was decided. It is a great pastime. So the preservationists-not the conservationists, but the preservationists down there-will not be happy until the whole place is closed down. But they will get their due reward, as indeed the Hawke Labor Government will get its due reward, come the next election, because this will be remembered for a long time. Indeed, I venture to say that the Australian Democrats will reap their reward come the next election for the stand that they have taken on this matter.

Most of the Cabinet-especially the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin), who negotiated the memorandum of understanding-must have been horrified when this unilateral decision was taken by their chlorophyll evangelist. Conservation is a warm-hearted thing that really gets to us, that warm feeling that I think one other Labor politician--

Senator Richardson —Warm inner glow.

Senator COLLARD —That is right. He used to call it the warm inner glow. But any research points out that it does not really attract many votes at the end of the day. As a matter of fact, I think somebody once did a rating somewhere along the line and conservation, in spite of the warm inner glow, was rated at about number 33. Other things are far more important. Interestingly, the most important of those categories was unemployment. Of course, one cannot tamper with the forest industry in Tasmania without raising the spectre of unemployment, no matter what one does.

The Bill is ostensibly to create a commission of inquiry into the logging in the Lemonthyme and Southern Forest areas of Tasmania. The total area involved is approximately 250,000 hectares. As I said at the outset, the Bill has very little to do with conservation or the environment. It is all to do with getting the current Prime Minister re-elected for his record third term. It has almost become an obsession with him. As I understand it, it is not the office of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) which is handling most of the inquiries and the correspondence, but the Prime Minister's office. The Bill has a short life-only 12 months. Significantly, in 12 months' time the next election will have been and gone. We are not quite sure when are we, Senator Ryan?

Senator Ryan —We know what the result will be, though.

Senator COLLARD —We do, indeed. But the Bill has a very short life, quite significantly. In 12 months, the life of this Bill, the election will have come and gone. It is just enough so that that perception out there of our chlorophyll evangelist will be in the minds of people, particularly the young voters with whom the market research showed he had lost all credibility. If, as expected, the inquiry confirms the Tasmanian Government's decision, the status quo will remain. But then, as I said, the election will be over.

Interestingly, the memorandum of understanding was signed on 12 June 1986 by the Minister for Primary Industry, John Kerin, and the Tasmanian Government. It covered such things as logging in National Estate areas. This memorandum of understanding was abrogated without consultation with relevant Ministers by Mr Hawke as his attempt to re-establish himself on the advice of Senator Richardson and his other advisers. Already in the House of Representatives there have been amendments-before it even got to the Senate-to excise small areas in the schedules because the logs were needed to keep a small veneer mill going. I understand that the Democrats have an amendment that puts that area back in and a fair additional area besides. We will not be supporting that amendment, so, Senator Ryan, we are at one on this, if on nothing else, are we not?

Senator Ryan —Very good. There should be more of it.

Senator COLLARD —There have been nine inquiries in the last few years-some major, some not so major-into the Tasmanian forest industries. In 1972 the Tasmanian Legislative Council had an inquiry. In 1975 there was a Federal working group. In 1975 also a Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment looked into them. In 1977 Mr Justice Everett had an inquiry into private forests. In 1978 the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment issued a supplementary report. In 1981 the Senate Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce looked into the matter. There were three in 1985. First, the Tasmanian Legislative Council had a select committee look at it. Also in 1985 there was an environmental impact statement on Tasmanian Woodchip exports beyond 1988. Again in 1985 there was a supplement to the draft EIS on Tasmanian woodchips.

As I understand it, the Bill will obviously be challenged in the High Court of Australia by the Tasmanian Government. Some of the other honourable senators will obviously speak to the points regarding its questionable legality. I make two major points. First, National Estate areas are not national parks. Contrary to popular opinion, particularly down in Tasmania, National Estate areas are not national parks.

Senator Walters —Ah! Look who's come in.

Senator Aulich —It's good to see you again, Shirley.

Senator Walters —Where are your mates?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Walters, this admiration is all very good, but I notice that you appear on the list to speak shortly. Could we wait until then?

Senator Walters —You bet, Mr Acting Deputy President-and I notice that no Labor Tasmanians are on the list.

Senator Aulich —It is an unhealthy obsession you have got with me, Shirley.

