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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1253

Senator COATES(9.43) —I hope that I can succeed in participating in this debate without using some of the extreme and exaggerated language that has marked the speeches of the three previous speakers-Senator Walters, Senator Newman and Senator Townley. We had accusations about the intentional sabotage of the Tasmanian economy. I think Senator Newman used the term `this brutal Government'. They tried to conjure up wonderful images. I think it is more than time that some sanity was brought into the issue of logging of Tasmanian forests, the woodchip industry and associated issues. What I want and what the Government wants is a balanced outcome, not the sort of attitude espoused by the Tasmanian State Government, which I do not accept as being balanced. This is a highly emotional issue. Both sides at times become hysterical in defence of their differing positions on this issue. Tasmanians, whether they support logging without any Federal involvement or whether they support logging only in a more balanced way, have become sick and tired of the squabbling and fighting over the issue. Forestry has been front page news in Tasmania for a long time. That is why everyone, including the Opposition in this place, ought to be pleased that this inquiry has been proposed. This will allow the issues about the Lemonthyme and the Southern Forests to be settled once and for all.

The Opposition keeps saying that this is the tenth inquiry, that we have had nine inquiries since 1972. However, when one looks at the sorts of inquiries that have been cited by the Opposition, one sees that several were carried out by Senate committees which looked not at Tasmanian areas in particular but at the overall principles of the woodchipping industry and that sort of thing. That number also includes a double count in respect of an environmental impact statement and the outcome of that statement. That constitutes more than one inquiry in this case. After all, 1972 was 15 years ago. Of course, it is just not true that all of those nine inquiries have duplicated themselves. It is not as if all of them were held in recent years.

Let us just look at some of the events that took place, say, 12 months ago, as an indication of the highly emotive and contentious nature of the whole forestry operation in Tasmania. This month a year ago there were violent clashes at Farmhouse Creek between forestry workers and protesting conservationists. It was alleged at that time that the police stood back and allowed the protesters to be assaulted. A couple of days later, Dr Bob Brown, an independent member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly, was shot at in an ugly scene in the same area. The next day, Mr Risby, of one of the forestry companies, revealed that he and his family had received death threats over the Farmhouse Creek furore.

In the summer just past the scuffles, the arrests, the protests and the counter-protests occurred all over again. Sometimes people in the rest of Australia fail to understand that in a State such as Tasmania with a small population, an emotional issue such as the forestry one can be extremely divisive because there is not the same haven of anonymity that can be enjoyed in the more populous States. There is a greater involvement of people in issues in Tasmania and I think in many ways that is a good thing. There is much more openness about people's positions. However, the unfortunate consequences of that can sometimes divide families and friends and split the Tasmanian community, in a way different from but similar to the way that the Franklin Dam issue divided the State.

Everyone is obviously familiar with the main players in this struggle-the conservationists, the so-called greenies, the word that is thrown about as a term of abuse by the Opposition, and the so-called pro-loggers, including some, but not all, of the forestry workers. In answer to what was said by Senator Townley, not all of the forestry workers take the attitude that is taken by the Opposition. I think we need to think twice about the use of some of the simplistic shorthand terms that are used in this debate. Because I support the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill I am pointed at as being anti-logger, as if I oppose the forestry industry holus-bolus. Of course, that is not true. Of course the forestry industry in Tasmania deserves support. But we want a balanced outcome from it. Where the Federal Government has powers, we want Federal Government involvement. I resent the sort of accusation that is made in that sort of labelling. At the same time I acknowledge that amongst the so-called pro-loggers there are people who do not take the attitude of wanting to chop everything down that is growing. Of course there are some who do, but there are some who think that they are taking a balanced view. We happen to differ about where that balance should lie.

