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Thursday, 11 November 1976

Mr HODGES (Petrie) -This is the second occasion this week on which I have followed the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) in a debate on environment and conservation issues. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition stands there in a pious and authoritative way telling this nation that the Government knows nothing and cares nothing for the environment. I assure him that the Government is deeply committed to these issues. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition made many statements tonight with which I and all other Government supporters agree. But I assure him that he does not have all of the knowledge in matters of this kind.

He stated repeatedly that the Government should give the States more money for this or that project. I think he referred tonight to providing further money to the States for hardwood forest plantings. His speeches are studded with references to spending money. He reminds me of the man who receives $200 a week and spends $300 every week. He is broke in no time. That is the very thing which he and the government of which he was a member were doing to this nation when it was in power for 3 years.

It is rather unusual for me to speak in debates on Bills concerning rural industries. It is not out of disinterest for the rural community. I am well aware of the plight of many of the farming and grazing industries but I leave these matters to more capable people with much more expertise in the area. There are 2 of them in the House now. I refer to the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Simon) and the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King), who both come from rural communities.

Although the Bill was introduced by the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, the matters that concern me are twofold. I am concerned, firstly, with the environmental aspects of this Bill and, secondly, with the fact that it is providing employment that is so needed today in this country. Although I am interested in the environment, I am not a rabid environmentalist. Nevertheless, I hope that I can present a fairly balanced view on matters concerning the environment and conservation. This BUI, of course, provides a maximum amount of $6m to be loaned to the States for a one-year period to continue programs that have now extended over 10 years for the planting of softwoods. It will provide some 17 000 hectares of softwood plantings in the 6 States. It will boost the program which was formerly pursued by the States. I make it clear to the House that the States had been pursuing quite vigorous programs of softwood plantings for many decades before the Commonwealth Government came into the area. In effect this BUI is a holding operation for 12 months pending further investigations and negotiations that will be carried on with the States to provide for future agreements.

I want to refer, as did the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, to the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation. I know that one of the following speakers, the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins), wishes to refer to this report as well. It is gratifying me as the Chairman of this Committee and no doubt to the honourable member for Scullin who was the previous Chairman of the Committee to see that some of the recommendations that come out of the hard work that goes into the inquiries and the reports are being implemented by the Government. In this case the Committee looked extensively into the problem, heard many witnesses and travelled throughout the nation. It even travelled to New Zealand to look at its softwood forests. The report was presented in May of last year I think. It reported on the operations of the Softwood Forestry Agreements Acts of 1967 and 1972.

I want to refer to some of the recommendations of the report, as did the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Probably one of the most important recommendations- I would imagine that in future negotiations with the States this recommendation will be taken into consideration; it is indeed my wish that it Will be- concerns clear felling of native trees. Recommendation (vi) states that money should not be loaned to the States for the planting of softwoods in areas where native forest is to be clear felled unless, of course, a thorough environmental impact study is produced and various other aspects, such as sou quality, show such areas to be suitable for the planting of softwoods. The next recommendation to which I refer was dealt with by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He was rather critical that the report of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics was not available to the House at the time of debating this Bill. I remind him that in spite of that this is a Bill to provide further funds for only 12 months. Recommendation (ix) states that 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 planting program, etc. The Minister in his second reading speech made it clear that the Bureau of Agricultural Economics has decided that it is economic to plant softwoods in this country.

I refer to 2 other recommendations. The first concerns the planting of softwood forests on marginal farming land. Recommendation (xii) states that an increasing proportion of the finance loaned to the States should be dedicated to the purchase of land already cleared for other marginal pursuits. No doubt a deal of land which is not currently very productive in this country could be better used for planting softwoods. Many farmers throughout the nation would, I am sure, dearly love to have their land taken over for softwood planting.

The other recommendation to which I refer concerns small wood lots. Recommendation (xiii) states that financial assistance should continue to be made available to owners of agricutural holdings for the planting of small wood lots on their properties. The Minister, in his second reading speech, said that an environmental impact statement was not required on this occasion before these agreements were to be entered into with the States because the time taken would halt the industry. With our current high unemployment rate I think it is vital that we see a continuation of this program because it is fairly labour intensive. If, however, further agreements are to be entered into I would sincerely hope that environmental impact statements will be required. The matter should be examined at an early date bearing in mind that this Bill provides finance only until June 1977.

Once plantings are made one must remember that irreversible damage may be done. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred to the rather sterile environment that results from the planting of many species of softwoods. A number of people may refute this but I think the findings of the Environment and Conservation Committee clearly illustrate that a sterile environment is produced by the planting of many of these trees. The fact is that birds in particular and most of our fauna will not thrive and will live in only very small numbers in softwood planted areas whereas in native forests they will thrive and their numbers will be far greater. I restate that environmental impact studies and statements should be produced by the States for the various areas that they wish to plant with softwood forests in the future.

I refer now to the section of the report that deals with fauna and flora. Paragraph 58 refers to the clearing of native forests. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition dwelt on this important point. We should be looking at the planting of the types of trees that we have in our native forests. I can recall clearly when I was a child in north Queensland thousands of hectares of beautiful scrub country- a lot of people refer to it as jungle country. Such exotic timbers as blackbean, maple, red cedar and so forth were cleared for farming purposes and in many instances the logs were burnt. We do not want to see this sort of thing happen in the future in other areas. At least we have controlled logging by most of the State government forestry departments. An excellent program to be looked at in the future would be the planting of some of our exotic and better trees from our native forests.

Certain species of our fauna are termed in the report as non-dependent species. The report says as the adjective suggests that these may survive in an altered habitat. There is also the dependent category. These are the ones to which I referred earlier and about which I am particularly concerned. Another aspect I mention briefly is the important one of employment. Apart from the . purchase of land for the planting of these softwood forests the industry is, of course, highly labour intensive. We know the Government's concern in its approach to the employment position in this country and to the economy in particular. We have heard a deal today about the Fraser Island issue. The Government is most deeply concerned about the high unemployment rate. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) shows a deep concern for environmental issues. I refute the statement that is freque'ntly made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that this Government is not interested in this area of the' environment.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - Very interested.

Mr HODGES -It is very interested, as the honourable member for Griffiths interjects. The employment position is important. The $6m will provide a lot of jobs in the months until the end of the financial year. To sum up, I believe the Government is taking a balanced view. The industry will continue. We are in a holding position for one year until new agreements are negotiated. I again stress the employment situation as being extremely important. The provision of the $6m will provide many jobs. Finally, I state again that the Government is firmly committed to the protection of our environment.

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