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Monday, 23 August 1999
Page: 7464

Senator HOGG (12:39 PM) —I rise in this debate today on the Regional Forest Agreements Bill 1998 to focus on my home state, Queensland. In particular I want to look at the process that has evolved in the South-East Queensland Regional Forest Agreement. Of course, there is no firm RFA for the south-east Queensland region at this stage. What I want to do is outline the process that has been pursued and the possible impacts of an RFA in the south-east Queensland region, and of course the important concerns that need to be taken into consideration in the development and conclu sion of any RFA. The Queensland and Commonwealth governments are scheduled to finalise the South-East Queensland RFA this year.

Senator McGauran —Do you support the bill?

Senator HOGG —The objectives of the SEQRFA, the South-East Queensland Regional Forest Agreement, were the establishment of a comprehensive, adequate and representative environmental reserve system; long-term ecologically sustainable management of forests; and the development of competitive and efficient forest industries. To that end the Queensland government established a forest and timber industry task force within the Department of State Development to advise the government on the approach to the SEQRFA. The task force comprised a number of stakeholders including the Queensland Timber Board, the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society, other non-government members of the regional forest agreement reference panel—

Senator McGauran —Do you support the bill?

Senator HOGG —Commonwealth government, local government and—

Senator McGauran —Come on!

Senator HOGG —You can have a go later, Senator McGauran. And the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, DNR; the Department of Primary Industries, DPI; and the Environmental Protection Agency. So it canvassed views widely. The task force, in considering the range of issues, considered the following: the expansion of plantations of both softwoods and native hardwoods; the encouragement of farm forestry, timber industry development and investment strategies, including expansion of downstream processing and associated employment; potential for new economic development initiatives in rural areas, including ecotourism initiatives and new industries based on native plants; the potential for a world-class conservation reserve system in accordance with agreed parameters, and review of the legislative and regulatory arrangements to achieve more integrated, coordinated and effective land use decision making.

The Queensland government went to a fair degree of trouble in its consultative process in the south-east Queensland area in the development of the RFA. As a result, in March and April this year, the Commonwealth and Queensland governments jointly released two documents for public access. Those documents were: The South-East Queensland Comprehensive Regional Assessment Report and The South-East Queensland Social Assessment Report. These reports summarise the cooperative work undertaken by the two governments to provide an assessment of the forests and forest based industries of south-east Queensland.

In May 1999, the Commonwealth and Queensland governments published a document entitled Towards a South-East Queensland Regional Forest Agreement—A Directions Report. The report was jointly prepared to facilitate government, stakeholder and community involvement in the final development of the SEQRFA. The report has been widely circulated, such that there can be final negotiation on an RFA for the south-east Queensland area, but there has been no finalisation of that RFA at this stage. It is for that reason that, when I heard my colleague Senator Woodley from the Democrats speaking in this particular debate, I thought it wise to intervene because it seemed to me that there are a number of issues at stake, and of course the issue that he mentioned in particular, the issue that I am interested in, is the issue of employment, and I will come to that in a few moments.

Arising out of Towards a South-East Queensland Regional Forest Agreement—A Directions Report were, in effect, a range of six or seven options, if my recollection is correct. Whilst a number of options emerged, a particular option has not gained favour to this point in time. However, it is worthwhile to look at the implications of what the regional forest agreement will mean for south-east Queensland.

Whilst it is too wide an issue to canvass every region within south-east Queensland, it is worthwhile looking at the Eidsvold-Monto region and the impact that the options may have upon that region. I refer in particular to a document which gives an analysis of the area under the heading `The value of native forest industries to the communities in south-east Queensland—May 1999'. The document was prepared by the Forest Protection Society. Whilst I cannot say that the figures are 100 per cent accurate I know that, according to the report, they were accurate as of about 1996.

The document refers to the Eidsvold-Monto region having eight timber mills. It lists those timber mills and details the impact on employees, industry and industry expenditure. There are 214 employees and 642 family dependants covered by those eight mills in the various places of residence within the Eidsvold-Monto region. In Bundaberg there are 42 employees and 126 family dependants; in Maryborough, 40 employees and 120 family dependants; in Eidsvold, 32 employees and 96 family dependants; in Wondai, 21 employees and 63 family dependants; in Tiaro, 20 employees and 60 family dependants; in Monto, 18 employees and 54 family dependants; and so on. When the RFA is finalised for the south-east Queensland region it needs to have a balance between conservation and the livelihood of the people in those regions. I think that is what my colleague Senator Woodley—I hope I do not misrepresent what he said—was alluding to in his speech on this bill. I believe the disagreement that will come will be how that is necessarily achieved. Nonetheless, the importance is there.

