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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7900

Senator MURPHY (2:31 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, Senator Ian Macdonald. Can the minister inform the Senate what, if any, research his department has done to determine the progress of the plantation industry 2020 Vision strategy? Has any assessment been done to determine whether or not the types of trees and areas being planted will assist in the reduction of Australia's $2 billion trade deficit in forest products?

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —I appreciate the question from Senator Murphy and I also appreciate his interest in forest issues. As those of you from Tasmania will particularly understand, our forests—both our native forests and our plantation forests—are a great asset for Australia. Indeed, the 2020 Vision to which Senator Murphy refers is an example of what can be achieved through a partnership approach between the state and federal governments, the companies, the unions and the workers. As an aside, I have to say what a great union the CFMEU is—the `F' part of it, anyway. It is a union which is interested in the welfare of its members and which understands the importance of a successful native and plantation industry within Australia.

Senator Murphy will know that plantation investments do contribute very significantly to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of communities in rural and regional Australia. They contribute something like $300 million to rural economies. That is something very important to all of us from rural and regional Australia, and I know that Senator Murphy and my Tasmania colleagues appreciate the significant economic gain for Tasmania from the plantation forests.

Senator Murphy will know that the vision was implemented in 1997 with the objective of increasing the plantation estate from one million hectares in 1996 to three million hectares by the year 2020. Again, the review of the 2020 Vision undertaken through the National Plantation Inventory in the year 2001 by the Bureau of Rural Sciences showed that 85,777 hectares had been planted in 2001, bringing the total plantation estate of both softwoods and hardwoods to something like 1.56 million hectares. Average annual plantings of 75,000 hectares are required to meet the vision target, and current average plantings indicate that Australia remains well on track to meet that target.

As Senator Murphy will recall, one of the very early pieces of legislation that went through this parliament following the re-election of the Howard government this time last year was the taxation laws amendment act that provided a fair relief to those who would invest in the plantation industry. I think the passing of that law by the parliament does demonstrate the commitment of both the government and the parliament to the plantation sector and to our intention to support the various forestry industries around Australia. Senator Murphy, I know, follows this issue very keenly. I understand that at times he has some concerns about how some of the states administer their plantation estates, but by and large I think Senator Murphy would concede that the states do a good job in managing their forest industries, both native and plantation, and that generally speaking Australia has world-class industries.

Of course, part of the arrangement with the forests is that a very significant part of the forest estate is locked away in reserves— some three times more reserves than the peak world conservation body that Senator Brown sometimes highlights as having all wisdom. Australia has three times the amount of reserves required by the IUCN. It is obviously a very good news story for the timber industry in Australia. (Time expired)

Senator MURPHY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note the minister's response—and it is a response rather than an answer. I ask you again, Minister: has your department done any assessment to determine whether or not, for instance, the types of trees and areas being planted will assist in the reduction of Australia's $2 billion trade deficit in forest products?

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —I am not sure that my department as such does. The Bureau of Rural Sciences does a lot of work on that, as Senator Murphy knows. Senator Murphy, you referred me to a CSIRO report that you indicated might help me with this. You were going to give me the references to it. I have not yet got those. I have had my staff looking for that CSIRO report. They phoned the CSIRO, and I regret that nobody in the CSIRO knows anything about it. If you give me that, it may help me to answer questions you mentioned in a conversation we had a week or so ago.

Obviously, the companies which invest in that, and the investors who put their money in it, rely on the companies researching and understanding what is the best particular species of tree for that area and how it will achieve a market value at the time that one would expect it to be harvested. It is no good shaking your head. People put their money into it. It is their money and they obviously do the research that is necessary to get a good return from their investment. (Time expired)