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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1278

Senator AULICH(11.16) —I rise today to give my support to the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill.

Senator Walters —Oh, you are speaking on this Bill.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator MacGibbon) —Order, Senator Walters!

Senator Walters —What a change. You were not on the list.

Senator AULICH —Once again, as I rise to speak on a particularly important Bill, to discuss an issue relating to Tasmania, I hear the dulcet tones of Senator Walters, who is attempting to talk me down. She is interjecting at the top of her voice.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Order, Senator Walters! If you intrude once more I will deal with you.

Senator Coleman —Severely I hope.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I will deal with you, too, Senator Coleman.

Senator AULICH —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I welcome protection from the thunderbolt that always comes from the other side. If I can speak without Senator Walters interrupting me, without her rudeness showing across this chamber as it usually does, I shall begin by reiterating my support for the Bill. Everyone in this place knows that I have spoken in my Party room about this issue. The Government has taken a decision and I believe that value has come out of it. There will be value for Tasmania; there will be value for those people who are prepared to take seriously this whole inquiry and to ensure that in the long term Tasmania gets the benefit from an examination of one of its major resources. We are not talking about any old State; we are talking about one of the most beautiful States in Australia; we are talking about one of the most beautiful areas in the world. We are also talking about a State that is lucky enough to have an indigenous product that will sustain an industry without the sort of artificial incentives that occasionally have had to be given by State governments elsewhere in Australia.

One of the major problems that economists in this country and elsewhere have noted about Australia is the fact that we have had, because of the various policies of State governments over the last decade or so, a policy in this country of promoting, supporting and aiding in all sorts of ways, through various artificial incentives, the development of non-indigenous industries right around this country. For example, we have to look only at the aluminium industry to see just how much money has been spent by State governments, through loans, guarantees or other arrangements in terms of providing discounted electricity and so on, to allow non-indigenous industries, non-sustainable industries, to be set up. In the long term they will have to continue to be sustained by tariff protection, discounted electricity tariffs or other artificial incentives.

Tasmania is not in that situation. It has an industry which is sustainable; it has a resource which, if it is used properly, can be to the advantage of not only Tasmania but also the Australian economy as a whole. So it is particularly important that people take advantage of this inquiry to look at not only the environmental future of Tasmania and the whole ecosystem that exists there but also an industry which is rooted deeply in the natural products of that State, which does not have to be sustained by artificial incentives-whether, as I have said, they be tariff barriers, discounted energy or other forms of assistance which have traditionally been given by State governments in this country and which I think have been responsible to a large extent for the economic difficulties that this country has been experiencing over the last 10 to 15 years.

It is obvious that Tasmania has a number of very real problems and at the head of those very real problems I must put our political standing, that is, our political standing in the rest of the Australian community. We have lost a great deal of our credibility; we have lost a great deal of our goodwill; we have lost a great deal of potential support that we could have got from this Federal Parliament, from other State governments and from the Federal Government simply because we have not played the game politically in the most intelligent way. I think it is about time that somebody said this frankly.

The sort of representation we have had in this chamber from the other side-from the Liberals-has been absolutely appalling. Some have done their best, some have been sincere, but most have been regarded, both in this chamber and in the other House, as caricatures of politicians. For example, the other day Senator Newman mentioned the fact that every time a Tasmanian, particularly from the Opposition, talks about particular issues in this chamber there is a general feeling of merriment around the chamber; there is a tendency for honourable senators to ignore what is being said. In many cases when I look across the chamber and at the way the Opposition has approached the issue-an issue that is very important to Tasmania-I have to agree with Senator Newman. Tasmanians in this chamber have not been taken seriously.

The unfortunate thing is that a similar situation exists in the House of Representatives. The Goodlucks, the Hodgmans and others have been regarded as very good figures of fun, good theatre, the sorts of people one might pay to see perform but not the sorts of people to which one would entrust the future of one's State. That has been the problem. Tasmania has had no one with a degree of intelligence and credibility to represent it in the House of Representatives.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator MacGibbon) —Order, Senator Aulich! You cannot reflect on your colleagues in another place in a derogatory manner.

Senator AULICH —If they take umbrage at that comment, of course I will withdraw.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —It is not a matter of their taking umbrage; it is a matter of the Chair taking umbrage.

Senator AULICH —If the Chair has taken umbrage, of course I withdraw. There is now a feeling in the community, particularly in Tasmania but certainly on the mainland, that Tasmania has difficulties as a State with getting its viewpoints put, with being listened to with the sort of awareness that some other States are being listened to, simply because its representation in this area has not been what it should have been. Premier Robin Gray has again exhausted all the credibility that he could have had in this place, all the good will that is essential for a Premier of any State to have in order that that Premier can deliver the bacon for his constituency.

