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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1257


Senator WATSON(10.13) —The Senate is debating the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill 1987, whose objectives are chiefly to establish a commission of inquiry which will examine and report on whether two areas of our State, namely the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests, form part of a cultural or natural heritage and whether there are forestry resources within Tasmania whose exploitation would cause no detriment to the Tasmanian forestry industry and would be an environmentally and economically prudent and feasible alternative to the exploitation of any forestry in those two areas. I can tell honourable senators already, without conducting an inquiry, that the answer to the second part is yes. Senator Sanders and Senator Coates could give that answer without going to the expense of this very costly inquiry because the answer is pretty obvious. It is obvious to Forestry Commission men in Tasmania, but that is not the point.

This is a very cynical exercise. Let us look to the history of this place. We are fond of tracing history within these dignified walls but this is pretty recent history. On 5 November 1986 the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) ordered-how is this?-the Tasmanian Premier to halt logging operations in the Quamby Bluff and Jackeys Marsh area. What a cheek; what impudence! The Prime Minister ordered a State Premier. Does he not realise that he does not yet have his central government and that we are still under a Federal system, with States having certain rights and the Federal Government having responsibilities in certain areas? This decision of the Prime Minister was made, of all things, without reference to his Minister specialising in the area. It was made without reference to his Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin. It put poor old Mr Kerin in an embarrassing position. The Prime Minister was going it alone without advice from Mr Kerin. Not only that, but the Prime Minister did not even consult the Department of Primary Industry. He left Kerin out and also did not bother to consult the Department. He went it alone.

The Prime Minister did not even realise at the time that this was contrary to a memorandum of understanding between the State and the Commonwealth which was signed as recently as 12 June last year. Here is another case of the Prime Minister being out in front, going it alone, doing his own thing, without reference to the Department or his Minister. He acted pretty quickly because on 15 December 1986 the Federal Government announced a forced inquiry-how is that?-into what he termed the prudent and feasible alternatives. I have referred to these prudent and feasible alternatives. We know that there are alternatives. Tasmania is a big State. Forty per cent of it is covered by forest. There must be alternatives where there will not be any environmental damage.

We are to have this forced inquiry into the prudent and feasible alternatives to logging National Estates. The Prime Minister said that a ban on logging would apply during this inquiry. That is pretty stiff, is it not? It is a bit like going back to Mr Hawke's arbitration days when he said `You boys had better get back to work' or `Stay on strike until the hearing is being held'. The strange part is that this ban was not aimed at the export chip industry. We all know that that industry does not have a lot of added on value. It does not employ as many Tasmanians as would the pulp industry. But this ban was not aimed at the export chip industry with the Federal Government trying to protect our forests; it was aimed at domestic logging operations. Domestic logging operations have been carried on in our State for years and years.


Senator Sanders —They have to carry it on for woodchip.


Senator WATSON —It did not concern the woodchipping industry, as Senator Sanders would realise, because the Federal Government already has powers in that area. It seemed to be a bit quiet on that for some reason but it decided to attack the poor little guys, the little sawmillers, the truck owners and so on-the domestic industry. The Government did not even wink in relation to its export powers, where it has plenty of controls. As my colleagues have said, there have been nine inquiries into this logging operation since 1972.

The Hawke Labor Government has really not attempted to justify this Bill to set up an inquiry and ban logging on the basis of any new information. This is usually the secret word: `Oh, we must have an inquiry. We have new information'. The Government is even bereft of new ideas. It is just forcing this inquiry on to the Tasmanian people and throwing them out of work on that basis. I think it is wrong to say that members of the public have been denied the right to comment on the logging operations, as somebody has suggested. Public submissions were sought by advertisement. Conservationists received a special grant-they got special consideration-from the Federal Government to research the alternatives into logging in these areas. This grant led to the production of a document entitled `A Forest Industries Strategy for Tasmania'. It outlined the proposals--


Senator Sanders —If the Forestry Commission would follow that Tasmania would not be in trouble.


Senator WATSON —The Federal Department of Primary Industry, under Mr Kerin, viewed the alternatives as economically and scientifically unsound. What does Senator Sanders think of that? Mr Kerin, the Federal Minister, reckoned that the alternatives proposed in this document-a document which was financed by the Government and produced by this group-were scientifically unsound. This is a Federal Department that rejected this report. We might ask: What has really changed since then? The only thing that has changed is that the Federal Government now desires to appease the trendy and manifestly ill-informed armchair environmentalists who live in marginal seats of Melbourne and Sydney. They are the people the Government is trying to appease; they are the people it is trying to get those marginal votes from at this coming critical election.

Let us look at some of the criticisms that have been put forward by the conservationists. One of the principal arguments is that logging, especially in the Lemonthyme, will scar these national estates. That is a pretty serious criticism, is it not-so we had better have a look at it. First of all, we must note that more than 26 per cent of Tasmania-more than any other State, of course-is devoted to national parks. Then we have this buffer zone of approximately seven kilometres between logging activities and the National Estate-seven kilometres of dense forests deliberately and voluntarily left to preserve the aesthetic integrity-that is a good term-of the national parks.


