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Wednesday, 26 September 2001
Page: 28061


Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (9:29 PM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

MIGRATION AGENTS REGISTRATION APPLICATION CHARGE AMENDMENT BILL 2001

This bill amends the Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Act 1997 to increase the amount of the charge limit for registration applications by migration agents.

A migration agent is someone who uses or purports to use his or her knowledge or experience in migration procedure to give immigration assistance to a visa applicant.

Under the Migration Act 1958, such a person must be registered with the Migration Agents Registration Authority.

The Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Act 1997 imposes a charge on an individual who makes a registration application.

However, the amount of charge that is actually payable is set out in the Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Regulations 1998.

The regulations prescribe different charge amounts depending on whether an individual acts on a commercial or a non-commercial basis and whether the individual is applying for initial or repeat registration.

At present, some of the charges set out in the regulations are close to the maximum charge limit permitted by the act.

The new charge limit included in the bill will provide a clearer indication that the charges payable as set by the regulations are within the charge limit authorised by the act.

The amendments in the bill will not increase the charge payable - this is done by regulation.

The charges in the regulations are set at a level appropriate to provide adequate resources to the Migration Agents Registration Authority to carry out its statutory responsibilities.

The Migration Agents Registration Authority is funded by an appropriation equivalent to the sum of registration application fees that have been collected under the charge act and regulations.

I commend the bill to the chamber.

—————

REGIONAL FOREST AGREEMENTS BILL 2001

It is with great pleasure that I introduce The Regional Forest Agreements Bill 2001 that commits the Commonwealth unequivocally to the outcomes achieved in the Regional Forest Agreement process and provides the basis for an internationally competitive and sustainable forest and wood products industry.

For too long conflict and division characterised the so-called debate on the management, use and conservation of Australian forests. Conflict engendered an uncertain investment climate and community doubt as to whether environmental values were being adequately protected.

In 1992, the Resource Assessment Commission reported the outcome of a three-year Forest and Timber Inquiry. The Commission found an overriding national need for improved intergovernmental institutions and decision processes that would support comprehensive forward planning for forest use. This finding, and the Commission's recommendations, was the basis for the National Forest Policy Statement of 1992.

The National Forest Policy Statement provided a nationally agreed policy framework for a long-term and lasting resolution of forest industry, conservation and community interests and expectations concerning our nation's forest. It set in motion the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) process. The statement committed the Commonwealth and all States to the ecologically sustainable management of forests and a balanced return from all forest uses.

The RFA process saw Commonwealth and State Government jointly conduct comprehensive regional assessments of the environmental, heritage, economic and social value of our forests. These then formed the basis for the negotiation of RFAs between the Commonwealth and individual State Governments.

This Government recognised the need to increase our wood resources through plantation development and took action by funding value adding projects across the entire native forest hardwood sector that will result in security for forest workers and a substantial improvement in Australia's economic circumstances.

Clear evidence of this Government's commitment to the long-term future of the native forest industry is the continuation of the Commonwealth Government's Forest Industry Structural Adjustment Program (FISAP). The Government has facilitated value-adding investment in the native forest industry through targeted FISAP grants in RFA regions. Around $70 million remains to be spent to underpin hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in the native hardwood timber industry.

Our target from the growth and extension of the pulp and paper sector under the Forest and Wood Products Action Agenda includes adequate protection for this developing sector from any unfair trading practices arising from competitor nations.

The Government has now published the discussion draft of the National Forestry Standard that will improve community confidence in forest management domestically and overseas.

Above all our policies have been consistent and not party politically motivated with good science and the practical advice of long time industry participants prevailing in our decision making process.

This stands in stark contrast to the ever-changing position of our opponents in the Labor Party. Notwithstanding their authorship of the bipartisan National Forest Policy Statement in 1992 they quickly abandoned any pretence of proceeding to the formal protection of forests and industry available through Regional Forest Agreements and by 1996 when they lost office not one RFA was signed. This task has been concluded by the Howard Government and our commitment reinforced by the introduction of this legislation.

Their State colleagues in Queensland refused to comply with the basic RFA arrangements, choosing instead their own deal which includes the legislated phase out of ALL native forest activity over 20 years. The only Government to do so. They paid large sawmillers to close resulting in massive and unnecessary job losses. Promised compensation and assistance from the Queensland Government to small sawmillers is yet to materialise, while the Howard Government has distributed funding offers in line with its original promise but without the RFA it expected. Queensland's promise of 100 extra jobs in forest management in fact materialised as 97 redundancies of existing forest department employees.

In NSW the Carr Government has constantly unilaterally legislated for over-representation of reserve areas resulting in reduced resource. Only in the Southern Region when it became apparent I would not release Federal funding without adequate sustainable resource was a sensible outcome achieved. Now they have turned upon the private sector resource.

In Victoria, where all RFAs produced paper results guaranteeing adequate resource, the Bracks Labor Government has commenced a fear campaign to sustain a review of the resource available with threats of a 20 per cent reduction. No compensatory proposals to resource log supply from over-represented reserves appears to be being considered.

In WA, the newly elected Gallop Government has completely turned its back on the principles of the RFA signed with that State. The result is a further 60 per cent reduction in wood supply and over 400 jobs lost already with thousands more to come. That Government has also refused to pay redundancy to the employees who have lost their jobs purely as the result of a political decision.

This Government has delivered on its commitment to the forest industries and achieved balanced outcomes for the sustainable use and conservation of Australia's native forests for all Australians.

