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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1236

Senator RICHARDSON(6.25) —I am always fascinated to listen to anyone from Queensland, particularly a Queensland National Party member, talk about preservation and conservation. We have just heard the Leader of the National Party of Australia, Senator Collard, give a basic definition of conservation and preservation. Let us look at the basic definition of conservation and preservation of the Queensland National Party. As I remember it, even as far back as a couple of days ago it was that we should sell the Barrier Reef islands to anyone who wants to buy them. Mining Shelburne Bay is another thing that National Party members whined and whinged about earlier in the week--

Senator Elstob —Fraser Island.

Senator RICHARDSON —They wanted to mine sand on Fraser Island. There was the disgraceful rort that they tried to pull on Lindeman Island last year, when even Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen had to back off. That is what the Queensland Nationals have in store for Australia in regard to preservation and conservation. What they are about, of course, is destruction of the environment and greed-greed that allows any developer any request at any time. That is something that this Government cannot and will not allow.

Senator Walters —You said that--

Senator RICHARDSON —Let us return to the legislation that we are now debating. Senator Walters has been in need of an education for years. If she can manage for the first time in her life to keep quiet for 28 minutes, she will get 28 more minutes of education. Let me refer to the purposes of the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill. There are two purposes.

Senator Collard —We walked through it; we did not fly over the top.

Senator RICHARDSON —It seems to be a matter of fascination to Senator Collard that he travelled in a van and I travelled in a helicopter. I spent about 5 hours driving through the forests. We did have a four-wheel drive vehicle which was probably a little more comfortable than his van. Nonetheless, we spent about five hours driving through the forests, and that was after the helicopter got us closer to places which Senator Collard could only have dreamed of seeing. I have always believed in efficiency. If that means travelling in a helicopter, that is the way I will travel. Someone asked who paid for it. I did not, and I am quite happy to admit it.

The Bill establishes an inquiry into the effect of logging in the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests and determines ways of continuing the Tasmanian logging industry without detriment to the industry or to the environment. Those are the two purposes of the Bill. It would seem to me that it is pretty difficult to argue with a Bill that seeks to do two things that are as tame as those. The inquiry will examine whether the two areas are areas, or include parts, which are of world heritage value, or which contribute to the value of a world heritage area-given that, of course, on the border of those two areas are the Western Tasmania Wilderness National Parks which contain many wilderness areas that have already been listed as world heritage areas.

The Bill provides for interim protection of the two areas during the period of the inquiry, which is 12 months. I would have thought that even Senator Walters could have put up with the chainsaws not operating for a year. Protection is in the form of prohibition of certain activities, such as road building and excavation works. Why is there a need for an inquiry? Anyone who has looked at the history of what has gone on in Tasmania over the last few years would realise that anyone who tries to judge what should happen in the future must look at a welter of counter claims. One side of the argument is that logging should take place and the other side is that it should not. It is pretty hard to find one's way through the claims. It is reasonable for any government faced with making a decision of this magnitude to opt for an inquiry. That is all that has happened.

In late 1985 the Commonwealth and Tasmania began to negotiate an agreement that would allow logging to continue while protecting areas of value. Our Government found out pretty quickly that negotiating with the Tasmanian Government on anything is pretty difficult. On this matter it proved in the end to be impossible. That is why this legislation has been introduced. Let us look at the previous attempts. A memorandum of understanding was signed in June 1986. It contained provisions for consultation in the event of disagreement, and the allowance of logging in the Lemonthyme and Jackeys Marsh, subject to satisfactory environmental studies and management plans.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator RICHARDSON —Prior to the suspension of the sitting for dinner I was going over some of the history of the attempt by the Hawke Government to establish with the Groom Ministry in the Gray Government in Tasmania a memorandum of understanding under which logging operations could proceed and the environment could be protected. I mentioned that under that agreement our Government was to consult, negotiate and settle the dispute. A consulting mechanism was put in place but the Tasmanian Government refused the approaches of the Commonwealth Government, refused to establish a review of forestry areas, and refused a mora- torium on activity in the disputed areas.

When the Minister for Primary Industry, John Kerin, attempted to initiate the dispute settling mechanism and to meet the Tasmanian Minister, Mr Groom, that Minister refused to meet him. He would not discuss this matter at all. Given the Commonwealth Government's obligation under the World Heritage Convention, we were left with no alternative but to establish this inquiry. That is why this legislation is in the Senate tonight and why this debate is taking place. In establishing this inquiry the Government is addressing the question of obtaining optimum development of a valuable resource without unnecessarily degrading heritage of outstanding world value.

Let us look at the basic issues involved in this Bill. First, I mention heritage of outstanding world value. Let us examine the values of the area. We are seeking an example of the Government's commitment to protection of the environment, particularly areas of unique beauty, cultural value going back even to pre-historic times, undisturbed landscape, unique and varied vegetation. We are looking at the research value of all these ecosystems.