There are a lot of accusations made by the Opposition here and by the Tasmanian Government about conservationist protesters all being unemployed mainlanders who go to Tasmania to make trouble. That is nonsense, and it should not be necessary to make that sort of accusation if the people making it feel that they have right on their side in their argument. That sort of attitude, the throwing about of that broad accusation and labelling grows out of particularly Mr Gray's inability to accept that some Tasmanians hold views different from his. It is not necessarily the majority of Tasmanians who believe that, but I am afraid that there are some people who cannot accept that anyone else can legitimately hold a different view.

I am afraid we have become very familiar and very weary of the tactic that if someone thinks differently from Mr Gray they are anti-Tasmanian. I think the Opposition has done itself a great disservice by taking up with Mr Gray on that one. There are two bodies of opinion, as I have said, and they are not necessarily in two clearly defined camps. There are people with a range of views within each.

The conservationists say that the Lemonthyme and the Southern Forests should not be logged, or that at least parts of them should not be logged, and that suitable alternatives are available. I think this is the key point that it comes down to. There are suggestions made as to where those suitable alternatives are. There is no need for me to go through them all. The point is that those proposals for alternative areas that would not involve as much needless damage should be properly and thoroughly investigated, and that is the purpose of this inquiry that this Bill, the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill 1987, proposes; that is what the inquiry will reveal.

On the other hand we have the industry, with the support and encouragement of the State Government, which says that the contentious areas are essential for the survival of the industry and the maintenance of jobs. That is an extreme position that cannot be sustained. This legislation provides for an independent inquiry which will give us the space to allow these two claims, these two competing ideas, to be properly and objectively investigated. In the meantime it will protect the areas under contention from damage while the inquiry is happening over that 12-month period.

I think Tasmanians, regardless of their positions, are tired of the conflict and would like it to be resolved. It is plain that Mr Gray does not want to do anything to bring about that necessary resolution. He has his fixed position and he does not want to co-operate. He is provocative in the extreme and he refuses to admit that others can validly hold a different opinion. He continued to be provocative with the Federal Government and childishly refused for some months to sign the memorandum of understanding. It was finally signed in June last year. Then more recently, with emotions running high over Christmas, he allowed logging operations to commence in the Lemonthyme despite the Federal Government's request for a 12-month cessation, a request which was legitimately made under the memorandum of understanding.

Even when this legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) said that the Commonwealth was still prepared to negotiate if the Tasmanian Government would come to the negotiations with an openness and a willingness to settle the dispute. The only reason an inquiry by legislation is necessary is because of the lack of co-operation of the Tasmanian Liberal Government. I hope this legislation will provide the mechanism for a lasting resolution of this on-going and somewhat tiresome conflict.

I was pleased to see reported in last Friday's Hobart Mercury a more reasonable and restrained comment from the State Minister, Mr Ray Groom. Most of the article was about a management plan for the Douglas-Apsley Forest but there are a couple of paragraphs within it that I would like to read. The article stated that Mr Groom said:

. . . the legislation, as it stood-

this is, the legislation we are debating tonight-

would only affect logging in 80 hectares during the next 12 months-30 hectares south of Farmhouse Creek and 50 hectares in the Lemonthyme.

Mr Groom said that the State Government would continue to allow logging in the 80 hectares until it was given legal advice to stop.

I do not know if there has been a change of heart on the part of the Tasmanian Government overall or whether it was just Mr Groom being more reasonable compared to the Premier, Mr Gray, but I would have thought that that sort of statement about the 30 and 50 hectares was a reasonably restrained comment, and that it just cannot be matched with the sort of extreme language that has been used by the Opposition tonight. Words like `33 per cent of the area of the whole of Tasmania' have been bandied about whereas Mr Groom is accurately talking about 30 hectares and 50 hectares. He went on to say that the State Government would continue to allow logging in those 80 hectares until it was given legal advice to stop, the implication being that when that legal advice arrived logging would stop in those areas. I would therefore hope that, as a result of that, the alternative possibilities will be used over the next 12 months to allow people to continue in their employment.

I suppose the whole thing does boil down to a States' rights argument-the sort of nonsense that is served up by the Opposition. I do not know why some members of the Opposition bother to come here and participate in the Federal Parliament if they do not think that there ought to be any involvement by a Federal Parliament in issues that concern the whole nation.