RFAs now cover 11 regions in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and Western Australia. Taken together, they have produced:

· Nearly 10.4 million hectares of Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR) reserves, adding 2.9 million hectares to existing reserves or around 40 per cent.

· An increase of around 41 per cent in the area of old growth forest in reserves, to 3.4 million hectares, representing some 68 per cent of the total area of old-growth forest.

· Increased employment in the plantations industry.

· Improved resource stability (20-year certainty in resource supply) and a more secure future for some 80,000 people directly employed in the forest industry.

· Provided Commonwealth funding under the Forest Industry Structural Adjustment Program (FISAP) to assist business development and create regional employment opportunities.

· Improved prospects for further investment in domestic processing.

Let me highlight some of the new investment flowing from RFAs:

In Victoria, an estimated $358 million of investment is directly or partially linked to the signing of two RFAs. In Tasmania, Neville Smith & Company has spent $1.5 million on high-tech kilns, new moulders and other equipment at its Mowbray mill. The security provided by the Eden RFA in NSW was responsible for the opening of the Blue Ridge Hardwood sawmill development on the outskirts of the NSW coastal town. We have recently received applications for FISAP support to underpin $75 million in investment and over 180 jobs in NSW. These investments in rural areas, where there are often few other skilled job opportunities, are vital to the well being of communities.

Honourable members will recall that an earlier version of the bill was debated extensively in this place in 1999. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. The number of RFAs has increased from three to ten. New environmental legislation has come into force. The Forest and Wood Products Agenda has been launched. The Forest and Wood Products Council has been established and has held two meetings. The bill I bring forward today recognises these developments.

“What is to stop future Commonwealth Governments from just walking away from these exhaustively and comprehensively negotiated Agreements?” This is certainly the question I'd be asking and it is clear that industry and timber communities are concerned about this as well.

There are three main objectives of the bill. The first is to give effect to certain obligations on the Commonwealth under the RFAs. These obligations involve ensuring that forestry operations in regions subject to RFAs are excluded from Commonwealth legislation relating to export controls, the environment and heritage.

The reason for this obligation is simply that environmental, heritage and economic values of these regions have been comprehensively assessed through the RFA process and State legislation governing sustainable forest management, environmental protection and endangered species still applies. An RFA is signed when the Commonwealth has satisfied itself that State regimes adequately address these interests. There is no need for further assessment at the Commonwealth level, nor further debate or conflict. The bill also binds the Commonwealth to the termination and compensation provisions in RFAs.

The second objective is to provide legislative commitment and support to the National Forest Policy Statement and the Forest and Wood Products Action Agenda.

The third objective of the bill is that it will legislate for the continuation of the Forest and Wood Products Council.

These objectives continue our national commitment to build an internationally competitive, sustainable forest industry based on increased value-adding and continuous improvement.

In 1999-2000, Australian imports worth $3.8 billion consisted of mainly paper and high value products. In the same year we exported $1.6 billion of forest and wood products, mainly woodchips and roundwood. Yet with our extensive forest resources, Australia should be in a position to export a wide range of high value products to redress this imbalance.

Rather than consuming wood harvested from other countries where there are concerns about sustainability, we should be consuming our own wood and exporting it to the rest of the world. We should be promoting Australian wood for the global good and advertising the fact that Australia is a world leader in sustainable forest management.

The RFAs have secured for us a native forest resource base for the next 20 years, some essential structural adjustment and value adding funded in part by the Forest Industry Structural Adjustment Program (FISAP) and new processing and manufacturing investment in RFA regions. We are also getting substantial new investment in plantations. Last year Australia's plantation base expanded by over 100,000 hectares. We are committed to achieving the 2020 vision of trebling the area of plantations to three million hectares by the year 2020.

We now have the resource base. We are building on our processing and manufacturing base. What more do we need to do to maximise sustainable and profitable activity for tree growing, value-adding and marketing of Australia's forest and wood products?

In November 2000 the Government announced the Forest and Wood Products Action Agenda - Forest and Wood Futures. A number of actions in that agenda have been implemented:

· In July 2001, the Commonwealth increased its contributions to the Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation (FWPRDC), to match industry contributions dollar for dollar.

· The Commonwealth also established the Forest and Wood Products Council. The Council has met twice to date and outcomes of this meeting are published on the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website.

· The Australian Forestry Standard Steering Committee has published a draft Australian Forestry Standard for comment. The AFS will provide a basis for independent, third party certification of forest management.

Industry should now be able to benefit from the competitive advantages offered by Australia's reputation as a manager of highly sustainable forests.

The Forest and Wood Products Council is creating a sustainable, long-term and competitive forest industry, through its work progressing the Action Agenda. Committing to the continued existence of the Forest and Wood Products Council and the Action Agenda is important in order to progress the future vision of the Australian forest industry.

In summary, we have made a substantial difference to the forest industry in Australia through the RFA process, the Vision 2020 and the Forest and Wood Products Action Agenda. We now have world-class forest reserves, an increasingly secure forest industry looking to expand into value adding opportunities, an expanding plantation resource base, extensive research and development commissioned by the Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation, and a Government and industry partnership driving an Action Agenda. The Australian forest industry is well placed to tackle future challenges and to begin reversing the trade imbalance in forest and wood products.

The passing of The Regional Forest Agreements bill 2001 will be a demonstration of Commonwealth support and signals our continued commitment to the future of the forest and wood products sector in Australia.

I commend the bill to the Senate.