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Thursday, 11 November 1976
Page: 2647

Mr UREN (Reid) -The Labor Party supports this Bill but is concerned with several aspects implied by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) in his second reading speech. We are concerned about the economic and environmental consequences of the continuation of agreements like this and we are concerned that the studies undertaken by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics and the Forestry and Timber Bureau are not public and may have overlooked many important issues. We are concerned that this legislation has ignored the findings of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation. We are concerned that this agreement will lead to a possible over-commitment to softwood and its products. We are concerned at the possible desecration of our native forests. We are concerned about the future of our flora and fauna in this country. We are concerned about the introduction and spread of exotic diseases. We are concerned that no research has been conducted into the long term hydrology, soil structure and nutrient values of soils subjected to monoculture forestry. We are concerned that clear felling and intensive forestry operations may destroy our watersheds. We are concerned about this Government's commitment to the environment.

Our Party is concerned because in the early days of settlement Australia had a thick band of native forests running down the east coast. These forests stretched from the dense rain forests of Cape York through the red cedar forests of northern New South Wales to the magnificent 300 foot high eucalypts of Tasmania's Florentine Valley. In Western Australia dense karrimarri and jarrah-marri forests were a green enclave in a largely barren State. Their existence safeguarded the water supplies necessary for the development of the south-west. Now 200 years later much of these forests have been stripped in the process of settlement and the consequent development of agriculture. Today most of the remaining forested areas are threatened. They are threatened by rapid growth of the woodchippulpwood industry. They are threatened by the destruction of complex native forests ecosystems in order to establish fast-growing hardwood timber monocultures. They are threatened in varying degrees by softwood pine planting programs throughout Australia.

This Bill is concerned with softwood pine planting programs. It is not concerned with the other closely related threats to our existing native forests. But because of the nature of the forestry industry in Australia and the uses to which forestry products are put, we cannot really look at each problem in isolation. There must be a commission of inquiry established under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act to review the entire forestry industry in Australia. There are too many questions that need to be answered, questions that we and others have raised already. In the 1960s clear felling was restricted to several regional areas supplying local pulpwood industries. In the 1960s there were 2 major changes in this pattern and clear felling became the rule rather than the exception. These changes now threaten the very existence of those substantial natural native forest areas that remain. The sources of this problem were the commencement of export woodchip schemes to supply Japan, and the pine planting programs to provide softwoods for Australian use.

The woodchip problem is one which has only recently gained public notoriety. The pine planting program in the past has been the subject of much public discussion and involvement. On 23 July 1 974 the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation resolved to inquire and report upon:

The operations of the Softwood Forestry Agreement Acts of 1967 and 1972 with particular reference to their environmental, social and economic impact and make appropriate recommendations as to the form of any future softwood industry agreements legislation.

The Standing Committee was concerned that the existing program did not pay enough attention to economic and environmental considerations. In my opinion, the more important recommendations of the House of Representatives inquiry are:

(1)   As a general rule, money should not be loaned to the States for the planting of softwoods in areas where native forest is to be clear felled. The only exceptions should be where a thorough and stringently supervised independent research program has been conducted into the flora and fauna of that area as well as its soil quality and where the planting plans allow for their protection.

(2)   An increasing proportion of the finance loaned to the States should be dedicated to the purchase of land already cleared for other marginal pursuits.

(   3 ) Plans for the planting of exotic softwoods should be made available for public scrutiny. Full consultations and discussions should be held with interested parties before they are implemented.

(4)   Greater encouragement should be given by the Australian Government for the declaration of more extensive areas of Australian native forests as national parks.

(5)   Additional funds should be made available to the CSIRO and other relevant bodies for research into the many areas of forestry management about which so little is known.

(6)   An immediate study should be carried out by a body such as the Bureau of Agricultural Economics to determine the economic viability of the softwood program on both strict financial grounds and on the broadest possible cost benefit grounds.

(7)   Stringent conditions should be imposed upon the lending of Federal money to ensure that forestry management procedures designed to protect the environment are strictly observed.

Each of these recommendations raise complex issues with which we have not yet come to grips. We do not feel that the Government or the bureacracy have faced up to these issues. We have called for an inquiry because of this and because we are worried by the power that the forestry lobby has in the governments of this country.

