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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5372


Senator MILNE (12:32 PM) —I want to return to the issue of native forest logging and this legislation being a driver for more destruction of native forest. There is a Gunns pulp mill proposed for Tasmania. They have a 30-year wood supply agreement for native forests with the Tasmanian government. They can access Tasmania’s native forests for the next 30 years. At this stage, only one bit of equipment has arrived at Bell Bay for this pulp mill. What a surprise: it is a forest-burning furnace. Regardless of whether or not they get their pulp mill up, they want to be able to burn native forest woodchips and generate energy. The Gunns pulp mill furnace is for 184 megawatts. I want to know from the minister whether those 184 megawatts will be eligible under this scheme for renewable energy certificates. Considering the renewable energy target, Australians would be horrified to know that the government is actively proposing that that occur. I would like the minister to comment specifically on whether she is prepared to give out the renewable energy certificate—that correspond to 184 megawatts of power—to Gunns, when they are destroying ecosystems.

Just this week I pointed out by interjection to Senator Macdonald that the minister for the environment released a report saying that we had 1,750 species on the threatened species list in Australia. As my colleague Senator Siewert has pointed out, we have the highest rate of mammalian extinction in the world. What a record for this country! We have seen destruction of forests, and this will drive further destruction of forests. To that end, there has been quite a lot of lobbying in relation to this. The Australian Forest and Climate Alliance have got together and put out a statement today on this legislation. The statement is endorsed by a large group of people across Australia who do not want to see burning native forests in these so-called renewable energy targets. I will read out the names, because it is worth the government and the coalition understanding just how many people object to what is an obscenity. In an age of global climate change—when 20 per cent of greenhouse gas around the world comes from deforestation—we are encouraging the logging of native forests. To add insult to injury, we are going to pay people a premium to do it through this renewable energy target.

This statement has been endorsed by Lawyers for Forests, the South East Region Conservation Alliance, Environment East Gippsland, the Western Australian Forest Alliance, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Coastwatchers, Chipstop, the Huon Valley Environment Centre, Friends of the Earth, GECO, the Wilderness Society, Environment Tasmania, the South East Forest Rescue, Still Wild Still Threatened, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Environment Network, the North East Forest Alliance, the Forest Action Trust and Healthy Soils Australia. They represent a lot of people who are working very hard on the ground to try to protect ecosystems and to try to protect species in front of bulldozers. Here we have in this parliament, it seems, a consensus between the government and the coalition. It is exactly what I said last night about George Orwell. He wrote in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four:

The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them … To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary.

It is called ‘doublethink’, and that is what is going on here. We have a government engaged in doublethink on the one hand running to Copenhagen saying they are interested in reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation while on the other hand, in this place, having a renewable energy target which is derived in part from burning native forests. If that is not doublethink, I do not know what it is.

Senator Macdonald might suggest that you would expect these groups to have a view about burning native forests—of course they do, because they are rational about ecosystems, they are rational about the loss of species and they are worried about climate change. They are saying that over 70 representatives from forest groups around Australia have recently formed this alliance, that peak environment groups, local and regional forest protection groups, young people and NGOs are all calling on the Rudd government to secure Australia’s climate future by protecting native forests from logging, woodchipping and burning. And so they should, because they are worried about their future. They are worried about the collapse of ecosystems. They are worried about the lack of resilience and the loss of biodiversity. And so they should be.

Even this Senate agreed in a Senate committee report that the regional forest agreements are not protecting biodiversity, and there is a review into that at the moment. It is not good enough to say that it is just government policy. As these groups have said, burning native forests for power generation is a ridiculous proposal cooked up by a logging industry desperate for alternative markets for woodchips. That is exactly the reality of what is going on here. Native forest furnaces are bad for the climate, bad for water supplies and bad for wildlife and must be rejected. These groups go on to say that without eight million tonnes of native forest woodchipping in Australia each year there would be no waste. That is absolutely right. When you take account of the whole life cycle of the fuel that industrial burning of native forest wood generates, it is about six times the greenhouse gas emissions of coal fired electricity. ‘It’s not renewable, it’s not clean, it’s definitely not green,’ said Harriet Swift, who is a spokesperson for Chipstop.

Around Australia people want to see this aspect of the legislation taken out. It was a mistake when it was put in there. At the time, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Wilderness Society and all these groups were coming out very strongly, opposing it being in there. They saw this as an opportunity to expand the renewable energy target, to have genuine renewable energy, not use this as an excuse to prop up the destruction of ecosystems and to drive climate change and make it worse. The whole thing here is that these forests are not accounted for in the greenhouse accounts. You can log an old growth forest—and studies by the ANU have shown that these are some of the most carbon-dense forests in the world—and you can put all that carbon to atmosphere, with the soil carbon, the whole shebang, and you are deemed to be carbon neutral in doing it. That is an outrage in terms of the greenhouse accounts. It bears no resemblance to reality and it is nonsense to be carrying on like that. So we are seeing precious native forests knocked down, with huge carbon stores released to atmosphere, then the wood taken and put in a burner, and renewable energy certificates given.

I want to hear the minister tell all these forest groups and people in Tasmania who are so vehemently opposed to native forests going into the Gunns pulp mill that not one renewable certificate is going to be granted to energy that comes from the Gunns forest-burning furnace, because 184 megawatts is a lot of energy. We want to hear the minister say whether or not certificates are going to come from that furnace. We also want to know how the minister can justify her position, telling the Indonesians not to log their forests whilst subsidising the logging of ours and asking taxpayers to pay more for their electricity to prop up the woodchip industry, just as we are going to be asking every energy consumer to pay more for coal gas—a fossil fuel within a renewable energy target. It is a complete nonsense and it is a browning-down of this. Consider the crowding out of renewables that is going to occur from energy produced from logging forests and energy produced from coal gas. They should be outside, in an energy efficiency scheme, not in a renewable energy scheme, so that we can increase the impact we are having on reducing emissions. But no, we get none of that.

So I think the minister really needs to explain to the Australian people how she can justify the logging of native forests when the market for woodchips is not there. That market has collapsed. That is why the woodchip mills are on two days a week in many places around the country—because there is no market for woodchips. She is creating an expanded market through the renewable energy target and giving them the opportunity to move on to forest furnaces.