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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1495

Senator BELL —My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories. I remind the minister that the national forest policy includes a statement that forest management agencies will avoid activities that may significantly affect areas of old growth forest or wilderness until assessments of conservation values have taken place. I ask: does the minister agree that this statement should be interpreted as a moratorium on logging of old growth forests and wilderness until assessments have taken place? Will the minister nominate the Southern Forests, the forests of the Great Western Tiers and the Tarkine for inclusion in the Tasmanian wilderness World Heritage area? Finally, will the minister, unlike the previous minister, ensure that his department carries out a comprehensive assessment of areas to be excluded from this year's woodchip licence renewals?

Senator FAULKNER —Yes, the NFPS is Commonwealth government policy. The Commonwealth is committed to achieving the conservation objectives of the NFPS throughout Australia. I interpret the so-called moratorium clause of the NFPS literally; that is, that logging and other high impact activities should be excluded from those areas of old growth forest and wilderness which are likely to have high conservation value until detailed assessments of their conservation values have been undertaken.

  Under the terms of the intergovernmental agreement on the environment, all proposals for World Heritage nomination are to be referred by the Commonwealth to the relevant state government for comment prior to their being progressed by the Commonwealth government. Consistent with this arrangement, the Commonwealth has referred the World Heritage nomination proposal covering the Tarkine to the Tasmanian government for comment. The Commonwealth has also referred the nomination proposals covering parts of western Tasmania, including the Great Western Tiers, to the Tasmanian government. In relation to those matters, I have asked the Tasmanian government for a response by the end of this month.

  The government will not endorse the Tasmanian forest and forest industries strategy until it takes account of Commonwealth obligations to forests, including the protection of endangered species and National Estate values, World Heritage values, biodiversity issues, and also Aboriginal cultural heritage values. Assessments would also need to cover economic and social values and opportunities.

  The Commonwealth has made it clear to the Tasmanian government that its preferred approach to dealing with forest issues in that state is through a comprehensive regional assessment process which covers all forests, and that is described in the national forest policy statement. Under the NFPS, any comprehensive regional assessment process is to be initiated by an invitation from a state government. The aim of the process is to produce an intergovernmental regional forest agreement which specifies forest management arrangements that meet the range of obligations for forests of both governments.

  The agreement would balance increased certainty of access to resources for industry and the systematic and comprehensive protection of environmental and heritage values. The process could also provide a vehicle for the identification and interim protection of old growth forests and wilderness likely to have high conservation value, which would be consistent with the moratorium clause of the NFPS. (Time expired)