In recognition of some of the issues raised by the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation, the Government has asked the States, and apparently the States have agreed, that new plantings under this agreement will, in the main, be established on land which has already been cleared for agricultural purposes. While this is a step in the right direction, I believe that on this particular issue the Government should take a firmer line. I know that most State forestry commissions have become more progressive in recent years, but I am still concerned that some of them, and particularly the New South Wales Forestry Commission, still persist in clear felling native forests to establish pine monocultures. The Government's decision to waive the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) legislation for monies expended under this agreement causes this side of the House concern. We feel that the Government has made a mistake. We believe that an environmental impact statement should be called for from the States before they are allowed to clear fell native forest areas for the planting of softwood forests. It is not good enough for the Government to announce that if future agreements of this nature are made, it will be necessary for the States to comply with the administrative arrangements of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act. They should be complied with now in cases where clear felling operations are to be used.

In this House on Tuesday I pointed to the need to declare more national parks and reserve areas in our country. I used as an example the necessity to declare large tracks of our native forest that were under threat from the integrated sawlog pulpwood industry as reserves- reserves to protect our flora and fauna and particularly our endangered species. I do not believe that enough is understood about the delicate nature and fabric of our environment or the conflict that arises between development proposals and the need to preserve our heritage. This is a conflict which comes to a head in all the forestry proposals which destroy our native forest and the natural habitat of our wildlife. A balance has to be struck between development and conservation. We have a duty to ensure that adequate measures are taken to safeguard the environment and to protect our flora and fauna. We have a duty to ensure that clear-felling of parts of our native forests is rationalised and that enough areas of native forest are left to preserve our natural environment.

On this question I would draw the Minister's attention to another important recommendation of the Standing Committee's report:

Immediate consideration should be given to providing financial assistance to the States for the regeneration of hardwood areas in a way that ensures maintenance of forest diversity and other environmental values.

This without doubt was a major recommendation. But I can find nothing in this agreement or the Minister's second reading speech to show that the Government is even aware of that recommendation. Why do we not have a policy to regenerate native hardwood forest areas for environmental purposes? Why is not money lent to the States to plant native hardwood forest to restore our heritage and protect ecosystems that support our wildlife? This is just another reason why an independent inquiry should be held.

As the Minister pointed out in his second reading speech the Standing Committee considered that there was a need for softwood planting programs. But it rejected the doctrine of softwood self-sufficiency used to justify the previous agreements. The Committee rightfully expressed doubts about the economics of pine planting in Australia and called for a study to be conducted by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. This study apparently has been finished already. It has been made available to the members of the Australian Forestry Council but it has not been made available to this House.

According to the Minister, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics has indicated that, from an economic viewpoint, it is in Australia 's interest to continue the pine planting programs. A complementary study conducted by the Forestry and Timber Bureau has apparently supported these conclusions. Without seeing these reports I question their validity. There have been numerous private studies into the economic rationale behind the softwood forestry industry. The Routleys' study made out valid arguments which show that Australia is currently self-sufficient and the industry is heavily subsidised in the production of softwood. Their study was also supported by Ferguson and Parkes who published similar data in 1975.

In view of the forward projections of Australia's population and the use to which softwoods are to be put in this country, and without having seen the reports now available to the Minister and the Government, I must accept the views expressed by the Routleys and Ferguson and Parkes. In saying this I recognise that we need significant softwood resources. I realise that softwoods have certain advantages over hardwoods with respect to their use in the building industry because of the different natures of the 2 timbers.

I appreciate that due to the different growth rates between hard and softwoods, that threequarters of the sawn wood used in the world is coniferous. These coniferous timbers are important to the whole building industry. The main reason for the supporting softwood planting programs is to supply the future saw-log needs of Australia.

As I have said saw-logs are used in the main in the building industry. Australia's need for softwood saw-logs is controlled by our need for new and replacement housing. The Borrie report and other population projections conducted in recent years have shown that demand for this type of timber will stabilise after 1985. All of these studies show that the household formation rate in the next decade will be much the same as for the last 10 years. After that the household formation rate will slow down considerably. This is why I question the validity of the two reports available to the Minister and his state counterparts and not available to us. When such discussions as this are going on before the House I ask why that paper is not available to either Government supporters or members of the Opposition. This is an important issue. It is one that should be the subject of full and open discussion. Without this information it is impossible to know what our requirements are.

