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Monday, 30 August 1999
Page: 7976

Senator FORSHAW (8:55 PM) —by leave—I move opposition amendments Nos R4 and 6:

(R4) Clause 3, page 3 (after line 8), after paragraph (c) of the definition of RFA or Regional Forest Agreement , insert:

(ca) if the agreement is made after 1 March 1999, it was made in accordance with the public and parliamentary scrutiny provisions of this Act;

(6) Clause 3, page 3 (after line 10) after paragraph (d) of the definition of RFA or Regional Forest Agreement , insert:

(da) the agreement provides for structural adjustment packages, including relocation and retraining for affected workers and their families;

Amendment No. R4 proposes to vary clause 3 to insert a new paragraph (ca). Just about everything that needs to be said has been said in earlier debates with regard to this issue. The amendment gives effect to other proposals which have already been endorsed by the Senate, whereby regional forest agreements made after 1 March 1999 are open to the processes of public and parliamentary scrutiny that are outlined primarily in amendment No. 7, which was carried earlier.

I can anticipate some of the arguments that will be put by Senator Brown in particular, because he has said on a number of occasions that this proposal applies to RFAs entered into after 1 March and, by virtue of that, three existing RFAs would not be subject to the processes of scrutiny that any subsequent RFAs would be.

There are two points I wish to address here. Since this bill was introduced into the parliament in June 1998, we have consistently expressed the concern that the government was seeking a blank cheque from the parliament for legislative backing for agreements that, at that stage, had not been finalised and whose terms and conditions were as yet unknown. That is still the case.

There has been a significant passage of time since the bill was first introduced, since the report of the Senate committee, and indeed before the debate has come on in the committee stage. In that time, only three further RFAs have been finalised. One of those is the RFA in Western Australia which has been the subject of substantial public debate and concern and has also been the subject of political—I don't want to use Wilson Tuckey's word `warfare'—disagreement. There has been another RFA finalised only recently in Victoria and another one in recent days in the south-east of New South Wales.

That still leaves some three or more RFAs to be negotiated and finalised before the end of this year. In at least one of those cases—the WA RFA—there is substantial disquiet and concern, particularly with regard to the decision of the Western Australian government, subsequent to the signing of the RFA, to unilaterally change conditions in the future for logging in old-growth forests. That has led to a situation where it is questionable as to whether or not there really is any agreement in total between the Western Australian government and the federal government and the federal minister as to a precise and permanent RFA for Western Australia.

The two other RFAs that I referred to in Victoria and in New South Wales, whilst they have been signed, have only recently been signed and would be subject to the proposed public and parliamentary scrutiny provisions that we have put before the Senate, which have indeed been passed. That is because they have been signed after 1 March 1999.

The principle really is this: the first three RFAs—that is, in Tasmania, East Gippsland and the Central Highlands of Victoria—certainly at the time of the introduction of this legislation and certainly at the time the legislation came before, firstly, the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee for consideration and, subsequently, before this chamber, have been in operation for a substantial period. Implementation of those RFAs was well under way. They enjoyed bipartisan support from the relevant state governments and parliaments. Indeed, they had been signed off by the state government and the federal government well in advance of the debate commencing on this legislation in this chamber.

We have taken the view that it would be totally unfair, and would frustrate and possibly seriously impede the operation of those agreements, to have subjected them to the processes that we have put forward in this legislation for parliamentary scrutiny. No doubt some will argue that this is inequitable treatment, but it is not, the reason being that those three RFAs—the Tasmanian RFA and the two in Victoria—had been implemented, were well under way, had been in operation for some time and had been subject to a substantial amount of not only public scrutiny but also parliamentary scrutiny, at least certainly in debates. If nothing else, one can point to the evidence that was put before the Senate committee in relation to the number of inquiries that had been conducted in respect of the Tasmanian RFA and the whole issue of forestry in Tasmania.

We have a different situation to confront when we deal with those RFAs that are still remaining to be finalised or those that have only just been finalised. We believe it is appropriate that the provisions we have put forward would apply to those RFAs and to any others that are to be entered into between now and the proposed cut-off date of 31 December this year. It really is about the question of the integrity of the RFA processes and providing an opportunity for them to be subject to the scrutiny that we have outlined.

Our amendment gives effect to the requirement that, if the agreement is made after 1 March 1999, it is made in accordance with the public and parliamentary scrutiny provisions of this act. The revised amendment that is proposed here picks up the proposition or suggestion that was actually contained in the legal advice obtained by the government, which Mr Tuckey sought to rely on to suggest that the proposals were unconstitutional. We have rejected those arguments but, further, it was made clear in that advice that terminology along these lines would clearly be constitutional.

The other amendment, amendment No. 6, proposes to add to the definition of an RFA or a regional forest agreement the following words:

. . . the agreement provides for structural adjustment packages, including relocation and retraining for affected workers and their families . . .

This gives effect to a recognition in the legislation that an essential part of this whole process is the structural adjustment that will occur, that will have to be funded and that will include appropriate relocation and retraining for affected workers and their families and be consistent with our objective and the objectives of the national forest policy statement with respect to the future development and restructuring of this industry. I would urge senators to support these amendments. They are integral to the key amendments that we have moved: firstly, a provision for public and parliamentary scrutiny; and, secondly, recognition of the need to develop and enhance our forest product industries through bodies such as the wood and paper industry council.