Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 11 September 1996
Page: 3204

Senator BROWN(9.40 a.m.) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard .

Leave granted.

Senator Brown's speech read as follows—

Purpose of the Bill

The Bill seeks to:

.   Phase out woodchipping of native forests by 1 January 1999;

.   Prohibit logging of native forests of high conservation-value, including wilderness, rainforest, National Estate Areas, World Heritage, oldgrowth and the habitat of rare and endangered species;

.   Establish a transitional strategy for the wood-products industry.


Phase-out of export woodchips

Woodchipping of native forests will not exceed the following amounts during a two-year transition:

.   From 1 January 1997 to 31 December 1996, four million green tonnes;

.   From 1 January 1998 to 31 December 1998, two million tonnes;

.   From I January 1999, nil.

Immediate protection of native forests of high conservation-value

From 1 January 1997, logging of native forests on land in any of the following categories is prohibited:

.   Oldgrowth forests;

.   Wilderness;

.   World Heritage and National Estate (including Interim-Listed) Areas:

.   Rainforest; and

.   Areas containing rare or endangered species.

Industry transition strategy

The relevant Minister is to prepare a transition strategy for the wood-products industry by 31 March 1997 to achieve the following objectives:

.   Recognition and management of the transition from a native-forested-based to a plantation-based wood-products industry;

.   The provision of assistance to workers financially disadvantaged by the above measures.

Second Reading Speech—Native Forest Protection Bill 1996

The objective of this Bill is to protect Australia's native-forest estate from the ravages of an unsustainable native-forest-logging industry.

This objective is achieved in the following fashion:

.   By phasing out woodchip exports from native forests by 1 January 1999;

.   By protecting native forests of high conservation-value (including wilderness, oldgrowth, habitat of endangered species, National Estate Areas and forests of World Heritage value) by prohibiting logging within those areas from 1 January 1997;

.   By implementing a transition strategy from native forests to plantations for the wood-products industry;

.   And by providing assistance to those workers in the wood-products industry who are disadvantaged by the above measures.

In the first full year of operations of this Bill, 1997, allowable woodchip exports will be cut from the current level to four million tonnes. By 1998, the ceiling will be two million tonnes. And by 1 January 1999, the maximum permissible level of export woodchipping will be zero.

In 1997, the Bill will extend a mantle of protection over areas that have been identified by experts as having World Heritage values; that are crucial habitats for plants and animals that have become rare or threatened; rainforests, and natural vegetation surrounding rainforests; oldgrowth forests covering 10 hectares or more; and wilderness. The Bill brings effect to these objectives by using the Commonwealth Government's constitutional Corporations Power—a power that was part of the Hawke Government's armoury in saving the Franklin River in 1983, but which governments have been too timid to employ in protecting the environment since then.

By protecting these areas, the Bill gives effect to the wishes of a majority of Australians, as expressed in a public-opinion survey carried out by Roy Morgan Research and released publicly by the Minister for the Environment on Wednesday 4 September 1996. The survey categorically shows Australians' love for the natural environment and its wildlife. It shows that ninety-nine percent of people want wilderness protected while 80 percent believe that protecting wilderness is more important than economic development. It is a survey that has been comprehensively ignored by this Government in its recent spate of decisions that potentially condemn our forests, Kakadu, Hinchinbrook and other wild areas to destruction.

This Bill aims to secure for the future the wonderful forests of this nation, from the South-West wilderness of Tasmania to the karri forests of Western Australia, and from East Gippsland up through the forests of New South Wales to Queensland. In those forests is a myriad of wildlife, some abundant, but much rare and exquisite. In these forests is an endless resource for human adventure, wonderment and inspiration. The forests are also the backbone for a range of sustainable and labour-intensive industries, from tourism to apiculture.

The Bill aims to bring true sustainability to the management of the logging industry. It aims to look after the interests of people in the rural communities whose future well-being is currently threatened by one of the most insensitive, unpopular and destructive industries this country has ever seen.

