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Wednesday, 11 October 1972
Page: 1419

Senator COTTON (New South WalesMinister for Civil Aviation) - -Mr Temporary Chairman, Senator Mulvihill has sought the call and while I wish to hear him - I always listen to his views with interest - I should like to make some comments which may well be of interest to him and which may alter the context of his observations. I should like to make some comments before dealing with the measure that is before the Committee. Firstly, as well as handling my own portfolio as Minister for Civil Aviation, I represent in the Senate the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Industry, the Minister for National Development, the Minister for Customs and Excise, the Minister for Shipping and Transport, the Minister for the Interior, the Minister-in-Charge of Tourist Activities and, during the absence of the Leader of the Government in the Senate from time to time, the Treasurer. If honourable senators look at the notice paper they will see the kind of work load that falls on Ministers in the Senate, admittedly sometimes unevenly on one as against another. However, it is a fair indication of the volume of work that one has to cover. Therefore it defies my understanding how Senator Keeffe can expect the business of the Government to proceed if a Minister who rep resents another in this place cannot do so at some particular time because of a private interest that he may have.

The Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill 1972 is a Government Bill. I am part of the Government and I am proud of the Government, but in this matter I represent the Minister for National Development and I am in no way the Minister responsible for this legislation except as part of the full body of the Government. Senator Keeffe has observed that because my family has some interest in the timber industry in Oberon I should not deal with the Bill. I believe that if he thinks a little further than that he will see that such an attitude might well preclude much of the Senate's business proceeding at all; one might ask what the situation would be for anybody who represents another at law in a particular case. I should like to make this brief comment: So far as what my family and I have done is concerned, we are rather proud of what we have done; we are proud of our achievements and of our contribution to decentralisation and development where we have been working. We do not feel disposed to apologise to anybody for that or to make explanations about it.

For my own part, I have had a lot to do with the Oberon area. I went there in 1943 to found a timber industry which has been a very useful development and which has contributed greatly to the growth of that region. In fact, it has been visited and commended by 2 Labor Premiers of the State of New South Wales, one of whom joined with me to open a huge new industry which we had been helping to establish. Further, should any honourable senator be interested to check with officials of the Timber Workers Union he will find that they have commended it. In 28 years of operation, the companies concerned with that industry have never lost a minute of time as a result of industrial disputes. They have a proud record in what they have done for their employees. They won the National Safety Award, which was open to al! industries in .Australia, as a result of their proud and safe working record Therefore all of us who have been involved with those companies - I myself am no longer involved; I am a long way out of it - feel that they have done a useful job.

Equally, it ought to be understood that the companies and those concerned with them have operated at all times under the auspices, licences and authorities nf the New South Wales State Forestry Commission. The companies' activities are both controlled and supervised by the Commission. However, I shall pass over that. 1 have been interested in conservation all my life, and 1 think I can say that I share that interest with Senator Mulvihill. I believe that I have the same concern as most people have and that I have demonstrated it in much of my life. This can be verified by those who are interested in this matter.

Some discussion occurred about carbon dioxide situations, and Senator Keeffe v/as wondering why we could not do more about them by planting pine forests close to the city of Sydney. I think the problem will be found to be one of insufficient land, of what one could call suitable site quality, on which to grow economic and efficient pine plantations. That is the difficulty as I understand it. Senator Mulvihill may have done some research on this; I am not an authority on it but I have looked a little at the question of what has to be done with poplar plantations. The difficulty about poplar plantations also seems to bc that of securing suitable areas of land close to Sydney on which to plant them and also that poplars are deciduous and their whole leaf pattern falls at a certain period of the year. I do not know the absorptive capacity of a poplar plantation; therefore I cannot be helpful on it.

I should like to make another brief comment. I was glad to hear Senator Keeffe say that he cast no aspersions on my integrity. 1 was rather pleased about that. However, I do not think that my family or my previous associates would draw much comfort from the observation. Senator Mulvihill made several observations to which, as always, I listened with some interest. I think that the comments I shall make on behalf of the responsible Minister and his Department should satisfactorily solve the problem he has had. I would also observe for myself - this is not a departmental view but a senator's view which I have expressed before - that I believe that the issues of quality of life, long term interest in the environment, conservation of resources and addition to resources are all very good matters to be considered by the Senate, which I regard as the custodian of the long term interests of the Australian people and their general heritage. Therefore I would not quarrel with the observations that have been made here to the effect that the Senate ought to have regard to some of these matters. However, 1 do seek to point out to many people who were talking about them that the States, and particularly New South Wales, have for a long time had both a proud and effective record in dealing with these matters I do not think honourable senators should pass over them as if we were the only ones who had ever thought about them.

The Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill 1972 provides for the Commonwealth to enter into agreements with the States for the provision of financial assistance for the purposes of expanding softwood plantings by the States. The form of agreement between the Commonwealth and the States is included as a schedule to the Bill. The Bill provides for the continuation, for a further 5-year period commencing on 1st July 1971 and ending on 30th Jims 1976, of the financial assistance the States have received under the Softwood Forestry Agreements Act 1967. Agreement has been reached with the States for the Commonwealth to provide finance for the planting of 25.000 acres annually for 5 years with the States financing 29,680 acres annually.

The Bill passed through the House of Representatives unamended on 30th May 19 2. The Senate debated the Bill on 15th and 16th August 1972 and amended it. The amendment made by the Senate was rejected by the House of Representatives, and a new amendment was made by the House of Representatives consequent upon the rejection of the Senate amendment The new amendment proposed is the addition of the following words at the end of clause 9 of the Schedule to the Bill: and shall ensure that environmental factors relating to the planting have been considered.

Each of the States was approached concerning the amendment made to the Bill by the Senate. The States expressed strong objections to the addition to the agreement between the Commonwealth and the States of clause 9 as proposed by the Senate. The amendment that it is now proposed to submit involves recognition by express reference in the agreement between the

Commonwealth and the States to the need to consider environmental factors relating to the planting which will take place under the softwood planting programme.

The absence of reference to the environment in the originally proposed agreement did not mean that this important field bad been ignored. Environmental aspects of forestry activities are very much in mind within the Australian Forestry Council which recommended the softwood planting programme. The expression 'sound forestry . . . practices' in clause 9 of the original agreement contemplated recognition of the effects of forestry activities on the environment. The Government has no objection to including in the agreement a form of words that recognises the need to protect the quality of the environment. It has not been considered desirable, however, that the Commonwealth should seek to dictate precise procedures that the State forest services and indeed the Australian Forestry Council should follow in undertaking a task to which they have diligently addressed themselves in the past.

State forest services are autonomous and they operate under their own Forest Acts. The powers and duties of each forest service include not only the management of forest areas for the production of wood but also the management, protection and use of forests for non-wood benefits; for example, soil conservation, aesthetics, water catchments, provision of habitats for native fauna and public recreation: The use of public land comes under the scrutiny not only of the forest services but also of other government departments and bodies concerned with land use. Machinery exists within the States for the examination of areas before dedication as State forest. The responsible attitude of State governments to land use is exemplified in Victoria where a Land Conservation Council has been established under statute and whose membership may include both government and private members. The function of the Council is to investigate and to make recommendations in respect of the use of all public land. In addition, all States have a Minister with a specific responsibility for the environment. The State Ministers meet with appropriate Commonwealth Ministers regularly as the Australian Environment Council.

As far as possible State forest services acquire land previously cleared for agriculture, for pine planting. The Bill encourages the purchase of land by providing for the State to receive from the Commonwealth the same proportion of funds spent on acquiring land as they receive for other plantation establishment costs. South Australia acquires all its land from private interests, and in New South Wales, of some 210,000 acres of plantation, about three-quarters are on land that has at some stage been used for agriculture, and in some cases has reverted to scrub. It is accepted that softwood plantations do modify the flora and fauna of an area. However it is expected that the area of softwood plantations established by the year 2000 will represent less than 1 per cent of the native forest and open woodland, scrub and brushland which provides the habitat for much of our native fauna.

In the main establishment of plantations under this Agreement will bc extensions of existing blocks of plantations and in areas where the sight of softwood plantations is familiar. The requirement of a report by an independent expert would disrupt the programme, thereby aggravating rural unemployment and wasting the effort already expended in preparation for planting.

The Australian Forestry Council, which recommended the softwood programme, has demonstrated a responsible attitude to the environment by endorsing a Forestry and Wood-based Industries Development Conference to be held in 1974. Any honourable senator interested in this Conference will be welcome to attend. The conference will recognise the importance not only of economic matters concerning forests and forest industries but also of social and environmental aspects of forestry and forest industries. The council has also established liaison with the newly formed Environmental Council.

Whilst the Government has no objection to including in the Agreement a form of words that emphasises the need to protect the quality of the environment, it would not appear to it to be desirable to dictate a precise procedure for the Forestry Council and the forest services to follow in undertaking a task to which they have diligently addressed themselves in the past. The amendment which has been made in the

House of Representatives and to which I have referred will ensure not only that planting each year is carried out efficiently and in conformity with sound forestry and financial practices but also that environmental factors will have to be considered before plantations are established. The Minister for National Development also recommended that similar special references to the environment should be considered in any future agreements. This is equally of interest to Senator Mulvihill and Senator Byrne as it is to me. We are also informed that the Minister for Conservation for New South Wales had ordered a full environmental study of the Boyd Plateau region which was to be considered before further planting was undertaken. lt is noteworthy that the Forwood Conference will be held in 1974 and panels have been established to consider our resources and future requirements with a view to making recommendations to the Conference about how to cater for our future needs for forest products. Representatives from industry, government and the universities are involved in these studies. An assurance can therefore be given that present forecasts will be under critical review in the future.

