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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 8447

Senator COLBECK (Tasmania) (17:26): by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

It has been a long time since we have heard anything from this government in relation to Australia's pulp and paper industry. It is interesting that this week, when the ForestWorks conference is on and representatives of the timber and paper industry are in town, Minister Combet has made a decision to make a ministerial statement. But you really wonder what the value of this statement actually is given the tawdry history of the way the government has managed this particular issue. The ministerial statement says in part:

In 2009, the government convened the Pulp and Paper Industry Strategy Group to undertake a strategic review of Australia's pulp and paper industry.

I will come to the time lines around that later. The strategy group's report included a recommendation on the themes for innovation, investment and sustainable productivity. The government's response is on the website. It then goes on to talk about the establishment of a leadership group and the government's key announcement in the statement that was tabled in House of Representatives yesterday was the appointment of the advisory group to the manufacturing leaders group of Mr Michael O'Connor and Mr Jim Henneberry, who the statement says will play a key role in ensuring that the concerns of the pulp and paper industry are heard and considered in the development of our manufacturing industries.

I have to say you really wonder what has been going on within government and what the government has been doing with its own appointment when on 11 October 2010 they appointed experts to guide pulp and paper industry development. So the government at that point in time put together a pulp and paper industry innovation council, to be chaired by Mr Steven Payne, head of the manufacturing division in his department, and appointing Mr Jim Henneberry from Australian Paper and Mr Michael O'Connor as the deputy chairs. There is no reference to that appointment or this committee that included a number of members from the paper industry, the union movement and the forest industry, back in 2010. It is my understanding that there is nothing happened or meetings held of that committee since. And so here we have, two years later, the appointment of two of the same personalities out of that committee to another group by the government.

When you go back and look at the history of this whole process, and the government's attitude to the pulp and paper industry, it is interesting to note that since 1998 the Labor Party has had a policy position which was promising a pulp and paper industry strategy, 'to devise growth strategies based on new investment and new innovation and a commitment to job opportunities,' and to base that strategy on the regional forest agreement. Now that has been the promise of the government since 1998. Yet in government, here we are in 2012 making two appointments to a group that reflect very much two appointments that were made to a similar group two years ago.

We go back to the outset of this process, where on 6 March 2009, in response to an announcement by Australian Paper that they were reviewing the operations of two paper mills on the north-west coast of Tasmania, Minister Carr and the member for Braddon, Mr Sidebottom, conducted a meeting in Melbourne. Minister Carr could not come to Tasmania to meet the locals; they all had to go to Melbourne to meet him. They announced, with great fanfare, that they would put together a pulp and paper strategy group—a reference group to review the industry.

The review and reference group was announced on 6 March by then Minister Carr and Mr Sidebottom. The press release that they put out said:

The strategy group will run in parallel with the current company review, which is intended to be completed by the end of June.

And also:

The review and the strategy group report will give government, the North-West Coast community and the industry a clearer understanding of where things are at and what the industry may need to sustain its future.

That was on 6 March 2009.

Three months later, we still did not have terms of reference for that group. On 20 March, when we made some inquiries through the minister's office, Minister Carr's office said that the terms of reference were still being decided. On 15 May we made further inquiries and Minister Carr's office said that the terms of reference, 'will be announced within two weeks'. On 11 June, Minister Carr's office told the media that there was no time frame for the terms of reference. The review being done by Australian Paper of their paper mills was almost over and the terms of reference had not even been announced.

Then on 12 June, Mr Sidebottom said, 'There is no connection between the Australian Paper review and the government process'. So, despite the initial announcement on 6 March saying that the strategy group would run in parallel with the current company review, by the time we got to 12 June, and no action out of the minister's office, Mr Sidebottom had to say that there was no connection between the Australian Paper review and the government process. What a complete and utter farce!

On 19 June, Minister Carr finally announced the terms of reference, with the review to be finalised by November 2009. In August the minister again claimed that the report would be finalised in November 2009. On 21 October Minister Carr said that the report would be finalised on 16 December. And on 16 December, Minister Carr announced that the report would be due by the end of March 2010. What a complete debacle! And the government wants us to think that they are serious about the pulp and paper industry.

On 20 April we finally got the report. By that time, Australian Paper had announced the fate of its mills in December 2009 and, as we said back in March, 'The way the government is going, Australian Paper will have made its decisions before the report comes out', and that is exactly what happened. And here we are in 2012, having released the report, and the one recommendation that the government has done anything about at all was the development of a pulp and paper industry innovation council to improve innovation.

That council was appointed in 2010. It has done nothing. And now, with the Forest Works Conference in town this week, we have Minister Combet coming out with an announcement to say, 'We are appointing Mr Jim Henneberry and Mr Michael O'Connor as co-chairs to provide advice to the manufacturing leaders group'. How can the pulp and paper industry in Australia have any confidence at all in the management of its industry by this government?

The two paper mills on the north-west coast of Tasmania have long since closed. They were supposed to use the process that the government set up to inform them, the community and the workers of how to move forward. It was a year later that the report finally became available, after a number of delays. Then we have this process where there has been no action for two years and suddenly we have two appointments that were mirror appointments of those made at this time in 2010, and we are supposed to believe that this government has plans, ideas and thoughts to take this industry forward. I do not see how anybody can have any confidence that that might be the case.

Question agreed to.