The Bill is introduced into the Australian Parliament at a time of crisis for the world's forests.

Right across the planet, natural forests are being cut down at the greatest rate in history. Temperate, tropical and boreal forests are being cleared, chipped or transmogrified at increasing rates.

Tropical rainforests are being destroyed at the rate of one hectare every second. That is equivalent to an area of rainforest the size of Victoria each year. This assault on the world's most diverse form of habitat means that we are losing species to extinction at the rate of at least 50 a day. The ancestral homes of indigenous peoples such as the Penan in the rainforests of Borneo and the Yanomami in Brazil are being misappropriated and razed. In New Guinea, Sarawak, the Solomon Islands, Brazil and Zaire, tropical rainforests are being destroyed or sized up for destruction by marauding trans-national companies, including companies such as Mitsubishi, which are household names.

In the temperate zone, the situation is no better.

Only 14 million hectares, or 35%, of the original 40 million hectares of temperate rainforest remain on Earth.

The world's greatest tracts of temperate forest are in Siberia. As the economy of Russia is opened up to international influences, so too are its forests. They are subject to an increasing assault by Japanese, Korean and United States logging companies. This is threatening the continued existence of the Siberian Tiger and affecting the rights of many indigenous people of Siberia.

In Chile, over 1.5 million hectares of native forests have been cleared for woodchipping and plantations since 1975. Annual exports of woodchips now exceed three million tonnes; 90 percent is sent to Japan.

In the Pacific north-west of the USA and Canada, temperate forests have been cable-logged by some of the most severe logging operations in the world. Entire catchments have been scalped by huge cable-logging machines. The resultant erosion and the pollution from a myriad of antiquated pulpmills have badly affected the riverine eco-systems as well as industries such as salmon fishing. Hundreds of peaceful protesters, including many of the indigenous people, have been arrested for opposing these destructive operations in places such as British Columbia's Clayoquot Sound.

In Australia, most of our tropical rainforests have been logged or cleared for crops like sugar. Most of what's left is now protected from logging, but the situation with temperate forests is dire.

Australia has some of the world's most voracious woodchip-export companies. Woodchipping has driven logging into the heart of some of our most precious native forests, into places like Ellery Creek or Errinundra in East Gippsland, the Coolangubra, Deua and Tantawangalo forests in southern New South Wales, the majestic karri forests of Western Australia, and the Tarkine, Great Western Tiers and South-West of Tasmania.

Woodchipping would have to be the country's most unpopular industry. Over 80 percent of opinion-poll respondents consistently oppose the woodchipping of our native forests. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have voted against woodchipping with their feet—either by attending rallies in Australia's cities, or by standing in front of the bulldozers in the bush. Scientists have castigated the industry for its unsustainability; economists have condemned the public subsidies which keep it going.

Yet woodchipping expands at an ever-increasing rate. The industry, aware of the strength and depth of public feeling for Australia's native forests, has bankrolled a slick and cynical public-relations campaign. Each year, millions of dollars that the industry gets from flogging our forests go into a massive public-relations campaign carried out at several levels.

There is bullying of the media—recently, the ABC's "7.30 Report" publicly apologised for having offended the woodchip industry in two of its stories in late 1995. Yet the media, including the ABC, also run stories that put the industry's case in a positive light. Community groups representing the conservation issues simply don't have the resources to counter this concerted media-lobbying by highly-paid PR consultants.

Then there's the so-called "Forest Protection Society". This organisation is one of the biggest lies ever perpetrated on the Australian public. How can journalists legitimise this sham by even referring to this industry front by that name, by calling "destruction" "protection"? Clearly, the logging industry has done its market research and knows that the public likes forests and hates woodchipping, and has named its creation accordingly, with enormous contempt for the truth.

Then there are the millions of dollars spent on elaborate TV advertising, the strategically-timed spiking of trees to smear the conservation movement, the glossy leaflets with their misleading messages (so appropriately called "mis-information kits" by a prominent industry spokesperson in a moment of rare truthfulness), and the force of lobbyists in the corridors of Parliament at crucial times.