Some references have occurred in the past to the 'irresponsible' actions of New South Wales in the establishment of plantations and its failure to preserve areas of native forest of the kind which is being replaced by softwoods. As a matter of interest. Professor Pryor of the Department of Botany of the Australian National University, in a paper on 'Nature Conservation in relation to Modern Trends in Australian Forestry' delivered to the Twelfth Pacific Science Congress in 1971, mentions that much of the development of conifer plantations will be by conversion of sclerophyll vegetation - which is representative of our native eucalypts - adding that 'in the broad sense the survival of the sclerophyll vegetation as a type is not at stake due to any known or foreseen form of agricultural or forestry land use'. He mentioned that there was a need to ensure for future reference that enough samples of the original type are retained in sufficient size to be self-sustaining - that is enough seed trees, etc.

It should be remembered that the Boyd Plateau is entirely a State matter and its future is totally independent of the Softwoods Bill. I am glad that the study that I have mentioned is to be undertaken. It is a matter for that Government to determine. The New South Wales Government has promised to review the future of the Plateau and the Forestry Commission is to embark on an environmental study, which really is, I think, satisfactory. The boundaries in that area between forests and parklands were defined after consultation between the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Forestry Coramission. The New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service has on its staff ecologists, zoologists and anthropologists.

The New South Wales Forestry Commission, I am informed, has been acquiring cleared land and failed farm land as rapidly as it has ben able. Much more than 50 per cent of the areas around the Tumut plantation would have been failed farm land. Privately owned land purchased by the Commission has usually been in somewhat poor or marginal economic condition, sometimes run-down or weed infested. Several areas of plantation have been established specifically to assist in controlling weed outbreaks such as St John's wort and serrated tussock. (Extension of time granted) I thank the Senate. I felt that I had a duty to the Senate to ask the Department to prepare a fairly detailed account of the matters involved in this legislation because I believe that the comments needed answering and that they should be answered not by me. Nonetheless good rural properties have certainly been acquired on occasions, often to consolidate existing plantation areas. The acquisition of land by the Forestry Commission is usually on a voluntary basis, in that the owners wish to sell. It is only for exceptional circumstances that the Forestry Commission resumes land. Perhaps threequarters of the existing area of pine plantation established by the Forestry Commission is on land that has at some stage been cleared of much of its native vegetation and that subsequently either has reverted to or has been purchased by the Crown. At present the Commission believes that it holds or has access to sufficient land for about three-quarters of the target plantation area of one million acres, but acquisition of a further 250,000 acres of suitable land will still be necessary over the next 20 or 30 years.

The basis of the first Softwood Agreement Bill was that at the turn of the century there would be a deficiency in timber. An estimate was made of the population at that time by the ANU, of timber consumption by the Commonwealth and of timber yield by the States.

I refer briefly to the document 'Australia's Nature Resources - Minerals, Forests. Water and Energy, which was presented recently on behalf of the Department of National Development. I have not read it in detail but it contains a section on forestry which to me highlights the importance of forestry activities in this country and the problems of future wood deficiency. It has been said that the future of the world is very much in the hands of the forest nations. Australia,- on the other hand, is a wood deficient country. This is brought out in the document to which I have just referred, as it has been in the past 25 years. It is necessary in the public interest, this Government and the State Governments believe, to remedy this deficiency and this softwood agreement is designed to help overcome this problem. The estimates of the acreage required are based on the best data available, much of which has been supplied by the Commonwealth.

Forests are often accused of being 'biological deserts'. This is not necessarily the truth. Indeed, it is said not to be the case. It is not widely appreciated that a considerable amount of wildlife can be found in pine forests. There are many diffierent varieties of bird life as well as kangaroos and wallabies. These are not my remarks. They have been given to me by the responsible Department. We understand that about 80 different bird varieties have been observed in pine plantations in New South Wales and continuing observations are expected to extend this list substantially.

It might be worth quoting Vincent Serventy who wrote in the 'Sun-Herald' on 27th August 1972, that 'a suprising amount of wildlife flourishes in a pine forest - far more for example than would be found in a wheat paddock or an area of pasture'. He also pointed out that pine plantations go on for ever, not like an oil well or a quarry. Serventy says 'as a conservationist, I would only ask that wherever practicable, already cleared land should be used for plantings rather than clearing natural bush'.

Another quote worth mentioning - and not in any offensive style - was that of Professor Bruce Williams, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney. This is a matter with which we would all be concerned. He said:

If public awareness and will to action can be built up in a healthy fashion - reasonably immune from the hysteria of doomsayers and econuts and the enervating inertia of the complacent-

This is the important point: further economic growth can go along with an improvement in the quality of life.

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