Senator COLLARD —Now that we have established who is in the mutual admiration society, I will go on. National Estate areas are not national parks. We have seen a clear abuse of what is a good idea; that is, the listing of items, built or natural, on a national estate register. That concept has the imprimatur of both sides of this chamber. Both major parties-the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal and National Party coalition-have supported that. But we have got to the stage in Tasmania where it is a case of putting anything on it, because it has been quite successfully put in the minds of many Tasmanians that once something is on the National Estate, it is akin to being in a national park and the area should therefore be sacrosanct. Unfortunately, even private land, without any consultation with the owners, has been included in National Estate areas. In fairness, the Australian Heritage Commission can deal only with the facts as they are presented to it. It is in no doubt about the fact that a National Estate area is not a national park. It has also said on one occasion that the National Estate is `just a process of flagging special values and this will not stop economic activity'. Nonetheless, in the minds of many people down there, National Estate areas are akin to a national park-so successfully has this misconception been used. I think we should put that idea to rest very early in the piece.

The second major point I would like to make is that this Bill is just part of a quite long process on the part of this Government of centralising land use decisions. I have said on many occasions elsewhere-probably nowhere does it appear in Hansard, so I will say it again so it gets on the record-that neither at the time of Federation nor in any subsequent referendum have the States ceded land usage powers to the Commonwealth. So to circumvent that, this Commonwealth Government is using devious constitutional means to get around that and to start taking over what are basic land usage decisions by the States. As recently as this week we saw an announcement on foreign investment to circumvent the Queensland Government's legitimate right to make land usage decisions in north Queensland. We have seen the foreign affairs powers used, we have seen export controls used and now we are seeing heritage type legislation being used. For that reason I, as a Queenslander and shadow Minister, am taking part in this debate, and if one looks at the speakers list one will see that many senators from other States will take part in the debate, because the concept involved in this legislation has ramifications which are far wider than the ramifications for the forestry industry in Tasmania.

It is of concern to honourable senators on this side of the chamber from every State that this Government is circumventing its lack of constitutional powers by riding roughshod over States in regard to what is their clear responsibility-that is, the making of land usage decisions. If this Government wants to change that position, I suggest that it go to the people of Australia by way of a referendum and see whether Mr Burke, Mr Unsworth or Mr Cain would support it and hand over all of their land usage powers to a centralised Commonwealth government. I bet that they would not. But the Government should at least have the intestinal fortitude to try it out and stop circumventing legitimate States' rights in the way in which it is doing.

It is significant that at this point the Tasmanian Government and some Tasmanian businesses are looking at the investment of up to $1.2 billion in a wood pulp industry in Tasmania. It is the very thing that I think honourable senators on both sides of the chamber would encourage. It is an industry which would export not the basic primary product-that is, woodchips-but something which has a value-added component by way of investment in Australia and more jobs, that is, wood pulp. But who in his right mind would invest that sort of money in any industry in any State, knowing full well that a Commonwealth government could and would at any time say: `Whoa, you fellows, we will cut off your raw supplies for some time because there is an election coming up and we want to give a perception that we are concerned about the environment'. It is no wonder that Tasmanians are vitally concerned. Tasmanian senators, the Tasmanian Government and, indeed, the Tasmanian Opposition are vitally concerned about the interference by this Commonwealth Government in what are their legitimate rights.

Senator Elstob —You can't talk about the environment. Your family brought kikuyu into Queensland. They call it Collard's curse.

Senator COLLARD —Yes, and I will defend it, because that has seen us through many droughts.

Senator Elstob —It is a terrible weed.

Senator COLLARD —It might be a weed if one is a backyard gardener, but if one has stock and one can grow kikuyu, one is that much further in front of anybody else who cannot grow it.

The ultimate challenge for all of us in Australia is not preservation; it is conservation in the real terms of the word, that is, to use and at the same time preserve for future generations. Everybody has accepted that basic definition of conservation. It is not a matter of preservation; it is a matter of using and at the same time preserving for future generations. That is precisely what is happening in Tasmania. On occasions I have visited Tasmania and have looked at the forestry industry and talked to the foresters. They are real conservationists. They are providing an industry, not just for present generations, but for future generations. Government senators do not have the support of the union movement in Tasmania. They do not have the support of their own Party in Tasmania, which is one reason why Senator Aulich obviously is not taking part in this debate. He does not want to be hoist on his own petard at some future time. The challenge for us is to use our resources, but at the same time preserve them. That is the ultimate challenge. We should not lock them away so that they are of no use to anybody. I now move the same amendment to the motion for the second reading as was moved in the House of Representatives:

Leave out all words after `That', insert `the Senate declines to give this Bill a second reading, condemns the Government for seeking to delay the making of a decision on the forest industries of Tasmania, and calls on the Government to make a decision on that matter forthwith'.