Meanwhile, unions like the CFMEU meekly accept the job-shedding doled out by the woodchip companies, and go and blockade Wilderness Society shops.

The industry attempts to justify its existence by virtue of the jobs it generates. Yet employment in the native-forests industry has plummeted. In Tasmania alone, over 5000 jobs in the industry were lost between 1975 and 1995. Eighteen months after blockading this Parliament and bringing the government to its knees over woodchipping, blockaders are being sacked and the industry, despite its open slather on wild forests, is on its own knees, with the CFMEU murmuring industrial action to the winds.

The industry claims to be sawlog driven, that it only chips the waste on the forest floor. This is one of its most specious claims. In Tasmania, the average logging coupe on public land yields five percent sawn timber and over 90 percent chips. Similar ratios exist in other states. In parts of New South Wales, logging operations yield 100 percent woodchips and zero sawlogs. The trend over the last 20 years has been for our native forests to be logged more and more for woodchips and less and less for sawlogs, as a graph of woodchip exports versus sawn-timber production amply demonstrates.

And as the trees in plantations established in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s are cut, or mature, the native-forests-logging industry becomes all the more indefensible. Australia simply does not need to touch its pristine native-forest estate to provide basic commodities such as building timber and pulpwood. We have over a million hectares of plantations around the nation to provide those products. Those plantations are already displacing markets for wood products from native forests. The following graph clearly shows production of sawn timber from plantations displacing production of sawn timber from native forests. That trend is set to accelerate dramatically over the next five years as more and more of our vast resource of plantation wood comes on stream. If we do not need native forests to provide sawn timber, the industry's rationale for logging native forests collapses.

To create thousands of long-term, secure jobs in the wood-products industry, we do not need to be cutting down more native forests, or planting more plantations. We do need to encourage industry to invest in the processing of the plantation resource that is already in the ground. We need to stop underpricing wood from native forests, thereby undercutting the plantation sector. We need to stop propping up an unsustainable, destructive, unpopular job-shedding loser of an industry, and get behind the secure resource of the future by encouraging the processing of plantation-grown wood.

Earlier, I mentioned the arrests of forest-defenders at Canada's Clayoquot Sound. Australia, too, has seen thousands of arrests of peaceful protesters over the last ten years. In southern New South Wales, the Daishowa woodchip mill at Eden is the late 20th-century equivalent of the whaling that occurred there last century. This mill is consuming hundreds of thousands of tonnes of woodchips from thousands of hectares of forest in a radius of hundreds of kilometres. Wilderness, oldgrowth and the habitat of rare or endangered species like the Long-Footed Potoroo and Powerful Owl are all being destroyed by this one monstrous mill, which is wholly owned outside Australia. More than 1000 citizens have been arrested in peaceful protests against its operations.

The impacts of the infamous Daishowa mill are felt over the border, in Victoria's East Gippsland. This is the heartland of Victoria's remaining forested wilderness. Yet many of these ancient forests of mixed eucalypts and rainforest-species have been cynically catalogued as "regrowth" by that state's forestry bureaucrats. Bulldozers and chainsaws have penetrated the glorious stands of trees at Ellery and Errinundra as a result.

Similar woodchip-driven operations are blighting the scenic forests of the Otways and Central Highlands of Victoria. Queensland, until now mercifully free of this industry, can now be opened up for chipping by the policies of the new federal and state governments.

In the lush hinterland of northern NSW, woodchipping carried out by the giant multi-national Boral has been picking the eyes out of the superb stands of oldgrowth stands. It remains to be seen what the long and convoluted New South Wales forest process will do with these forests and their wildlife. Currently, the signs are ominous.