Let us look at the Government's international obligations. The World Heritage Convention, which Australia ratified in August 1974, came into force in December 1975. We were probably all distracted at that time and probably were not aware of that fact. Nonetheless, that is what happened. Under that Convention Australia has an obligation to take appropriate measures for the identification, protection, conservation and preservation of areas of world heritage-that is, those parts of the cultural and natural heritage of our land that have `outstanding universal value'. It is to meet these obligations, particularly the obligation to identify areas of outstanding universal value which we believe there may be in the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests area, that the Government is establishing a commission of inquiry. The Government wants to ensure that the answer to that question is right, so that we may all be satisfied as to the position. I often wonder why people are afraid of inquiries and of the answers they might throw up.

Senator Messner —Government by inquiry; is that the answer?

Senator RICHARDSON —It does not mean government by inquiry. We are not putting this off to the never-never, as did the Fraser Government on all occasions with everything important. We are saying that for 12 months we will look at something important.

Senator Messner —It will be inquiry after inquiry.

Senator RICHARDSON —Senator Messner is like so many on his side of the Parliament who would simply send in the chainsaws, rip it all up and worry about it later. Fortunately, this Government has a different approach. Let us look at developments. Many senators have stated their concerns about the economic development of Tasmania and its effects.

Senator Walters —What State do you come from?

Senator RICHARDSON —I represent the State of New South Wales in this Parliament, Senator Walters. I also represent Australia.

Senator Walters —What percentage have you got set aside? You would not even know.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bjelke-Petersen) —Order! Senator Richardson has the floor.

Senator RICHARDSON —Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President; I am pleased to hear you say that-I wonder at times. The Government is committed to sustainable development of forestry areas in Tasmania, but that must be done within the context of environmental protection. That is something Senator Walters can never understand. Naturally enough, this Government-a Labor government, a government formed out of the trade unions-is concerned with the future of the timber industry in Tasmania and of its workers. We must all acknowledge that many jobs have been lost in the Tasmanian timber industry. In fact, over the last decade thousands of jobs have been lost in that industry. None of those jobs were lost because of environmentalists, because of inquiries, because of world heritage areas or anything else. All were lost because of advances in new technology. Even during 1986 hundreds of jobs were lost because of another form of technology that was introduced.

This inquiry will be directed to search for alternatives that imply no diminution in the activities of the industry, taking into account recent trends and possible future development. There have been claims that large numbers of jobs will be lost due to the protection given the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests by the Bill. In my view those claims are fanciful, ludicrous and nonsense. They assume incorrectly, as anyone who has taken time to read the Bill will know, that all National Estate areas in Tasmania will be `locked up', to use the phrase people like to use, for all time. They ignore the fact that, in drawing the boundaries of the Southern Forests area, the Government has excluded current logging areas as far as they are known. In addition, the Bill directs the commission of inquiry to give priority to identifying areas which are definitely not qualifying areas.

One of the problems we have all had in looking at Tasmania is the claims and counterclaims from loggers and environmentalists about just how much of these areas need to be gone into, and need to be gone into now. All this inquiry does is give us time to find out and, in the interim, stop logging operations in those areas of the Southern Forests where we have real concerns. The main immediate effect obviously will be on the Lemonthyme. I find it hard to believe that there is no forest in northern Tasmania from which logs could be cut to replace the very small quantity, in terms of what is taken out of the Tasmanian forests at large, due to come from the Lemonthyme and that mills would have to close because of that. I find that extraordinary. It is, of course, a nonsense. The reality is that there are alternatives. What is happening in Tasmania is that the Gray Government, with the compliance of people like Senator Walters, is determined to bring on this matter simply as an issue, determined to rape those forests just to make sure that there is a political issue.

Let us look at what would happen if the Government required industry to switch operations from the Lemonthyme to another area, because this Bill provides for compensation. Let us look at the disruption people claim can be caused to the industry. It has been claimed that protection of the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests will prevent industry from planning ahead for future development of paper mills. One can understand that companies, such as Associated Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd and Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd, which are planning expansion of their paper making operations in Tasmania, are concerned at the uncertainty which could arise from this review of possible world heritage values in these parts of Tasmania. The Government welcomes their moves towards further processing in Australia of the products of our forests. However, I would have thought that the companies would welcome the Government's intention to not simply reduce uncertainty about what areas they can go into in future, but to remove it completely by establishing the circumstances in which the industry could continue to operate in Tasmania with assured supplies without undermining or damaging important heritage values. That is all this inquiry is about-defining areas for the future. When that is done, APPM, ANM and any other company in Tasmania with a logging or paper operation will be able to plan ahead. Far better that than the current situation, where no one knows what will happen. Continued conflict over the use of Australia's forest resources is in no one's interests. It is not in the Wilderness Society's interests, it is not in the Australian Conservation Foundation's interests and it is not in the interests of the big logging companies, either.