Senator Sanders —You have never been to the Lemonthyme, have you?


Senator WATSON —I have been there. I have walked the track. I have been down there probably more times than Senator Sanders has-maybe not in recent years, but in my younger scouting days I did, and I know the area very well. In fact, 60 per cent of the forests in the Lemonthyme are not to be logged at all, for aesthetic reasons. Sixty per cent of this whole region is not to be logged at all. In other words, we are only going to log 40 per cent, and it will be done with a great deal of environmental care. Further, there has been a road through the Lemonthyme, right at its base, for over 50 years, leading, I think, to an old wolfram mine, honourable senators may recall. Also it provides access to a number of private properties. These private properties themselves have been logged in the past. So this so-called wilderness area is not as untouched as some of this slick propaganda of the Wilderness Society would have us believe. In fact, I think honourable senators would find that there are only two spots where, from a great distance on that track, one could perceive any evidence of logging whatsoever-and, as I said, that is at a great distance.

So the truth of this matter is that the logging companies have been required to work with the Forestry Commission. I must say that this Forestry Commission had been regarded as being at the very forefront of sensitive management, and I pay a tribute to one of our Commissioners who is here today listening to this debate. They have an expertise in and a concern about the environmental aspects and the long term management of this important resource. It does not make economic sense, even for loggers, to remove all the wood without taking into account the suitability of the resource, the aesthetic considerations, the regeneration, the water table and the protection of the environment. All these factors are taken into account. The populist conservation movement over the last 15 or so years had conveniently forgotten that the first conservationists were those who depended on that resource for their livelihood. These were the early sawmillers and loggers who had a far more tangible reason to support--


Senator Sanders —What happened to them? They were put out of business by the woodchippers.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bjelke-Petersen) —Order! Senator Sanders, you will have a chance to make a speech later.


Senator WATSON —These early sawmillers and loggers had a more tangible reason for protecting the environment than winning a few votes in suburban Sydney or Melbourne. They understood these forests and knew that prudent management was essential for their future. I submit that we are now conducting our appraisals on a much more scientific basis than ever before. In fact, Mr Cohen and Mr Kerin have been locked out of discussions on this Bill due to the particular attitude and intransigence of our Prime Minister. Mr Hawke has the completely erroneous view that the logging companies are out to devastate the land. Anyone with any appraisal of the economic and aesthetic implications of the logging operations knows that this is a completely false attitude. It is simply not true that loggers do not have interests in the environment.

For example, lest the Senate believes that my views are somewhat jaundiced, as one might gather from one or two of the interjections that have been made, let me quote from at least one other source. In June 1986 a detailed economic assessment of the implications of a bigger Western Tasmania National Park was prepared by Peter Bennett and Associates, an independent consultancy. This report concluded that the proposal had grave economic and social consequences for the Tasmanian economy which would lead to job losses, declines in export earnings and would scar Tasmania's service sector. The report stated, in fact-and this is important-that over a 20-year period, almost 12,000 direct and indirect jobs would either be lost or replaced in the mining, forestry and hydro-electric areas if such an extended park were a reality. Export earnings would plummet by $309m and no credible alternatives have been mooted by the conservationist movement, because none exist which would supplement such a staggering blow to the Tasmanian economy.

I submit that, although this attack is initially being directed at the forest industries, the implications so far as Tasmania is concerned will be very much wider. The real implications will be for the mining industry, because the areas of high mineralisation are basically in this area. The national listing of 29 per cent, together with the interim listing of another 5 per cent, effectively locks up something like 34 per cent of the State. So these areas of high mineralisation are basically contained in this so-called locked up area. I believe this will prejudice the future of the mining industry in Tasmania, an industry that contributes so much to our export earnings and an industry whose workers in the past have so loyally supported the Australian Labor Party. This Bob Hawke of today is not supporting the troops who formerly supported him. In fact, one of the older members of the west coast community recently said to me when I was down there: `In the olden days, a lot of the leaders in the Labor Party did not have a lot of education, but they had a lot of intelligence. Nowadays, most of them have a lot of education but not much intelligence'. I think if they had more intelligence they would not be going ahead with the sorts of things we have before us today, whereby they will be throwing out a lot of their own constituents, people who have been loyal to them for generations. But let us look at another source. The Forestry and Forest Product Industry Council is one of 11 specific industry councils which advise Senator Button. It is the Federal Government's own advisory body. It has said that Australia's forest-based industries are capable of increasing their market share against imports provided the timber resources can be made available. So here we are, in difficult economic circumstances, trying to lock up areas, trying to reduce our export earnings in several ways. I seek leave, Mr President, to continue my remarks.

Debate interrupted.