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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1243

Senator NEWMAN(8.47) — Tonight I am very glad to speak on the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill and to follow my colleague Senator Walters, who has just given us an excellent coverage of the problems that Tasmanians are facing.

Senator Watson —I am sad that it is necessary.

Senator NEWMAN —It is sad that it is necessary, as Senator Watson said, but it is very important that we move this battle to Canberra to tell the people of Australia just what a senseless, brutal, thoughtless, careless Government we have in this country. Gradually the scales are falling from people's eyes. I hope that the Tasmanian logging Bill will be one of the things that makes people finally awake to what sort of a hypocritical government we have sitting in Canberra on the treasury bench. Thank God Government members will not be sitting there much longer.

It is very fashionable when Tasmanians speak in this place for people to make aspersions about States rights and cant like that. However, I draw honourable senators' attention to the fact that much more is involved in this legislation than just a State's rights; it is the rights of the people in the State. It is the rights of Tasmanian people to choose the way in which they will manage their environment. As Senator Walters has just said, let the people throughout Australia beware. It is Tasmania today. Which State will it be tomorrow?

We have been told by the Australian Labor Party member for Maribyrnong, Mr Griffiths, who spoke in the debate in the other place, that Tasmanians are surrounded by some of the best, the most beautiful country and the most important treasures in the world but he went on to say that to a very large extent Tasmanians are almost oblivious to it because it is there with them but that people coming from around the world and other parts of Australia have a very different feeling. I have to say that that is typical of the patronising attitude of this Government towards my State and my constituents. No mention is made that with Tasmania's co-operation a large proportion of Tasmania's land is preserved in national parks and other reserves and will never be touched. Twenty-eight per cent of Tasmania's land area has been set aside from any development and 12.6 per cent, as Senator Walters said, of the State's forests are formally reserved in crown land reserves. The world heritage listed western Tasmanian wilderness parks contained 83 per cent of the wilderness in the State. No one could claim that we are exploiting our wilderness resource and look himself in the mirror.

Senator Coates —That is because they have lost so much already.

Senator NEWMAN —I am very glad to hear Senator Coates interjecting because it is very clear to all Tasmanians that he will not support them in this exercise. He is bound by Caucus even if he wishes to do otherwise, which I know he does not. This is a purely political exercise and Bob Hawke is in for a disappointment. Australians are looking for more from their Government than the preservation of Tasmania's forests; they are looking for economic recovery and jobs. I would have hoped that at least Tasmanian senators would realise that this is so critical in our State.

Let us look at the history of this issue. There have been a total of nine inquiries since 1972, most of which have been initiated by the Commonwealth Government. In addition there has been an environmental impact statement that was carried out in 1985, at a cost of over $1.3m, to assess the impact of forestry activities in Tasmania. It found that there were no alternatives that were prudently feasible on environmental or economic grounds.

Senator Coates —Who prepared that?

Senator NEWMAN —I am very glad that Senator Coates asked that. I am glad that he is wanting to learn. Perhaps we will see whether he can learn. There was input from wilderness societies, industry, both governments and the community. Everybody participated. Then on 16 December 1985 the decision not to accept the recommendation of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) to ban logging in National Estate areas was made by the Federal Government. That led to the memorandum of understanding being signed on 12 June 1986.

Senator Puplick —It is no wonder they preferred Michael Tate when they had the choice.

Senator NEWMAN —I thank the honourable senator. That memorandum of understanding advocated the wise use of an important forest resource on a sustainable basis to balance the proper needs of the community in regard to wood production, protection and recreational demands. It reflected the balanced attitude which is the only reasonable way we can approach this issue.

The Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, said in his Press release when the Government made the decision to renew export licences that the decision balances the Commonwealth's commitment to the environment and the need to protect jobs. Tasmania, the Forestry Commission and the forest industry generally heaved a collective sigh of relief. Uncertainty as to the future of the forests appeared to be lifted. Industry could go ahead and it could plan and invest on the basis of an agreed position with the Commonwealth. Then we come to the unilateral decision by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) to halt logging operations at Jackeys Marsh, which was conveyed in a letter to the Tasmanian Premier on 5 November 1986. That decision was unilateral. It was made without consultation with the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, or his Department. It was blatantly in breach of the memorandum of understanding. This has been admitted by all concerned, even the Prime Minister.