Senator Sanders —They want the Federal money but they do not want any of the responsibility.

Senator COATES —Yes, there is that aspect too about Federal grants. Senator Newman ignored my interjection while she was making a point such as that, and I asked her what her attitude was as a Tasmanian to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, the Uluru National Park or Kakadu.

Senator Watson —Why don't you put Daintree in this? Because you have a Federal members up there.

Senator COATES —Or the Daintree. They are all areas in which all of us, as Australians whether we live in the State concerned or in another State, should have a legitimate interest. I do not see any reason why people outside Tasmania should not have as much interest in the sorts of things that we have in Tasmania that are worth protecting, just as I and other Tasmanians have in the other great natural areas of Australia of which we are proud.

Senator Walters talked about how 12.6 per cent of Tasmania is already locked up in national parks, that we are asking for so many per cent here and that eventually 33 per cent will be locked up, and is that not terrible! My response to that is that I am proud to be a representative of Tasmania which has so much that is worth protecting. I am sorry that there is only 3.6 per cent of New South Wales and 3.3 per cent of Victoria that ought to be in a national park. It is a nonsense argument anyway and I suppose I should not be giving it legitimacy by answering it. When one is talking about absolute areas the percentages become meaningless and in any case we ought to be looking at it as Australians looking at the sorts of things we ought to be caring for on behalf of all Australians.

The Opposition has said on a number of occasions that this is an outrageous infringement of States rights but, as I am suggesting, it is a tired, old argument. It becomes clearer every time the Opposition uses it that it would be most happy if all Australians were rigidly and parochially divided into their States, owing all allegiance and loyalty to their State alone. I suppose it is almost forgivable in some ways that the Tasmanian Liberals do this more than people in other States. Tasmania is an island and therefore the boundaries are more clearly defined. The Liberals play on our relative isolation with this argument and exploit it for their own political purposes. We have heard it all before. We have heard the accusation that this Federal Government hates Tasmania and such nonsense but it is just Canberra-bashing for their own purposes.

Senator Townley said that a local person knows more about the issues than do people in Canberra but all honourable senators come from our local areas and we are just as close to the issues in our States as are State members. Fortunately, the Federal Government does not share this opinion with the Opposition. We believe that all Australians are equal regardless of where we live and that we all have a right to expect the Federal Government to protect our interests. Activities in all National Estate areas are rightly the concern of all of us and it is for this reason that the inquiry into forestry operations in the National Estate areas adjacent to the world heritage area in Tasmania is being set up.

Of course we had the argument about States rights and so on at the time of the Gordon below Franklin Dam debate but honourable senators will notice that the Opposition is very quiet about that now. We then had threats of investment strikes-that if that dam did not go ahead Tasmania would lose investment. Everybody now acknowledges that the fact that that dam did not go ahead has been a benefit to Tasmania and the State Government ought to be very pleased that that was the outcome of this Government's action and the High Court's approval of its power to make that decision.

The whole question of the Federal Government's powers is something on which there is obviously a basic division between the Government and the Opposition. The Commonwealth should exercise its powers to the limits whereas the Opposition takes the position that the Commonwealth should always seek to avoid exercising those powers. It is not taking the same position as it used to. We all remember that the Fraser Government, to its credit, acted to prevent the export of mineral sands from Fraser Island and that is a matter on which the Opposition has now changed its policy. It has said that it will not in any circumstances use the Commonwealth's constitutional export powers to make a decision on environmental grounds. It is disgraceful that it has changed its position. I would have had much more respect for it if it had maintained the position it previously held. Instead, it is wiping its hands entirely of a clear responsibility and a clear constitutional statement under export powers. In this case we are talking about external affairs powers and the World Heritage Convention. Of course the Opposition will not use that Convention at all. I presume that it would tear up our being a signatory to that Convention.

