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Opposition suggests alternatives on resource security

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The government should re-examine its whole approach to the resource security issue contained in the Forest Conservation and Development Bill.

It is an approach which is both fundamentally flawed and which does not satisfy either the forest products industry or conservationists.

The basic flaw is that both the Commonwealth and State are required to assess environmental, cultural, heritage, social and economic issues that might arise from a given wood ..

processing project. This involves the Commonwealth in detailed planning in areas where it has no special expertise and creates undesirable and time consuming duplication of approval processes. *

In addition, provisions in the draft legislation released last month allow a range of exceptions which could disturb the security that is supposed to be provided by the Bill. Those provisions effectively provide a charter for virtually unlimited intervention by the Commonwealth at any stage in the

life of a project.

There would, of course, be no need for such a legislative approach if the Hawke government had not destroyed public trust in its decision-making process. It is this lack of faith in the Government that has produced a demand for a legally-enforceable guarantee of resource security to attract


Given that no amount of tinkering with the draft Bill is likely to produce an acceptable outcome, the Opposition urges the government to consider alternative approaches.

For very large projects like pulp mills, Commonwealth environmental and other requirements should be specified at the outset of detailed negotiations between the State concerned and the proponents. Provided those standards are met, the Commonwealth should be prepared to legislate to

endorse the State/proponent agreement.

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This would provide greater certainty that the massive investment required will not be put in jeopardy by the politically opportunistic intervention that has become so much a trademark of this Government.

To cover the multiplicity of smaller projects such as timber mills, which are not helped at all by the present draft legislation, the Commonwealth should be able to give legislative backing to State or regional forest strategies that are drawn up according to Commonwealth-approved procedures.

The forest industries have themselves acknowledged the need for detailed planning and assessment to meet proper environmental requirements. It ought to be within the wit of even this government to agree on processes which can be undertaken by State authorities to meet Commonwealth standards without the need for duplicate administration.

Where there are Commonwealth decisions, such as under the provisions of the Australian Heritage Commission Act, co­ operative action could remove the conflicts of the past.

For example, the five-stage proposal put to the Prime Minister 11 months ago by the National Association of Forest Industries envisaged involvement of the Australian Heritage Commission (AHC) to advise the government on conservation values in deciding which parts of a forest area should be reserved and which parts could be designated for multiple use. The current

cooperation between the AHC and State authorities in Western Australia with respect to the South West forests is an encouraging example of what could be achieved elsewhere.

The present Bill is an attempt to please everyone which has succeeded in pleasing no one.

We will reserve final judgement until we see the final form of the legislation. But the government should stop and think again about its approach to an issue which is of vital importance in terms of both the environment and employment- creating industry expansion in regional Australia.

Canberra 5 November 1991