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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1367

Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(11.11) —In concluding the debate on the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill, I would like to acknowledge the very many constructive comments made by my colleagues and by Australian Democrat senators. The matter, of course, has excited some public debate. However, the matter of environmental protection of the world heritage area and the adjoining National Estate area in Tasmania is of great public concern and should be the concern of the national Parliament, and indeed is. I regret to say, however, that the debate has also brought out several misunderstandings about the purpose of the Bill, despite its essentially simple purpose. I have to say, in respect of the last contribution, that it was obviously short on logic and long on rhetorical nonsense.

It is clear that the simplicity of the Bill was not understood by many of the Opposition senators who have spoken. Much of the comment from Opposition senators ignored the fact that the purpose of the Bill is simply to establish an objective and well informed inquiry, and therefore it should be supported by the Parliament. It will provide the basis for resolving the long-standing and contentious issue that the Government accepts, and the community accepts, exists in achieving a responsible balance between forestry operations and the protection of the world heritage values in western Tasmania. Opposition senators, almost without exception, have quite improperly ignored the facts that the inquiry will take only a short period, that only small areas will be directly affected, and that reasonable arrangements will be made for compensation should genuine losses occur. So the Government is aware of its responsibilities in this matter. The results of the inquiry will be considered on their merits by the Government in due course. No one can anticipate the outcome of the inquiry at this time. It is quite improper to imply, as some Opposition senators have, that the results will be in any way predetermined.

Senator Messner —It is window dressing.

Senator GIETZELT —Opposition senators can have their prejudices and their views, but there is no question that there are differences that need to be resolved and circumstances and interests to be examined. The Government makes no apology for going down that track.

It has been suggested that this legislation is an unwarranted intrusion into Tasmania's affairs. That is an absurd proposition. The Commonwealth Government has areas of responsibility and is prepared to invoke powers in relation to them. Clearly, there would have been no need for the Commonwealth's involvement if the Tasmanian Government had fully and openly explored options for reconciling forestry and heritage interests and had gained public acceptance for suitable arrangements. I need hardly say that this has not been the case. It has therefore become necessary for the national Parliament to legislate in the national interest. It makes no apologies for accepting that responsibility.

This Government has the responsibility to honour Australia's international commitments under the World Heritage Convention to identify and, if necessary, protect areas of outstanding universal value. That is the purpose of the Bill. I find it very difficult to comprehend the Opposition stand. Would the Opposition have a different attitude in respect of any attempts to interfere with the natural heritage of the Great Barrier Reef? Of course, it would have a different attitude. It would, therefore, apply different values to different areas instead of having a universal principled position.

Many Opposition speakers have completely overstated the possible effects of this Bill on industry and employment. I must stress, and the Government must stress, that current operations outside the protected area will continue during the inquiry. The employment effects, therefore, will be small and localised. If there is a need for temporary adjustments in the industry while the inquiry is in progress, compensation will be made available. What could be fairer than that approach that the Government is prepared to take? The arrangements between the Commonwealth and Tasmania in the memorandum of understanding on woodchip exports have been misrepresented. One must almost come to the conclusion that there may have been a deliberate attempt to do so.

Contrary to what has been implied by some speakers, the State management plan for the Lemonthyme which was prepared in 1983 without Commonwealth involvement has not been formally approved by the Commonwealth. The memorandum of understanding did not give carte blanche for logging in the Lemonthyme without further reference to the Commonwealth. Indeed, the memorandum of understanding requires consultation in respect of all logging in National Estate areas. More specifically, clauses 23 to 27 provide for varying forms of consultation prior to the commencement of logging. Therefore, it is essential for us to look at the national position as well as the local one, and we are seeking to do precisely that.

Senator Newman raised that two clauses in the Bill were commented on by the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. Indeed, in the last 10 minutes or so, Senator Short also commented on these clauses. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) has already written to the Chairman of the Committee on those two issues. The first of these issues relates to section 6a and 6dd of the Royal Commissions Act as applied to clause 13 of the Bill. These sections relate to self-incrimination of a witness appearing before the inquiry. Rather than create a completely new set of machinery provisions for the inquiry, the approach that has been adopted in this Bill is to apply the provisions of the Royal Commissions Act 1902 and make only those changes which are necessary to enable the commission to operate satisfactorily. It is highly unlikely that any question of self-incrimination would arise, given the terms of reference of the commission. It should be remembered that this is an inquiry into the existence of world heritage areas and alternatives to forestry operations in those areas. It is not an inquiry that is designed or likely to lead to criminal prosecution. That is not the objective. The objective is to find what common ground, if possible, can be achieved arising out of the inquiry.

The second issue which was raised by other Opposition senators concerns the power of entry on to land given by clause 14 (c) of the Bill. There are important qualifications on this power. Firstly, a person entering the area must be doing so for the purpose of exercising his or her po-wers or functions under the Act. Secondly, it is only those areas which contain forestry resources which are able to be entered, and then only for the purposes of inspecting those resources.

Senator Watson —Draconian powers.

Senator GIETZELT —I say to the honourable senator that the provision does not enable entry into premises. It is not a comprehensive power of search. I do not know what further assurances the Government can give in order to get some sort of understanding from some senators whose minds are clearly filled with prejudice and are still not able to comprehend the Government's intentions in these matters. This power of entry is necessary to enable a commission of inquiry to examine forestry resources which may be an alternative to those in the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests areas and to report within the one year inquiry period.

Honourable senators will be aware that the Tasmanian Government may ban access to forest areas as they have done recently in the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests. We understand the differences that exist and that is accepted. Some speakers have referred to the important natural and cultural values of western Tasmania. The inquiry will have an important function, therefore, in establishing the facts about world heritage values in that protected area. I trust that these explanations will have made it clear to the Senate that the Bill will go a long way towards ending the longstanding and divisive conflict between conservation and timber industry interests in Tasmania. To that extent the inquiry should be supported, and I know that it will be because the Government has taken a sensible and responsible position on the issues involved.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Collard's amendment) be left out.