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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1344

Senator HARRADINE(6.56) —The Senate is debating, at the second reading stage, the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill 1987. A great deal has been said in the debate thus far. I think almost everything that can be said has been said by a long list of speakers. A number of senators have yet to speak. I appeal to the Government to abandon this legislation because I believe that, in introducing this legislation, it is going down a path which it should not go down.

The Government, as has been said, is faced with a situation whereby both the Tasmanian Government and the Tasmanian Labor Opposition oppose this measure. That is an important factor to bear in mind. But in my view it is not the essential factor. The essential factor is that the Government, in introducing this legislation, is relying-improperly, in my view-on the external affairs power to intervene and interfere in an area of responsibility which is rightly an area of State responsibility. Land management since Federation has always been a States' matter-a matter for the parliaments of the States to determine, and for the governments of the States to administer. Yet in this measure there is an attempt by the national Government to utilise the external affairs power, to impose, in this instance for a period, a view on a State which is contrary to the considered best interests of that State. I say `considered best interests'. In this instance it is against the best interests of the State as considered both by the Government and the Opposition in that State.

I raise this question as a constitutional one because, to my mind, perhaps the Government may not be able entirely to rely on the external affairs power for the implementation of this Bill. As the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) stated in his second reading speech, the Bill seeks to rely on the obligations which the Commonwealth says it has under the International Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage-the World Heritage Convention. Of course, if one looks at some of the areas which are covered by this legislation, it must be borne in mind-and it must raise serious questions-whether those areas are the ones which would fall within the scope of the Commonwealth's responsibilities, even under the broad interpretation of the Commonwealth's responsibilities. I think not. What other powers can the Government rely on? It may rely on its powers over export licences. If it does, that is a question to which the Government must give serious attention. A Commonwealth government of a different political texture could impose its will on a Labor government in a particular State using the same method.

It could be said that if all else fails-if its export power and external affairs power failed-the Government could rely on the corporations power of the Constitution. There have been long discussions in this chamber about that question, and I recall having spent some time advancing reasons as to why the Federal Government should desist from utilising the corporations power in areas such as this. In the Tasmanian dams case one needs to look at the judgments of their honours. One finds a bent among some of the judges that the corporations power is available to the Commonwealth to do almost anything, and to determine almost any matter so as to have effect within State boundaries as it affects corporations. I warn the Government that that power could be used against the trade union movement by a conservative government if it came to power.

I recall that when we were debating the Australian Bill of Rights I raised the question as to features in that bill of rights which would impinge on the rights and responsibilities of trade unions. I believe, and have always believed, that if rights and freedoms are under question, they should be protected by specific statute law, not by a bill of rights or something of that order which appoints a non-elected committee to determine broadly drawn rights and laws in specific instances. It is the right and duty of the Parliament to protect the fundamental rights of citizens and their freedoms. But if the Commonwealth is to rely for this measure on the corporations power, given that the external affairs power is inappropriate and maybe an inadequate basis for its intervention in this area, and if, for example, the export powers of the Commonwealth are inappropriate and found to be wanting, and if the Commonwealth then seeks to rely for the effect of this Bill on the corporations power, it is making a whip for its own back and for the backs of the trade union movement.

When I expressed this view on the Bill of Rights, some people raised doubts, but not many questioned the statements I was making, mainly because I assume they knew that I had been in this field for many years. Now this has come to be truly understood. Without canvassing the merits or otherwise of the Victorian equal opportunities decision in respect of trade union membership, I wish to point to that example where a law was passed dealing with broad rights and broad freedoms by a government in Victoria and establishing a non-elected tribunal to determine those rights. It determined them all right, but did so in a way that rebounded on the Government that brought in the legislation.

I raise this matter very seriously because, if my reading of some of the judgments in the Tasmanian dams case is a proper interpretation of what their Honours are saying, I believe that a Commonwealth government could exercise the corporations power under the Constitution and impose a wage freeze, or cut down annual leave by half for the whole nation. That could apply in respect of employees of corporations which work under State awards. The Government is going into a very difficult area in that instance, and I warn that if it treads that path it will be making a rod for its own back.