I refer to the whole question of development versus conservation which has been the way the agenda has been written in Tasmania. We have to look only at the way in which Premier Robin Gray has taken every issue relating to the development-conservation debate and used it for his own political purposes. Every man and his dog in Tasmania knows that what the Premier is aiming to do is to try to win the so-called blue collar vote of the Labor Party in that State. First he tried it on the dams and now he is trying it on forestry and questions of the National Estate in relation to buildings and so on. In other words, he has a strategy that is very much geared towards preserving the Liberal Party in power in that State for a very long period to come. That is why he likes Joh Bjelke-Petersen. He likes the idea of dynasties. I presume that he wants to hand over the State to his son. Thank heavens his son is not old enough to take over as is John in Queensland. The point is that Robin Gray is planning to be Premier for a long time. He knows that the interests of the Liberal Party must come before the interests of Tasmanians as a whole. He is interested only in 51 per cent of Tasmanians, that is, those Tasmanians who are prepared to vote for him. So he will seize on every opportunity, whether it is this debate or the dam debate, to take advantage of the divisions which may occur within the community in order to preserve his ascendancy in that State. As I have mentioned before, the trouble is that in the long term that damages Tasmania's representation here and its credibility in the eyes of the rest of Australia. Coupled with the fact that the Labor Party-the Government-has no House of Representatives members in this Parliament representing Tasmania, Tasmania has a problem. It has a problem because it has been shown statistically since 1983 that it is possible for a government to be elected in this country without any Tasmanian House of Representatives members. That is the first time for many years that that situation has been proved. That means that, along the line, if the Liberal Party does not put the interests of Tasmania first but continues to put the interests of the Liberal Party first, Tasmania will consistently be pushed to one side. Premier Robin Gray, as I have said, has exhausted the goodwill that normally exists between Premiers and Prime Ministers of various political persuasions.

I well remember the relationship that existed, for example, between Malcolm Fraser, the previous Prime Minister, and the then Premier of Tasmania, Doug Lowe. There were times when they had their public disagreements, but I was present on a few occasions when, for example, arrangements and agreements were made in private in respect of which there was a degree of goodwill and trust which worked to the benefit of all Tasmanians ultimately. Many people in this chamber will recognise that privately-that it is necessary to agree in private in the interests of one's State. There are times when one has to get off one's own political party's band-wagon and ensure that the interests of one's State are put first.

Senator Walters —Well, cross the floor.

Senator AULICH —That is the whole point about this debate. Senator Walters says: `Cross the floor'. Is that not typical of what I am talking about? The question of conservation and development is seen in terms of either/or alternatives. It is seen as black and white. It is seen in terms of simplistic solutions and options. That is the way the Liberal Party has been organising this debate in Tasmania. It is because of the publicity surrounding these so-called simplistic options that Tasmania is fast becoming a political laughing-stock of the rest of Australia. This is because of the representation that is coming from the other side and the way that debate has been organised by the Opposition members. We are told: `Cross the floor; it is as simple as that'. It is either/or.

As I indicated before, I am quite clear in my viewpoint that this inquiry is a chance for all of us in Tasmania to bury the divisions surrounding this issue once and for all, to ensure that, firstly, we have a resource that we can be sure of-not only for this generation but for the next-and, secondly, the unique environment that makes Tasmania so different is preserved. Those two views are not incompatible. That is the whole point that I wish to make here today. Senator Walters and other honourable senators on the other side and Robin Gray have deliberately attempted to divide all of us, not only in Tasmania but also the general Australian community. They are dividing it, I believe, at the cost of future generations. They are dividing it on the basis of cheap political votes and not in the interests of what Tasmanians need.

What we need above all else is a plan that we can stick to that will preserve one of our major industries, an industry which employs something like one in seven of the Tasmanian population. I am talking as someone whose family for years was in the forestry industry, and I am not all that proud of some of the work my family did in the forestry industry. Mistakes have been made in the forestry industry. There has been, to some extent, a certain raping of certain areas. There have been weaknesses in the way we have planned for the future in our forestry industry. No one denies that. Even the industry itself says that it has to lift its game. On the other hand, I am not prepared to go along with radical conservationists who are looking for issues, who are devising issues, in order to keep themselves employed emotionally, intellectually and financially. I am not interested in their view point and I have spoken out on those special interest groups whose raison d'etre is obviously just to be a political party in their own right. They do not interest me in the least. My interest is in this generation and the next generation, to see that it has a unique environment and a natural resource that can be used in the most positive way.