In the south-west of Western Australia, despite years of vocal community opposition, woodchip companies—aided and abetted by the notorious Department of Conservation and Land Management—are furthering their agenda of flattening the giant oldgrowth karri trees. Rare native species such as red-tailed and white-tailed black cockatoos and native tiger cats (chudditch) are having prime habitat flattened around them. In the vast, arid state of Western Australia, tall native forest exists only in small pockets of the south-west. Destruction of these oldgrowth remnants is a national travesty.

Which brings me to my home state, Tasmania.

Tasmania has some of the world's most significant tracts of temperate forest, including some of the world's oldest. It has Australia's greatest tract of temperate rainforest, straddling the catchments of the Savage and Donaldson rivers in the Tarkine wilderness. We have a wealth of unique wildlife, in habitats ranging from the sodden rainforests of the west to the dry-sclerophyll woodlands of the East Coast. Tasmania also has one of the world's greatest tracts of temperate wilderness—a great wild region of glaciated mountain peaks, lake-dotted plateaux, fabulous wild rivers and gorges, and the tallest forests in the Southern Hemisphere.

Yet these natural wonders are being systematically eroded by Australia's most rapacious woodchip industry.

Tiny Tasmania exports more woodchips than all mainland states combined. Two thirds of Australia's woodchip-export quota comes from the island state. There are four major woodchip mills, which between them grind up more than three million tonnes of native forest per annum. The newest of them, the Hampshire mill near Burnie, can chip over 1.2 million tonnes of forest per annum. It's the biggest woodchip mill in the Southern Hemisphere but it employs just 10 people. The great pile of rainforest woodchips languishing on the wharf at Burnie was created by this forest-eating colossus.

Tasmania is the only state where rainforests are not only logged, but also cleared, chipped, firebombed, poisoned and replaced by eucalypt plantations. This atrocity is occurring on the private estate of North Forest Products (a subsidiary of North Broken Hill)—100,000 hectares acquired from the Van Diemens Land Company.

Tasmania is the Australian cable-logging epicentre. There are more than a dozen of these machines eating away at oldgrowth forests on the steep valleys and ridges of this island's world-famous mountain scenery.

Tasmania's unique biodiversity is also under threat as the bulldozers, cable loggers and chainsaws go marauding through the dry-sclerophyll forests of the East Coast and north, and into the remnant oldgrowth forests on the steep slopes of the north-east mountains.

The spectacular wilderness areas of Tasmania are being eroded as some of Australia's most brutal clearfelling operations penetrate deeper into the remote valleys of the South-West and Tarkine. The Great Western Tiers, the dominant scenic feature between Devonport and Launceston have also been earmarked by Forestry Tasmania for roading and logging.

On private land, the situation is no better. Forty percent of Tasmania's forests lie in private hands, many of them belonging to corporate woodchip giants such as Boral and North Forest Products. Habitats of rare and endangered plants and animals throughout the state are being blitzed. The Government's newly-announced policy of exempting clearance of so-called "degraded" native forests on private land from the woodchip-export quota means that these forests are now on line for the biggest assault ever.

Around Tasmania, small, vulnerable communities of people have had their treasured lifestyles blighted by the extent and severity of the woodchippers' onslaught. The tranquillity of their neighbourhoods has been shattered by the din of chainsaws, bulldozers and logtrucks. Supplies of drinking water have been sullied by eroded soils or chemical herbicides. Local wildlife has been poisoned by 1080. Favourite beauty spots and walking tracks have been ruined. Local resources of craftwood and sawlogs have been pulverised in the chippers.

Over the years, I've personally received representations from local residents, landowners and small businesses in the Tasmanian rural communities of Wielangta, Geeveston, Buckland, Derby, Ranelagh, Jackeys Marsh, Lorinna, Reedy Marsh, Bruny Island, Koonya, Murdunna, Hampshire, Weegeena, Cygnet, Bicheno and many other hamlets, as well as from the larger provincial centres. As well as the indifference of the industry, they've had to deal with the obfuscations of local forestry officials, the inertia of state environmental agencies, and the hostility of many of their elected representatives from both Liberal and Labor camps. I feel that I'm here in this chamber, presenting this bill, to stand up for courageous people who for years have had to suffer the orchestrated attacks of industry front-groups, like the falsely-named Forest Protection Society, or unions which have become corporate patsies, like the forests branch of the CFMEU.