The Tasmanian forestry industry has complied in every respect with the terms of the memorandum. It is the Federal Government which has broken the agreement. Co-operation does not mean bowing to the demands of a government which is struggling for votes in Sydney and Melbourne. It does not mean backing away from the agreement that has been reached. Logging was banned in the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests in late 1986, supposedly in response to the logging of so-called sensitive National Estate areas in the Lemonthyme and the possibility of logging in the Southern Forests without consultation with the Commonwealth. But the Federal Government had already approved logging in the Lemonthyme. Minister Kerin's Press release on the announcement of new licensing controls in December 1985 said that forest operations would be allowed in National Estate areas only when adequate management plans reflecting National Estate values could be implemented.

The management plan for the Lemonthyme was prepared very carefully with full public consultation and with proper provision for visual, landscape, botanical and archaeological values. It includes a visual management plan to reduce the visual impact of the operations. A person trained in landscape architecture was engaged to help prepare the plan. The plan was accepted by the Federal Government. The short lived 1986 memorandum of understanding says in its appendix that forest operations in the Lemonthyme will be in accordance with the management plan for the Lemonthyme State Forest of 1983. Honourable senators will be interested to recall that on 18 February 1986 Senator Walsh said:

The Government does not propose to limit logging in the area beyond those limits already proposed in the Tasmanian Forestry Commission's 1983 management plan.

It looks as though Senator Walsh has been persuaded to change his public stance.

Now, for the purposes of an election, the Hawke Government has welshed on that deal. We simply cannot have exploration and development locked out of vast areas of our State. The exclusion of national parks and the attention given to environmental safeguards means exploration has to be carried out over as much of our country as possible. We have to locate resources and assess their potential for future development. In the present economic and employment climate, we cannot afford the luxury of locking up vast tracts of our country in case they warrant conservation.

Let us look at the reasons that the Federal Government has given for the action it has taken. It says there are two main concerns: World heritage values and the views from the national park. In the Minister's second reading speech, he said:

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.

I believe the Government line is deceitful. It is talking about world heritage values but the areas are on the National Estate list, not on the World Heritage Listing. Do not let there be any mistake; the Lemonthyme State Forest is not wilderness. There is a road which gives access to a working mine and logging has taken place for some years. But neither is the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park wilderness. There we have walkers' huts with coal stoves, pit toilets and a duck boarded track. Some 3,500 people walk that track annually.

Any argument that the Lemonthyme is a buffer zone for the world heritage area-that is the park-is false. In nominating an area for world heritage listing the nominating party is required to include a buffer zone within the boundaries. In confirming the western Tasmanian wilderness parks listing the Commonwealth concluded: `The area nominated is large enough to survive as a wilderness', and `the region . . . is of sufficient size for natural processes to continue'. In the Minister's second reading speech, he said that the views of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources-the IUCN-strengthen the concern of the Government about forest operations near the boundaries of the area already inscribed on the World Heritage List. Clearly, the advice given by Mr Thorsell of the IUCN on this matter is based on his personal opinion, formed during his visit to the area which was for less than a day.

Senator Watson —Who is he?

Senator NEWMAN —He is supposed to be very important to the Government's case. We know about him. In a telephone conversation with an Australian Heritage Commission officer when his visit was being arranged in January this year, he said that the IUCN guidelines to assess scenic value are difficult to implement and that usually visual assessments are made subjectively by the person doing the assessment making his own comparison with other world heritage areas. Yet one of the principal objections of the Heritage Commission to the use of the visual management system contained in the management plan for the Lemonthyme was that the sensitivity level is based on subjective criteria. That is betting two bob each way. Obviously, it is okay for the IUCN to use subjective criteria but it is not okay for the Tasmanian Forestry Commission.

The argument is based around the question of the view from the national park. A great deal of care has been taken with the Lemonthyme management plan to minimise the visual impact, something which was apparently acceptable to the Government when the plan was accepted. Forest operations are being carried out in small divided coupes positioned so as to minimise visibility from the park. Only 40 per cent of the Lemonthyme State Forest is planned for logging. The total area is only approximately 55 hectares. The notion that we cannot allow commercial activity within the view of national parks is absurd. Would that mean that all commercial operations, including farming, would be under threat? The closest lookout point in the park is on Pine Forest Moor, and it is seven kilometres away from the forestry operations. Because this is a major lookout, particular care has been taken with the plans. Under one per cent of the view will be affected in any one year of operation. Most of the peaks in the World Heritage area are out of sight of the planned logging. Only about 2 per cent of the overland track will be in view of the logging, and then only for several years out of 85 years-if people know what they are looking for and are determined to be affronted.