In many of these towns the timber operation is a significant one: it is very much the heart of the community. When one looks at the potential impacts on places such as Eidsvold, Wondai and Monto, where unemployment rates are naturally high because there is not a large number of industries, obtaining a balance between the interests of the people and the interests of conservation is important. The difficulties that exist in some of these country centres were taken into consideration when an alternative proposition was put forward by the Queensland Timber Board, the Australian Workers Union and the Forest Protection Society. It was hoped to achieve the best of all worlds by having a regional forest agreement in south-east Queensland which addressed both the conservation issues and, at the same time, the lifestyle and livelihood of the people in the communities such as those that I have mentioned.

I turn to the proposal that was put forward in the regional forest development plan under the aegis of the Queensland Timber Board, the Australian Workers Union and the Forest Protection Society. The paper outlined a regional forest development plan, a potential regional forest agreement outcome for south-east Queensland. It was stated that the option had been prepared jointly by groups representing industry, workers and forest based communities. The document went on to list three crucial elements in the future management of the forests in south-east Queensland: firstly, improved native forest management; secondly, a transition towards hardwood plantations; and, thirdly, an expansion of the reserve system to ensure that it is comprehensive, adequate and representative. The document went on to say:

It is the simultaneous implementation of these three initiatives which provides a balanced path forward for the management of Queensland native forests.

Whilst we do not have an RFA in south-east Queensland at this time, what we have are a number of options which are still under public scrutiny and subject to finalisation and, of course, we have an alternative—if I can call it that—put forward by the Queensland Timber Board, the Australian Workers Union and the Forest Protection Society. These groups talked about delivering key objectives. They said that, under their plan, the key objectives related to economic, social and environmental concerns. They stated:

The reserve system is expanded by approximately 200 000 hectares, substantially achieving the targets set down by Government and fulfilling the JANIS criteria in areas such as biodiversity, old growth and wilderness using appropriate flexibility and socio-economic considerations.

In the major elements part of the plan a number of areas were covered, such as improved native forest management and the transition towards hardwood plantations. They said that their plan:

. . . includes a program to establish a hardwood plantation resource. As this resource matures the hardwood industry will undergo a transition to a greater reliance on plantation wood supply.

The last element of the plan is the expanded reserve system. The document stated:

This represents an increase of approximately 50% in the size of the forest reserve system in the region and would mean that more than half of the publicly owned native forest would be in formal reserves.

The regional forest development plan of the Queensland Timber Board, the Australian Workers Union and the Forest Protection Society looked at delivering key objectives. It addressed a number of issues, such as the JANIS criteria, ecologically sustainable forest management, wood supply, industry development and, of course, community vision. In particular, I want to look at industry development. The report said:

Many . . . mills have indicated a preparedness to invest upwards of a million dollars each to improve their value-added capability and undertake more efficient log conversion. Larger mills have indicated capital expenditure considerations in excess of $10 million for the latest technology equipment for recovering high value products from hardwood logs. Employment levels would be at least maintained and for many of these investments there would be an increase in employment.

So while there is no RFA for the south-east Queensland region at this stage, the proposal being put forward in the regional forest development plan by the Queensland Timber Board, the Australian Workers Union and the Forest Protection Society is looking to try to balance economically sustainable forest management, the JANIS criteria, wood supply and also industry development. In that respect, the report has to be commended.

The thing I want to focus on mostly is the very last point they make in the paragraph about delivery key objectives, that is, community vision. This touches on the issue raised by my colleague Senator Woodley. The report states:

Forest-based industries are among the principal sources of employment in many rural areas, playing an important role in sustaining local communities and businesses. Some small rural communities rely entirely on various forest uses for their livelihood.

The future vision for all the towns that participated in the government's community workshops was for a continuation of a sustainable and renewable timber industry.

That is important because here we have a recognition that without the resource you will not have a sustainable and renewable timber industry. The development plan that has been adopted by the Queensland Timber Board, the Australian Workers Union and the Forest Protection Society, while it is another alternative floating around in the ether of the development of an RFA for south-east Queensland, has been approached in a responsible manner. Under the heading `Community Vision', they went on to say:

A strong common theme is the need to create work opportunities and maintain jobs in order to maintain a stable community for the future. The Regional Forest Development Plan provides a sound basis for the fulfilment of the community's vision.

When one considers the types of communities that we are talking about in south-east Queensland, I think the approach which has been adopted in that particular plan goes a long way to addressing two key issues: employment and conservation. Indeed, without those the industry will not survive.