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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14899

Mr HARTSUYKER (4:48 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1) notes the recent announcement of the Carr Labor Government to declare 65,000 hectares of land as 15 new National Parks, State Conservation Areas and State Forest reserves;

(2) is concerned that this declaration may be in breach of the Regional Forest Agreement between New South Wales and the Commonwealth;

(3) is concerned that the removal of this land from production will impact upon timber resources required to sustain employment in timber communities and the future viability of those communities; and

(4) is concerned that substantial Commonwealth and New South Wales Government funds invested under FISAP will be placed at risk as a result of this declaration.

I am putting this motion to the House because I am concerned about the future of the $256 million timber industry in the north-east of New South Wales and the 1,400 people employed in it. In March this year the New South Wales Labor government made an announcement locking up 65,000 hectares of forest in the north-east region of the state. This declaration has very serious economic and environmental repercussions, which I ask the House to recognise in this motion. It is important to note that this declaration was made in the context of the New South Wales state election. It was made at the height of that election, a time when the Carr Labor government was seeking Greens preferences. Conservation is a very important environmental issue. However, this decision to lock up 65,000 hectares of forest was born of cynical political opportunism in the heat of a general election rather than any real concern for the environment.

The regional forest agreement, or RFA, was finalised in 2000. It was an agreement between the Commonwealth and the state governments on the conservation, protection and logging of forests. The purpose of the RFA was to provide some security over the next 20 years to the forest industry. In the process of making the regional forest agreements, areas were assessed for their conservation value. Certain forests were specified as having little or no conservation value, and the industry was allowed to log in these areas. The agreement was to deliver unprecedented security to the industry and the workers within it, and, through security, the confidence to invest in an industry that would be viable in the long term. It also incorporated a significant forest industry assistance package. It was a balanced outcome and it represented more than three years of detailed scientific analysis and stakeholder and community consultation. That security has been thrown out the window with this declaration, and confidence has been severely damaged.

The Premier of New South Wales, Premier Carr, said in this announcement that his government would continue to guarantee the minimum allocation to the industry, totalling some 269,000 cubic metres of timber per annum over the next 20 years. The Premier has said that the declaration of these areas as national parks, state conservation areas and state forest reserves—the declaration locking up these areas—will not affect the supply of timber. A total of 219,000 hectares has now been reserved and taken from the guarantee given to the industry under the RFA. The guarantee has been breached by the Carr Labor government. It was a guarantee of sufficient forest to supply 269,000 cubic metres of timber to the industry per annum. Bob Carr says that taking this amount of land will not affect the supply of timber.

Premier Carr's contention is not possible physically, mathematically or ecologically. It will mean that the supply that has been guaranteed to the timber industry will fall. The result of that will be that foresters will have to get their timber supply from a decreased area. The pressures on the remaining land to meet production targets cannot be good for the environment. We currently have a deficit of forest product imports of some $1.7 billion. We should be encouraging sustainable forest industries for the economic prosperity of the country as well as for sensible environmental outcomes. The effect of putting the squeeze on our domestic sources of production will be that we will have to import more. This means that we are potentially encouraging a shift in production from the managed to the unmanaged forests of the world. Hence, from a global perspective, environmental outcomes following Bob Carr's declaration could be far worse.

I have sighted Bob Carr's signature on the RFA document, an agreement between the Commonwealth and the state of New South Wales which was intended to be binding on the parties. These recent declarations call into question the value of the signature of Bob Carr. They call into question the value of commitments made by the New South Wales government. After more than three years of a painfully detailed process of scientific research and evaluation, the RFA was reached, concluding that these areas now being reserved and locked up by the New South Wales government had little or no conservation value. Then suddenly in March, in the heat of the New South Wales state election, it appeared that they do have conservation value—the conservation of Bob Carr's Labor government.