Senator Townley —You would need to have binoculars.

Senator NEWMAN —One would need to have very powerful binoculars. I thank the honour- able senator. In the case of the Southern Forests a large buffer zone has been left and logging will take place in the valleys out of sight of the park itself. The closest logging operation to the park boundary at Farmhouse Creek will be six kilometres away. Associated Associated Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd has told me that it believes the Australian Heritage Commission is refusing to budge from the position that any activity in the Lemonthyme will degrade the view. There is no acceptance of the fact that logging can be done without such degradation. I think that is probably the only leg that the Government feels it can safely stand on. Over the last 2 1/2 months I have been conducting guerrilla warfare with the Government in trying to get documents under the so-called Freedom of Information Act. I have made applications to the Department of Primary Industry, to the Australian Heritage Commission and to the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment. I have finally been given some documents without fee, although I had to have the fee reimbursed after fighting a bit of a fierce battle. But there is a number of documents that I have not yet been offered; in fact, I have been definitely refused them. The Heritage Commission said:

There are 14 separate documents identified as being relevant to your request but are exempt as they would be privileged from production in legal proceedings on the ground of legal professional privilege.

It said:

This material comprises opinions of various people about the World Heritage values of the Lemonthyme Valley and Southern Forests.

I have to ask: Why has this information been withheld from such an important debate as this? What is it that the Government does not want the rest of us to know? The job of the inquiry is to find whether these areas are or include areas which are of World Heritage value or which contribute to the value of a World Heritage area. Obviously people have been asked their opinion-we do not know who-yet we are not allowed to see those opinions. We have to have another inquiry at enormous cost instead. The Department of Primary Industry also refused access to its documents on the ground that:

Release of those documents could disclose the Commonwealth's negotiating position and ongoing deliberative processes.

It said:

This would not be in the public interest and would undermine the Commonwealth's ability to achieve the long-term resolution of the issues.

It also said that it:

. . . would or could also reasonably be expected to cause damage to Commonwealth-State relations.

What hypocrisy. What do they think has been done to Commonwealth-State relations by the decisions that this Government has taken already?

Despite the reluctance of these departments to reveal anything of significance, the freedom of information application has revealed, I believe, one important admission. The Director of the Heritage Commission, Mr Griffiths, advised Mr Thompson, the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment, that:

The Cabinet decision stated that areas currently being logged should be excluded from the identified area. This area is currently not being logged, as far as we know.

But this is the important sentence. Mr Griffiths said:

It should be possible, with care, for the logged coupes to be rehabilitated as part of the future management regime for the Forests.

Clearly, in private documents the Australian Heritage Commission acknowledges the possibility of rehabilitating the forests. Why, then, is the Government being so dishonest in this matter? There is a plan to rehabilitate these forests, agreed to by both governments. Let us not forget that this issue is critical to Tasmania's industry. Let us not forget that it accounts for 17 per cent of the State's jobs. About 24,000 people are directly employed in mills and forests and indirectly in service industries. One in seven Tasmanians depend on the industry for a livelihood. It contributes 26 per cent of the State's commerce. The Minister, in his second reading speech, said:

In taking legislative action, the Government fully recognises the importance of the forestry industry-

The Government promised that no jobs would be lost. The Minister said that the legislation simply involves a cessation of operations in the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests in certain areas for a limited period, and that the Bill provides for payment of compensation for losses directly resulting from that cessation. It is all very well to compensate those who lose directly. But what about all those who are indirectly dependent on the forest industry-for example, the employers of Tasrail, small businessmen such as truck drivers, service station owners, et cetera? In the Minister's speech he said that the Bill recognises the need not to cause detriment to the long term forestry operations and employment of persons in Tasmania. He is missing the fact that there will be an effect on investment. There have already been nine inquiries, as Senator Walters has said. How long can we expect the industry to put up with uncertainty about the future of its resource? Even the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association has expressed its concern about the uncertainty which is being created amongst forest owners. It wrote to Mr Hawke on 16 March on the subject. It said:

As a direct result of your Government's intervention, there is now a real danger of no major industrial development in the Tasmanian Forest Industry ever taking place.

It went on at some length. I expect Mr Hawke did not read the letter. We should look also at the contribution APPM has made to the economy of Tasmania. It has 130,000 hectares of forest land-more than any other forest company in Australia. Its annual investment in plantations and tree breeding exceeds $3 1/2m. In 1985-86 it had earnings of $36 1/2m gross. In the same year, $37m was invested by the parent company, almost exclusively in Tasmania. It employs 3,800 people and 800 contractors. But none of this investment and employment would have occurred if the company had not had the confidence in the long term security of its wood resource. It is that security that is being undermined by this Federal Government's actions.