The Commonwealth's power in this area has been upheld in the High Court. If the Opposition has any doubt about this Bill once it is passed of course it can be challenged in the court and the Opposition can see whether its assertions about the Bill's supposed unconstitutionality are upheld. This Government goes along with the legal and constitutional correctness of the situation. If the High Court ruled against this Bill this Government would accept it. If the Opposition is so certain of its position on this whole issue, why is it opposing the Bill and the inquiry? If it thinks that they have no constitutional basis it would let the Bill go through, take the matter to the High Court and get it overruled. If it is so firm in its view that it is absolutely essential to log in the areas about which we are talking, if it is so certain that its view is correct, why is it so unwilling to allow an independent inquiry which is merely intended to give us that answer?

The employment aspects are very important. The Opposition, again in extravagant language, stated that the Labor Government does not give a damn about people employed in this industry. Of course that is nonsense; it is an assertion that cannot be sustained. Unfortunately, we have the spreading of fear, and distortion and gossip amongst those involved. Of course a group of people are directly employed in the industry and they have responsibilities for their families and children and, obviously, like everyone else they need their jobs. We have a State government in Tasmania which provocatively allows in contentious areas forestry operations that the Commonwealth has asked it to defer. It does this not for the purposes of maintaining work but to keep forestry on the front pages for its own political purposes. Of course this Government is concerned about jobs and maintaining the industry. Apart from anything else that is one reason why there are compensation provisions in this Bill. They are there in the event that anybody is affected. There is no need for anybody to be affected because there are alternatives for a 12-month period. Even the Forest Industries Association of Tax Ltd has said that it is feasible that forest industry resource requirements could be met from outside the National Estate for the next 20 years.

The inquiry will establish what areas are or are not suitable for forestry operations and so end the interminable debate. The cessation of debate will give to those people employed directly and indirectly in the industry security in their employment. It is the State Government, pushing workers into areas which cause debate, that does not care about forestry workers in Tasmania; it just uses them as pawns.

I would like to spend time going into the whole issues of forestry management and the pros and cons about these matters, but perhaps I should not because the inquiry should settle this issue. It should settle whether there are prudent and feasible alternatives, where they are, and if there are no alternatives whether there are any protected areas which are less of a problem than other areas. Even while the inquiry is going on the Minister can give consent to certain operations in these areas where it is justified. Senator Townley made some wild assertion that it would be impossible to get ministerial consent. He had no grounds whatsoever for making that assertion. The Forestry Commission has improved in recent years. I think that everyone acknowledges that its operation of the whole matter has improved. But there are still disputes, so that is why we should have the inquiry.

We have a responsibility not only to protect the world heritage area which borders on the areas of forest that the inquiry will investigate but also to protect and uphold National Estate areas generally. They are not meaningless areas; they are listed for a variety of reasons-environmental, cultural and historical-and not all of them have forests as their National Estate value. But the point is that under Federal legislation which has been in existence for 14 or 15 years now Federal Ministers have a responsibility to take notice of those listings and make judgments about feasible and prudent alternatives. I would have thought that Federal Ministers could be justly attacked if they reneged on that sort of responsibility.

The areas to be protected represent only a small percentage of the forests in Tasmania, not the sort of wild figures that were booted around by Senator Walters. Senator Townley talked about how his position was balanced; that we ought to exploit these things and that this is the wrong time-the economic situation is not right-to protect things. For heaven's sake, surely there are some areas which we ought to leave for future generations to allow them to make some of the decisions about their future. I appeal to people to take a much more reasonable and balanced attitude to this Bill, to the whole question of forestry in Tasmania and to environmental protection as a whole.

It is not in the interests of those who will follow us for us to go ahead with total exploitation at this time. We have a responsibility to current and future Australians to protect those areas of value. It may turn out that the inquiry says that these areas are not of much value, or that they are of value but there really is not any alternative. If that is so, let us see that as a result of an independent inquiry. I repeat what I said a few moments ago. If the Opposition is so certain of its position, let it allow the inquiry to proceed and let us see what the result is.