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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 101

Senator MILNE (5:16 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise today to take note of the government response to a resolution of the Senate pertaining to the proposal by Forestry Tasmania to build a road in the Tarkine wilderness. The motion was moved by my colleague, Senator Bob Brown, and it read:

That the Senate—


(a)   notes local government and community opposition to a road, proposed by Forestry Tasmania, through a section of the Tarkine forest; and

(b)   calls on the Government to ensure no federal funding is used, directly or indirectly, for this road unless or until local government concerns are addressed.

The Greens are pleased that the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, the Hon. Anthony Albanese, has now responded, pointing out that the Tasmanian government is responsible for providing funding to Forestry Tasmania for forestry roads, including any proposed roads within the Tarkine forest and that the Australian government is not providing funding for any roads within the Tarkine forest. I acknowledge the minister’s response and thank the federal government for recognising that it would be a complete waste of taxpayers’ money for the federal government to inject money into a road for which there is zero stakeholder support. Nobody in the local area supports this road. In fact, the Cradle Coast area reject the road and it is Forestry Tasmania and the Tasmanian government that are pushing it.

You have to ask yourself: why is it that Forestry Tasmania is so desperate to push a so-called tourism road into the Tarkine wilderness? What a surprise that Forestry Tasmania’s proposed road would go past its dismal swamp tourism venture—which I have to tell the Senate is losing money hand over fist. What a try-on to get more money out of governments to seal a road past a supposed tourism asset which is going broke and, furthermore, would allow sealed access to logging coops. What a surprise that it would be seeking tourism money to seal a road to give better access to logging coops. I am glad that the federal government has recognised this is yet another try-on from Forestry Tasmania to secure yet more subsidies to prop up its completely unsustainable operations.

It is particularly relevant at the moment with the global economic crisis that Forestry Tasmania is basically allowing Gunns to access Tasmania’s forests at very little return to the Tasmanian taxpayer. I would certainly be appreciative if the federal government could have a better look at what is going on because the global price of native forest woodchips has collapsed, as predicted, as a result of the global financial crisis. Forestry Tasmania did a deal with Gunns—a forestry agreement—that said that the price that it pays for woodchips would be directly relative to the export price and that it will go down accordingly. So all the risk is born by the Tasmanian taxpayer and Forestry Tasmania and not by the company. Where else in the world do you get deals where, as a private corporation, your profits are guaranteed and the state loses money?

We have virtually got to the point where Tasmania is getting nothing for the logging industry taking away our forests. Now that there is no market for export woodchips, what a surprise that Forestry Tasmania is rushing out and wanting to turn them into so-called renewable energy, which of course it is not, by burning the native forests. Gunns is proposing to have a native forest burning furnace at their pulp mill, and no doubt it will be rushing in to try to convert it to biochar. So the whole thing will be, ‘We have to keep logging those forests and we’ll come up with any reason at all to try to keep logging them,’ when in fact there is a huge potential to save those forests as the green carbon stores that they are and actually market them to the tourism industry. Tourists want to come and look at standing forests, not fight with forestry trucks on their backs on Tasmania’s roads as the log trucks generate more and more accidents in Tasmania.

We have had yet more accidents over the summer. We have so many log trucks on the roads and we have tourism vehicles on the roads, and with the state of the roads there is the inevitability of accidents because many of the roads are way too narrow to be able to accommodate the scale of the log trucks. You only had to see the queue of log trucks in Tasmania when young people managed to highlight the fact that so many of our carbon stores are going through the woodchipper for export to Japan. There was a queue of log trucks as far as the eye could see. The plant at Triabunna was shut down for only about 40 minutes. That gave people a sense of just how many of Tasmania’s forests are being logged unsustainably, with virtually no return to the taxpayer. There is a huge loss of carbon to the atmosphere and a huge loss of our carbon stores and biodiversity. To think that they would dress up what is effectively yet another logging road as some sort of tourism operation is a joke.

The Bartlett government, the Labor government in Tasmania, is supporting this road—what a surprise—but it is on hold now because the Tasmanian government is also under the hammer because of the financial crisis. The road is on hold, but it should never be supported. The community does not support it. It certainly wants to have more tourism facilities in the Tarkine. That is exactly what the Greens support: to have the area saved and see the 447,000 hectares of wilderness actually protected and given World Heritage status. It is the largest temperate rainforest in the Southern Hemisphere. It has more than 60 species listed as rare, threatened and endangered. It has a huge diversity of landscapes and rich Indigenous and European cultural heritage.

Conservationists and tourism operators are working towards full protection of the Tarkine and a well-resourced Parks and Wildlife Service to be able to manage the area. All of them want a well thought out conservation and tourism strategy. Nobody except Forestry Tasmania, the logging industry and the Bartlett government wants to see more roads pushed through rainforest. It is an outrageous proposition. It will lead to yet more road kill at night and loss of biodiversity. The area is already under great threat because Forestry Tasmania is using taxpayers’ money to fund that logging operation. It is also seeking, as I just indicated, to coopt taxpayers’ tourism money for the Tarkine region for a road through pristine rainforests in the heart of the area. That road will open up the Tarkine to weeds, pests, diseases and greater risk of arson and wildfire.

I would remind the Senate that it was only last year that an off-road vehicle user lit a fire in the Tarkine that wiped out 30,000 hectares of the area, including a precious stand of Huon pines. Because the rules of arson relate to loss of property and the fact that native forest is not regarded as property having any value, there is virtually no penalty for arsonists. At the time they built that Tarkine road, we said very clearly—and I was one of the people arrested there—that this would give access to arsonists and illegal logging of the Tarkine. The road to nowhere was a stupid idea and it remains a stupid idea. To make matters worse, to build yet another road—a link road, a loop road—for forestry at the cost of $23 million would have been an abuse of taxpayers’ money. So I am delighted that the minister has said that no federal funding will go to Forestry Tasmania’s stupid link road to try and prop up its dismal swamp operations and to give sealed road access to its logging coops.

I congratulate the federal government, but I would like the federal government to reopen discussion about Tasmania’s forests. We are seeing the precious forests of the Florentine being logged and having a road pushed in there. It is a tragedy. We need to see the regional forest agreements overthrown and, instead, our precious native forests valued for their biodiversity and the carbon stores that they represent. That will be worth so much more financially, in terms of the climate, our quality of life and biodiversity in the future than any amount of woodchips shipped out to Japan.

Question agreed to.