Just by way of a sidelight, it is interesting to remember Tasrail. Senator Tate, just on 17 March, told the Senate:

Progress . . . reflects this Government's approach of creating an environment in which its business authorities can get on with the job of improving their performance.

He was talking about the record of Australian National. He said further:

. . . we cannot stop there. Accordingly this Government is continuing to work with AN and its staff to maintain that momentum which will lead AN to become a genuinely commercially viable Government railway.

They are marvellous, stirring tones. Will Senator Tate, when he votes with the Government for this legislation, remember that log transport constitutes about 40 per cent of the Tasrail traffic?

Senator Townley —You have to be careful what you say in this place, Senator Tate.

Senator NEWMAN —Yes. Senator Tate should remember that we are listening very carefully. Let me look quite quickly now at some of the provisions of the legislation. Doubts are expressed about its constitutionality, based on the external affairs power. I do not want to go into that now because I want to move on to clause 13, to which attention was given by the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. It draws the attention of the Senate to the application of the Royal Commissions Act 1902. Section 6a of that Act provides that self-incrimination is not to be an excuse for the refusal or failure to produce a document or to answer questions as required by the Commission. Section 6dd of the Royal Commissions Act further provides that a statement or disclosure made by a witness in giving evidence is not admissible against the witness in subsequent civil or criminal proceedings.

These sections of the Royal Commissions Act 1902 apply without modification to the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests Commission of Inquiry and, in the view of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, the protection should extend to any information or thing obtained as a direct or indirect consequence of the giving of the answer or the production of the document. The Committee goes on to say that it considers that by so applying sections 6a and 6dd of the Royal Commissions Act 1902 without modification, this Lemonthyme Bill may be considered to trespass unduly on personal rights and liberties. I hope that Senator Tate will be studying that matter more closely, as a former Chairman of that Committee. Clause 14 of the Bill provides:

For the purposes of performing his or her functions or exercising his or her powers under this Act, a member or another person authorised in writing for the purposes of this section by a member may, with such assistance, and by such force, as is necessary and reasonable, enter and inspect:

(a) the Lemonthyme area and the Southern Forests area;

(b) any nominated world heritage area; and

(c) any other part of Tasmania that the member or other person considers may be part of a qualifying area or contain forestry resources.

Senator Townley —It is sweeping.

Senator Archer —Sweeping! It is a bit heavy-handed.

Senator NEWMAN —It is very heavy-handed; I agree. Clause 14 (c) confers on the member or authorised person a broad power to enter upon private land based upon the personal opinion of nothing more than the person exercising that power. By contrast, a royal commission must obtain a search warrant from a judge in order to have land or premises entered or searched for things connected with the matter into which the commission is inquiring. The Scrutiny of Bills Committee is therefore drawing the attention of the Senate to the fact that by providing such a broad power of entry upon land, it may be considered to trespass once again unduly upon personal rights and liberties. This Government is a corker for having unintended consequences. I only hope that in this case the consequences are unintended, because if they are not unintended they are positively draconian and it is a disgrace that they have appeared in this legislation.

I want by way of conclusion to look at the salient points that we must not forget when we are looking at the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill. Let us not forget that the Tasmanian forestry industry has the support of the Tasmanian Government and Opposition, the Australian timber industry, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and members of this Government, including Minister Kerin and, I believe, Senator Terry Aulich. Let us not forget also that the Federal Government's handling of the matter is very cynical and purely political. Let us not forget that a vocal minority of conservationists has been allowed to dominate all debate by the Government and the media. Let us not forget that the introduction of this legislation is an attempt by the Government to pander to that conservationist viewpoint for its own purposes. It is taking no account of the net social costs of its action.

Tasmanians are aware of the beauty of the State in which they live. They do care about preserving it for future generations, but they believe in doing so in a balanced and sensible manner. They believe that their small businesses, their employment and their livelihoods should not be taken away from them by a government which cares more about pandering to the conservation lobby than it does about the real environmental concerns. Let us not forget that the huge debt accumulated by Australia is an unacceptable legacy for us to leave our children. It is only by using the resources we have sensibly and efficiently that we will be able to recover from the situation to which this Government has contributed and the awful hole in which it has placed our country.