If organisations like these really cared for the forest workers, they'd turn their attention to companies like North Forest Products and Boral. These corporations have axed thousands of the jobs they say are so sacrosanct. In its 1993 half-yearly report, for example, North boasted of having shed nearly six hundred jobs in six months. This was in the wake of the infamous Burnie dispute, when the company, having been given all it wanted by way of Labor's "resource security" legislation, turned on its own employees with an unprecedented attack on employment-levels and workers' conditions.

Meanwhile, the Tasmanian woodchip-export quota has moved steadily upwards, from its ominous beginnings in 1969, to two million tonnes in the mid-1980s, to 2.889 million of the 1985 EIS, to Labor's three million in 1995. Now it looks like it could end up as high as 4.5 million tonnes by the turn of the century, unless action is taken. Every day, Tasmanians wake up with less forest and wildlife, and yet the legal rate of destruction is getting bigger.

In short, Tasmania's plight makes it the forest-destruction epicentre in a nation where successive governments have raised woodchip-exports to obscene levels.

This Bill aims to redress these issues.

When this Bill becomes law, these levels of woodchipping and the premeditated destruction of our native forests will, within three years, become a thing of the past—like whaling.

Madam President, I urge every Honourable Senator to search her or his conscience on Australia's wild forest heritage and to support this Bill through the Senate.

Senator Lees's speech read as follows—

This bill is one of the most important environment initiatives to come before the Senate. It is with grave concern for the future of our forests, our soils, our water catchments, our unique biodiversity and the jobs of many workers that the Australian Democrats and the Australian Greens present it today.

The timber industry is at a cross road.

Firstly, polls have consistently shown that at least 80% of Australians want to stop chipping our native forests. Secondly, soft wood sawmillers are increasing their share of the industry as soft woods are increasingly substituted for hardwoods; thirdly, there is significant job shedding due to mechanisation and overlogging; and fourthly the debts built up by the native forest logging industry are growing steadily.

It is worth noting that over 90% of job shedding in the timber industry in recent decades has been due to mechanisation, restructuring, overlogging and the concurrent shift from a sawlog driven industry to an export woodchip driven industry, rather than conservation initiatives. Over the last 20 years the number of jobs in the native forest industry has declined by 20,000.

The hardwood products industry of Australia has become a ravenous dinosaur which we can no longer afford to prop up. It is clear that at present, we do not have a sustainable forest industry.

Recently, the Victorian Government, in one year, put $90 million dollars into the logging of old growth and hardwood forests for a return of $40 million, an effective subsidy of $50 million. There are 23 types of effective subsidy to the forest industry and the combined debt of the forestry commissions in Australia is now five billion dollars. Penalties for infringements are rarely, if ever, applied.

It is also true that export woodchipping enables the native forest industry to spread its costs over a wider base and without this native forest logging would not continue in many areas. But it is also true that native forest based woodchipping is completely incompatible with ecological, and therefore economic, sustainability. You cannot both protect forests and allow this excessive level of native forest clearing to continue.

It is salutary to consider why we are seeing such a concerted push by the export woodchip industry to vastly increase the amount of timber taken from our native forests this year. It is because we are currently witnessing a temporary price surge for export woodchips—but this will be probably be a very short term phenomenon. Plantations in China, Brazil, and South Africa are set to come on stream and as they do we will see a systematic fall in prices.

Unfortunately the current window of commercial opportunity could be at great cost to Australian native forests.

Sadly, the other reason the chipping companies are pushing so hard is that they know the people of Australia want their forests saved and they can see the writing on the wall, they know this is their last chance to ensure resource security from the Governments and they are pushing as hard as they can to get it.