The Minister is aware that we can meet all our softwood requirements by negotiating long term contracts under the Free Trade Agreement with New Zealand. It has been asked for some time why it is necessary to continue to grow softwoods in this country when we know that on econmic grounds alone it would be better to obtain our softwoods from New Zealand where the rate of growth of softwoods, particularly in the southern island, is much faster than in any area of Australia. New Zealand is an abundant world source of softwood products. We could continue to support softwood pine planting programs in this country for two reasons. The first one concerns the question of Australia's needs, the future security of overseas sources and the likely world demand for softwood products.

If there can be no guarantee that New Zealand or other countries could meet our long term requirements because of demand from other countries it will be necessary for Australia to become self-sufficient if we are not already selfsufficient. Softwood plantings have been made to meet a projected population of some 22 million people by the year 2000. But we already know as a result of the projection of the Borrie report that at the present rate of growth there will be only about 17.3 million to 17.5 million people by the year 2000. On that basis alone there already appears to be an overproduction of softwood in this country. As I said earlier, in terms of economic viability there does not seem to be a necessity to continue the present rate of planting. If planting is to be carried on we say that there should be a full inquiry into every aspect of the timber industry so that we can clearly understand where we are going.

When I say that we could obtain our softwoods from New Zealand, I do not mean that we should close down the softwood industry, but we must not expand it However, I say that with reservation. It may be necessary but we do not know this because we do not have access to the same report as the Minister. I might say that we are playing a game of blind man's bluff in that the House of Representatives is discussing an agreement which has only another year to run but it does not have the report of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics which would enable us to assess the true situation. As I said, the report prepared by the 3 individuals I mentioned questioned the whole concept. If it is necessary we would support softwood plantings but only if these plantings occurred on already cleared land. By adopting such an approach, because of the labour intensiveness of the industry we could have an opportunity to create a viable rural industry.

Today there are very few rural industries with a fairly high labour content. The Opposition admits that within the rural sector this contribution can be made. This is one of the reasons why, at this stage, the Opposition does not oppose this proposition. I question whether the report of the Forestry and Timber Bureau has looked at many of the issues and doubts surrounding the rotational aspect of forestry management. To my mind, there are many problems and many areas of research which should be looked at. These are problems such as nutrient requirements, diseases which may be introduced and the changes in soil structure that occur as a result of rotational monocultural forestry techniques.

All of these issues are matters of concern. They highlight the need for an independent inquiry into the forestry industry to look at the economics, the environmental aspects and the effects on our soils and watersheds. We must do this now. We must do it to preserve our natural forests, to protect our flora and fauna and to protect our forest ecosystems. We must all realise that acceptable forestry management techniques must be found and implemented to prevent the possibility of major and irreversible damage to the country's ecology.

I am concerned at the great tracts of Australia that have been taken over by the northern exotic trees which were introduced into this country because they were not only softwoods but also faster growing. My concern is that the northern exotics smother everything beneath them. The flora and fauna are completely destroyed. If one walks through a pinus radiata forest, one notices that there is no natural undergrowth at all and that native flora and fauna cannot exist in these northern exotic forests. It is better to ensure that we preserve our natural forests. The Opposition 0is concerned, if I might say so, not only about the loss of our own sovereignty but also about the loss of sovereignty of flora and fauna to foreign monoculture.

It seems to me that this situation should be looked at with a great deal of concern and reservation. I believe that though the growth of native forests might, in many cases, be slower, we should be looking at our own natural timbers. Many of my colleagues on this side of the House have stated that we should be looking, at the use of our natural cypress for purposes for which pinus radiata has been used. ° In the last couple of decades we seem to have lost a great deal of our national heritage, not only to foreign capital in the exploitation of our industries, but also by the introduction of these exotic species. In our own gardens, as I recall from my early days, we planted too many northern exotics. A particular example is the city of Melbourne where northern exotic species such as rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and other surface feeders were planted. An enormous amount of water is needed for these plants. We have tried to introduce a foreign culture into our harsh and difficult land.

We should study more and more our own natural habitat to ensure that we use the best of Australia for Australians. We are dealing with our own natural environment and the more we study our environment the more we understand it, whether it be in our gardens, whether it be in our forests or whether it be the people themselves. We need to try to understand, study scientifically and have some confidence in what is Australian. In the long term, it seems to me, we would be far better off.

While the Opposition does not oppose the Bill, I say to honourable members on the other side of the House that the Opposition would like to see a great deal of rethinking done. It would like to see some understanding and pride in what is Australian so that we can develop our own natural being, whether in our forests or in ourselves. If we had more faith in our own beliefs, I think we would have a much better country and, if I might say so, we would even have better forests.

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