We are told that disruption to forestry planning is one of the big problems. Protection of the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests will disrupt not only current operational programs but also planning ahead for the next decade. I think Mr Burr raised this in the House of Representatives during an adjournment debate in February. The fact that exclusion of logging from certain areas for the period of the inquiry may disrupt the short term operational planning of forestry operations is, of course, recognised. I do not think anyone on the Government side is denying it. However, I would have thought that forestry planning of this sort would not be so inflexible that no alteration could ever be made. I would expect that forestry plans would in the normal course of events have inbuilt flexibility to cope with weather conditions. God knows, anyone who has been to Tasmania often enough knows that weather conditions can intervene.

Senator Robertson —Watch it!

Senator RICHARDSON —It is not quite the Northern Territory; it is just a little different. One knows that weather conditions can make areas that people have planned to go into inaccessible at certain times. Companies also need to be able to take account of unplanned events such as fire. The effect of fire is readily able to be seen in any large Tasmanian forest. With regard to longer term planning, which is so important in forestry management at large, with rotations of up to 100 years or more, the reduction of uncertainty which this inquiry will bring about is also important. The commission of inquiry to be set up under this legislation is aimed at reducing that uncertainty and conflict over forest resources. It will enable the forest managers and the forest industry to plan for the long term not just with more confidence, but with some confidence.

We also have to look at the effects of mining because in recent times we have been told that the protection afforded the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests by legislation will affect mining operations. There are at present some mineral explorations and small scale mining activities proceeding in the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests. These activities are not causing large scale damage and I must say, from the very many meetings I have had with environment groups in the last couple of years, that this is not an issue that they raise very often at all. Certain mining activities will be allowed in the areas during the inquiry period, in accordance with agreed Tasmanian guidelines for mining activities in conservation areas. It could be expected that the appropriate consent for such activities, including fossicking, will be issued at the time the Act comes into effect.

I mentioned earlier compensation and fair treatment for all parties, particularly where an operation is interrupted, diverted or disrupted because of this legislation. The compensation provisions of the Bill provide for reasonable compensation payable to persons who refrain or are prevented from carrying out actions which the Bill makes unlawful and who thus suffer loss or damage. It provides for the amount of compensation to be agreed upon between the parties, between the aggrieved person and the Commonwealth. Failing agreement the amount will be determined by a Federal court, so the Government has not even put itself in the position of being the final arbiter. It has bent over backwards to make certain that the compensation payments will be fair and able to be justified. Where a person not covered by the compensation provisions in the Bill considers that he or she has suffered loss or damage as a result of the legislation, the Government furthermore will consider compensation for that person as a matter of policy. So one has to say that this Government has looked at every possible angle. There is no cutting off of any possibility of compensation for anyone in Tasmania who considers himself or herself to be affected by this Bill. I now want to try to sum up what all this has brought about.

Senator Walters —I am delighted to hear you say that. You will agree with my amendment, then.

Senator RICHARDSON —If the day comes that I agree with any amendment of Senator Walters's, I just hope my colleagues can pull me into gear fast enough. However, there is enough IQ left in this addled brain to make sure that that does not happen too soon. I think it is true to say that the Government would have preferred not to have to pursue this course. During late 1985 and last year we thought we had reached a situation where disputes could be negotiated and where consultations could take place. Unfortunately, as I have outlined, the Tasmanian Government-hell bent on creating an issue and forcing the logging companies to go into those areas of great controversy in the forests of Tasmania-made certain that consultations just could not take place. As I mentioned, even Tasmania's Minister for Forests, Mr Groom, was not available to meet with our Minister for Primary Industry, John Kerin. Unfortunately, because of that attitude and the Rambo style of Premier Gray and Minister Groom, we have been forced to do what we have done today.

Earlier, Senator Collard in his speech made a number of references to me and to my position-which has I think been written about in some detail of late- in regard to the environment movement. Senator Collard said that there is evidence around that trying to placate the greenies or chase the greenie vote does not get one many votes at the end of the day. I would be prepared to concede that it is possible that he is correct. I doubt it, but it is possible. It is certainly possible that in Tasmania some traditional supporters of the Labor Party could be alarmed at the course of action we have taken. As one who has always been associated with the pragmatic whim of our Party and one who has always been associated with wanting to win government, I sincerely hope that there are not votes to be lost. Whether there are votes to be lost or whether there are not, I am certain of one thing-that is, the protection of these forests and the certainty of decision making in this area is so important that it is worth the risk. The Hawke Government has shown itself, with decisions like that relating to Shelburne Bay in recent times and its preparedness to look at what we can do about the Daintree, to be concerned enough about the environment to place itself at risk by making sure the right decisions are made. I want to associate myself with those decisions because I believe it is the right course of action for our party. There are times when principle comes first, and this is one of them.

As far as I am concerned, if there is anything I can do to ensure that the process by which 85 per cent of our natural forests have been lost to Australia since European settlement is reversed, I will be in it. I want to make certain that future generations can look at trees and walk through forests. There are far too many people prepared to throw that possibility away. For the sake of my family I am proud of this Bill and I hope that the inquiry goes a long way towards resolving the problems in Tasmania.