The other aspect is the utilisation of the external affairs power for purposes which were never envisaged by the conventions. I see Senator Ryan is in the ministerial chair and I give an example from the sex discrimination legislation. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was the basis on which the sex discrimination legislation was introduced. The Government, in that legislation, sought to place a de facto relationship on an equal status with a bona fide marriage relationship. I happen to know a bit about that particular convention because I happened to be the political adviser in the United Nations at the time, in 1977, when that matter was being discussed. There was no intention in the Third Committee to place a non-marriage state on the same basis as a married state.

Senator Zakharov —What has this got to do with the Lemonthyme?

Senator HARRADINE —It has a lot to do with it. What I am trying to say is that the Government is using the external affairs power in an improper way and that it is part of a pattern of use. When the Government cannot get its own way, when it cannot see its way clear to do things by the legitimate means of going to those constitutional heads of power which are appropriate, it uses the external affairs power, and does so inappropriately. In the case I was putting, under that legislation persons who wished to let their place could not prefer a married couple to a cohabiting couple, under pain of penalty. That is what the Government has done. When I tried to introduce a conscientious objection provision for that, the Government rejected it. That is an extraordinary state of affairs. In the case before us it is again a misuse of the external affairs power because one's imagination really has to stretch very broadly if one is to believe that the measures contained in this Bill are anything to do with an obligation on the part of the Government under the International Convention. I certainly cannot see it and I do not think many others can either. Those others include quite a lot of persons representing the employees-the workers-in my State and, of course, the State Government and the State Opposition.

Something has been said about the motives of the Government in introducing this measure. I do not want to canvass those issues because I am not one to think up motives; but some people who are pressing for the passage of this Bill have said that it is important for the Government to be seen to be doing something about the environment. I have no objection to the Government doing something about the environment. I think that it is an important matter for governments, both State and Federal, to consider. But in the current instance this matter has been the subject of inquiry after inquiry. I shall refer to some of those inquiries.

In 1972 the Tasmanian Legislative Council Select Committee held an inquiry entitled `Inquiry into Forest Regeneration'. In 1975 there was a working group which studied economic and environmental aspects of the export woodchip industry. Again in 1975 our own Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment published a report entitled `Woodchips and the Environment'. In 1977 there was a board of inquiry into private forestry development in Tasmania. In 1978 the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment published a supplementary report entitled `Woodchips and the Environment'. In 1981 the Senate Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce published its report, `Australian forestry and forest products industry'. In 1985 the Tasmanian Legislative Council Select Committee published its State forestry report. In 1985 the Tasmanian Legislative Council Select Committee published a report entitled `Woodchip Export Licences'. Again in 1985 there was an environmental impact statement on Tasmanian woodchip exports beyond 1988. Nobody denies that there have been problems about the regulation of this industry, as there have been with a number of other industries. But this industry in particular has been under the microscope now for at least the last 10 years.

I notice that the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) is now at the table. I point out to him that this is an industry which is extremely important to our balance of trade figures. After all, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has stated that Australia is facing the worst economic crisis since World War II. The Treasurer (Mr Keating) has said that the reason for that is the loss of value of overseas trade and, of course, the imbalance which takes effect because of the imports we have to get from overseas. In relation to Australia's forest-based industries, the problem is that currently we import about $1.5 billion worth of timber and wood products-in a land which should itself be able to supply that raw material. On the one hand we are importing around $1.5 billion worth of timber and wood products, but on the other hand we export less than $400m, and most of that is in woodchips.