The environmental basis upon which the declaration has been made is shaky at best. One of the areas to be locked up is Pine Creek Forest in my electorate. Much of this area is plantation timber. Much of the forest to be locked up is not native to the area—for instance, gympie messmate from Queensland is grown there. A reasonable person would presume that forests of high conservation value should at least be native to the area rather than made up of imported species.

One of the long-standing sawmilling companies in my electorate, which is located right in the heart of the region, will be affected by this. They employ around 50 people. They believe that their quota will be halved. At least eight people will lose their jobs at the sawmill within 12 months. The House might be interested to know that the supply of timber to this mill is already low and the mill operates without a great deal of certainty as to where its next load of timber will be coming from. This is something of concern for business stability and, of course, jobs. There have been occasions when mills have run out of timber altogether, and I have also been told of instances where demand has been met by trucking in timber from the south of the state. The flow-on effects will be disastrous for the fragile local rural economy. Of course if you halve the mill's quota that will impact on associated industries, such as the transport industry, which carries the timber from the mill.

The Carr Labor government's proposals are currently before the New South Wales parliament. That legislation also proposes to limit the rights of enjoyment to land held under perpetual leases in New South Wales. It proposes to give the environment minister in New South Wales powers that will interfere with the quiet enjoyment and exclusive possession of perpetual lease land.

I wish to speak of two constituents in my electorate who hold their lands under perpetual lease: Mr Jim Freeman and Mr Terry Tibbitt. They are very concerned about loss of property rights. No straight answers have been forthcoming from the Carr Labor government to clarify what rights perpetual leaseholders will have under these changes. This is an issue of concern for Mr Tibbitt, Mr Freeman and others throughout New South Wales who are having their property rights interfered with.

Is this issue significant? The House might note that a report by the New South Wales Lands Department in 1989 said that there were 22,000 perpetual leases held in the state. I understand that that covers about 38 per cent of the land area of New South Wales. Those leases carry with them certain economic expectations and enjoyment rights which are vested in the lessees. These will be eroded under the legislation. Compensation may be payable to these lessees and to many participants in the timber industry who have planned their businesses into the future on the basis of a certain level of supply—some 269,000 cubic metres of timber which was guaranteed under the RFA signed by Bob Carr on 31 March 2000. Some have spoken of over $200 million in compensation being payable.

Bob Carr has abandoned the perpetual leaseholders as well as the timber industry. He has broken the spirit of the RFA entered into with the federal government, which was carefully designed to ensure ecologically sustainable management of forests in the north-east of New South Wales and certainty for forest based industries and communities in the north-east region.

Point No. 4 in the motion addresses the issue that, due to Bob Carr's actions, the Commonwealth's investment in FISAP is at risk. The House might note as background that FISAP—the Forestry Industry Structural Adjustment Package—is a program set up to provide structural adjustment assistance to forest industry businesses and workers. It is a strategy for helping those participants adjust to the RFA entered into in 2000 and either remain viable players in the industry or exit.

The RFA was an agreement between the New South Wales and Commonwealth governments. It was signed by Premier Carr and the Prime Minister. The agreement committed both governments to see to the administration and management of the forests in New South Wales for the following 20 years. It also committed both governments to assist the industry through FISAP.

Significant Commonwealth funds have been spent on FISAP. To date, some $60 million has been injected into the industry through the package. This money is at risk because of the forests declaration. The funds put into the industry have been an investment by the Commonwealth in the next 20 years of the industry. If demand for timber cannot be met, the mills will shut down. This will put the Commonwealth's investment under FISAP at very substantial risk indeed.

The House should note that the actions of Bob Carr are without scientific basis, attack the foundations of the RFA, place substantial Commonwealth investment under the FISAP program at risk and may ultimately result in negative environmental outcomes. In commending this motion to the House, I ask members to consider the families of the workers who will be affected by Carr's declaration and the timber communities, industries, businesses and individuals who have made investments and will suffer from the breaking of the promise of certainty by Bob Carr.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Is the motion seconded?

Mr Nairn —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.