Let us look then at the matter of Premier Gray. In 1981, I think it was, the Liberal Party decided that it would oppose what our Government in that State, the Labor Government, intended to do about the Franklin Dam. It said: `We will build the dam'. It said it before any inquiry had reported, before any investigation had actually brought all the figures before it. It simply made up its mind, almost as an article of religious faith, that it would build that dam. A Labor government went out of office in that State because it refused to build the dam. The dam was not built because of the action-the brave and, I think, intelligent action-of the Hawke Government in stopping that dam in 1983, and I support it. I was one who lost his seat in an electorate where there were 17 hydro-electricity towns-and I am still glad that I supported the Government's view; that is, that that dam should not be built. When we look at what happened-when we look at the Hydro-Electric Commission's figures, for example, that have been released in the last year-we realise that the HEC, the Liberal Party and all those short-sighted rednecks who supported that dam per se as an article of religious faith have now been proved to be wrong, because, for a $1,000m investment, that dam would have ruined a unique piece of the Tasmanian environment; and what would we have got for it? We would have got hydro-electric energy for which there would have been no users-no takers and a $1,000m debt that this country would have had to pay for and that possibly would have sent the Tasmanian Government spiralling close to bankruptcy.

That decision that the Hawke Government made in 1983 was intelligent and courageous and in the best interests of Tasmania, and there are not too many Tasmanians around now who would deny that that decision was the right one. There are a few neanderthals sitting around here, for example, who would like to raise a few meek replies to that point, but they know in their hearts, and in their heads, of course, that that decision was a correct one.

The point I am making here is that, with regard to the forests, the environment, the rivers and so on, there is a national interest. A national overview has to be taken by the national Government. That national Government has a right, through discussion with the States-and it has certain powers in its own right-to ensure that the environment is protected and that the best economic advantage is taken of a natural resource. The two things are combined in this Bill, and they are combined in the approach being taken by the Federal Government. I shall read to the Senate from the Economist, a reputable, conservative magazine which analysed Australia in a survey quite recently. I think it is worth reading to the Senate just one paragraph of its summary on economic matters. It is dealing with the fact that Australians are basically big spenders, that we assume, for example, that somehow or other money grows on trees-if honourable senators will pardon the pun in this particular debate. The Economist says:

The problem, however, is that State governments incur no opprobrium by reckless spending because they do not levy the taxes to pay for it. They are now spending much more than they used to, getting more from the Federal Government-that is, about 10 per cent of GDP today, compared with 6 per cent in the mid-1970s-and at the same time borrowing more. The Federal Government then reduced its Budget deficit from 4.3 per cent of GDP in 1983-84 to some 2.1 per cent in 1985-86. But State and local governments kept theirs at about 3 per cent. They are today chiefly responsible for the public sector borrowing requirements.

Senator Button —Four hundred million in Queensland announced a couple of weeks ago.

Senator AULICH —That is right. So, as I said, we have State governments borrowing heavily in areas of infrastructure development to support non-indigenous industries which possibly would never have got off the ground in those particular States if those heavy borrowings had not in some way or other assisted, through artificial incentives, the development of those particular industries. If one goes right round Australia one will find that.

In Tasmania we have an indigenous industry which, of course, needs to be developed. The Federal Government has no problems with assisting that industry. The Federal Government wants to assist that industry in the long term, to ensure, for example, that jobs are created, not lost. We have heard here today that 4,000 jobs have been lost in Tasmania's forest industry over the last decade, primarily though technological change; but I think also because we have not developed that resource in the way that we could have over the long term with employment benefits. Do people know why that is so? It is because honourable senators opposite and their friend Robin Gray on the whole have done nothing about making sure that employment in that industry has increased, because they like the status quo and because they see political value in the status quo.

If one talks to people in the industry and people in what I call the new Forestry Commission-not the one that existed 15 years ago, which had some pretty conservative viewpoints-one will see that those people in the industry and in the Forestry Commission want something better. They do not want to be in charge of an industry in which employment is going out the back door. They want to make sure that that industry is utilised in the best possible way, in the interests not only of the workers in that industry but also of the Australian economy as a whole. We as a government are interested in doing that. We are not here to do the bidding of armchair greenies sitting in front of television sets in New South Wales or Victoria who say how nice that bush is. We are not doing their bidding. I am certainly not, and I do not believe that this Government is. At the same time, we are not taking the simplistic solutions or options that have been proposed by honourable senators opposite who have been very happy to sit back and watch employment decrease in that industry over the last decade.

Do people know why they have been happy to do that? It is because they do not care about the workers in the industry; they never have. Workers in any industry in this country have been regarded as pretty well irrelevant and very expendable. One only has to look at Malcolm Fraser's period in office to see just how important workers were. He propounded and put into effect economic policies which relied for their effectiveness on high unemployment in this country. That was part of the discipline that he wanted to inflict on the work force-that is, a high level of unemployment. That is not our viewpoint. It is not our viewpoint about the forestry industry or about most industries in this country.

I am saying today that we have a unique opportunity to take advantage of this inquiry to ensure that we do two things: Firstly, preserve that resource to ensure that it is used in the best possible way for the benefit of workers in Tasmania and investment in the industry in this country; and, secondly, ensure that that unique environment which keeps me in Tasmania is preserved. I support the Bill.