If we are to concentrate on the need to develop our own local industries, we must ensure that the raw materials, the products, are there and that they are able to be supplied to those industries. Tasmania is the only State which has a net surplus of forest products. Its forest-based industries are export oriented, with between 5 and 10 per cent of native timbers being sold overseas and a large proportion of low grade wood being exported as woodchips. The State also produces between 60 and 70 per cent of Australia's fine paper requirements and about 40 per cent of our newsprint needs. Imagine what would happen if Tasmania went out of business. Honourable senators would not be able to read most of their newspapers and they would not be able to read their telephone books.

Tasmanian industry, the Tasmanian Government and the Tasmanian Parliament are committed to further development of the timber industry in that State. In recent years the State has moved into veneer production and has increased the proportion of sawn timber used in fine furniture manufacture. Because of the devaluation of the Australian dollar, vis-a-vis the Japanese yen, there is a real possibility for a major pulp mill to process much of the wood that is now exported as chips. That depends on a number of factors, one of which is whether the Japanese consider that their yen is overvalued and what will happen in that respect. The Tasmanian hardwood sawmilling industry, the producer of the justly famous Tasmanian oak, has been through a difficult period of rationalisation as log production levels have been reduced to a level that is sustainable indefinitely. It now should have a secure resource base to further develop downstream processing of sawn timber.

The whole forest-based industry in Tasmania, which puts food on the table in one out of seven households across the State, has been through three years of intense public debate and uncertainty. This measure throws another area of uncertainty on to that particular industry. If there were alternatives-it has been suggested in this chamber that there are-why are they not put on the table so that we can look at them, as I think Senator Archer mentioned? As yet, they have not been placed upon the table. One of the problems is, as the Prime Minister is constantly saying, that business needs a secure environment to work for the future. This Bill is not giving that environment or that security to this industry in our State.

There is just one other point I wish to make with reference to the statement that one of the reasons for this measure is to attract some votes. I think there has been a pretty broad debate in Tasmania on this issue, and as I see it there is not the great degree of concern over this issue that there has been over others. Whether or not that ought to be taken into consideration when legislation of this nature is being considered is a matter for the Government. It is also a matter for this Parliament and we, as senators, need to make up our minds as to the facts of the matter and as to how we believe this measure should be dealt with for the benefit of not only the State but the nation, including the nation's environment.

In that regard I come down with the view that the legislation should be opposed. I do not think the Government should consider that it will get many votes out of this at all. It may get a few, but all I can say is that it is doing the wrong thing, if, for example, it ignores the plight of the family. At the next election the major issue will be the fact that the family is now suffering a worse economic plight than it has for many years. A family with a worker on average earnings, a dependent spouse and four children has over the last 10 years suffered a drop in its standard of living of 10 per cent. Even given the tax cuts, it will suffer a further drop of one per cent by September of this year. Those are the points that are concerning people, and this threat to the family allowance, for example, really sets the cat amongst the pigeons. I am getting terrific feedback on that. People view that as part of a confidence trick which has been played on the family since 1976, when the worker had a concession for every child. Workers put their forms into their employer and the employer was then able to ensure that a tax concession was made for that worker, and so on a weekly basis that worker was able to foot the food bills. In 1976 that tax concession was abolished, and was cashed up as a family allowance. So there was a transfer out of the hip pocket into the purse of the mother. Now the Government is stealing from the purse of the mother money which has been put there by the husband over the years. That is how the workers feel about it. They are concerned with that great robbery of $10 billion that has taken place over the last 10 years.

Those are the issues which will really bite when we come to the election, not issues such as this legislation, which has been debated ad nauseam. There might be some merit in an inquiry if the results of the inquiry are to be abided by, but as I understand it a number of the people who have been pressing for the inquiry have said quite openly that they will not abide by the results.

Senator Button —You mean people outside this Parliament?

Senator HARRADINE —Yes. In any event, this legislation is about domestic logging and a number of companies-I do not have time to go through them as my time has almost expired, but I shall refer to two-will be discriminated against. This Government should have a look at that situation before this measure goes through the Parliament. I feel that the Senate, in view of all of the points that have been made in the debate, should vote against this measure, and I believe that one day the Government will rue the day it set off down this path.