On the positive side of the ledger, more than sixty percent of Australia's onshore wood products are sourced from plantation stock and that figure is growing for good commercial reasons. It has been predicted that this could triple by the year 2000.

The current dilemma facing the Federal Government over the protection of our native forests, and providing a secure future for the timber industry and its workers, has a solution. This crisis has provided Australia with an opportunity to move plantation timber for all our timber needs and to encourage the rapid expansion of plantations.

Excessive subsidies for the cutting of native forests have had the effect of slowing down some investment in pine and other plantations. The Native Forest Protection Bill will encourage, for the first time, a legal obligation to ensure the timber industry becomes sustainable and becomes free from controversy and conflict.

So what do the Democrats want to see?

We want to see a wood products industry that will maintain and create employment without destroying Australia's old growth and wilderness forests. We want to see an industry that is plantation based and not undermined by Government-subsidised chipping of native forests. We want to see an industry that provides long term jobs and that cannot happen if the industry relies on a rapidly disappearing resource base.

Where necessary adjustment assistance packages for workers may need to be implemented.

The Native Forest Protection Bill has an immediate commitment to exclude logging in high conservation value areas implementing legislative mechanisms available to the Commonwealth. Further there must be prohibition of all logging in old growth and wilderness areas. These coupes should form the beginning of a new National Reserve System assessed and put in place on public land as an urgent priority.

This will be followed by a progressive ban on exports of woodchips from native forests which we believe will encourage the utilisation of existing, and rapid expansion of new, hardwood and softwood plantations

The Australian Democrats believe that plantations must be put to the fullest viable commercial use with maximum processing in Australia of the wood products including sawn timber, pulp and paper, wood based panels and veneer. The wood products industry should be totally plantation based by the year 2000

Packages should be designed specifically to help farmers develop plantations as part of an integrated cropping system on agricultural land. However new plantations must be established on already cleared land and no clearing of native forest permitted in order to establish plantations.

While beyond the scope of this bill we believe all subsidies for the logging of native forests must be removed and there should be introduction of a saw log levy.

Research and development of better techniques and products would also encourage more efficient milling and establishment of further processing. Pulp and paper mills supplied by plantations should be developed which are non-polluting and energy and water efficient.

There is no doubt that there will be a detrimental impact on jobs in some rural communities, although jobs will be created in others. However, this must be seen in the context of the thousands of jobs which have disappeared in the industry due to over clearing and mechanisation and the ones which will be lost if the industry becomes more unsustainable. Timber industry workers who lose their jobs from phasing out native forest logging should be given an opportunity to move to jobs created in towns relying on plantations. They will also find new opportunities in value added processing, management of Reserves, and ecotourism.

With the expiry last year of the bounty arrangements on recycled paper (previously negotiated by the Democrats), there are concerns the Australian recycling industry could collapse under the current taxation regime. While beyond the scope of this bill, the Democrats will continue to call for a reduction in sales tax on recycled paper and paper products as this will assist in reducing the demand for virgin pulp (and hence native forest and woodchips) in order to complement the objectives of this bill.

The government will cry "loss of dollars", an claim it is "too expensive to protect our forests". We argue that this is a very narrow and short sighted view.

If you include the loss of water catchment areas, the loss of tourism opportunities, the loss of carbon absorbing trees and then take off all the subsidies, we see the ledger balanced. If you consider all those things on which it is so hard to put a value: small and large marsupials; spectacular parrots, a wide variety of honeyeaters and the powerful owl; fish, frogs and water plants; rainforest and all that lives within it; the value is so great the decision should be an immediate cessation of logging.

This bill offers the timber industry an opportunity to become much stronger, to become self-sustaining and to provide many more long term employment opportunities for its workers.

It offers all Australians the chance—possibly our last—have a sustainable wood products industry and to save our native forests for future generations and both myself, and Senator Brown look forward to its speedy passage through both Houses.

Senator BROWN —I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

Debate (on motion by Senator Panizza) adjourned.