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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8058


Senator O'BRIEN (1:12 AM) —Senator Allison is correct: the opposition will not be supporting these amendments. Senator Brown knows that we have proposed an amendment to proposed section 162 of the bill which would require a review of the issue of the use of native forest residues in terms of net greenhouse emissions, biodiversity, the level of biomass extraction under the RFA agreements and the plantation industry. I remind Senator Brown that after the election Mr Crean, the Leader of the Opposition, said that all opposition policies, except for the sale of Telstra, were up for review. It is, I think, extraordinary that Senator Brown refers to commitments which were proposed to be implemented upon attaining government and says they ought to be binding on us in opposition. The fact of the matter is that we are concerned that the issue of the use of native forest residues for the generation of greenhouse friendly energy has been the subject of an intense political campaign without regard for the science on this matter. The only scientific report on this matter that the opposition are aware of has been prepared by the CSIRO in relation to the Southwood project—the project that Senator Brown referred to. My understanding of the report is that it found that the generation of electric power from native forest residues from that project would in fact be greenhouse friendly and that it was possible, subject to certain matters, that the issue of biodiversity could be properly addressed. We want this matter resolved on the science, not on political posturing and the campaign of hatred against the forest industry that emanates from the Greens and particularly Senator Brown.

In the Senate earlier today, I referred to a misrepresentation by Senator Brown, where he put a proposition before this Senate suggesting that the forestry company Gunns had leveraged 70,000 hectares of plantations through the 13-month rule, generating $129 million in taxation benefits for the company. I referred to the Hansard record of the committee hearing that Senator Brown attended—I know he was there at the time, because I was there at the time—when the official of Gunns, in answer to a question, told Senator Murphy that Gunns had 17,000 hectares of plantation forest which had been the subject of prospectuses and therefore the beneficiary of the 13-month rule, potentially at least. I am not sure if the evidence said that all of that had been the beneficiary of the 13-month rule in the taxation legislation that we were discussing, but at least some of it had. It is very easy to make allegations but, when the facts stack up against you, I expect that you would lose a bit of credibility, and that is what happened in relation to that matter.

What the opposition are keen to see, in considering the amendments that have been put forward and in considering some of the material that is being circulated which suggests things that are quite untrue about the generation of power from native forest residue, is that this matter should be resolved on the science. That is the reason that we think this matter ought to be part of the section 162 review that is mandated under the legislation as it exists. It is within the gift of the minister to require that anyway, but we thought it was better that the Senate say to the minister, `We think that should happen,' because we think that the science of these matters ought to be addressed. If this matter is going to be resolved politically then so be it, but let it not be resolved politically without the science of whether the generation of power from native forest residues can be achieved in a greenhouse friendly manner and whether the biodiversity of the forests affected can be maintained in those circumstances. We had significant evidence at the hearing on this bill that a considerable amount of biomass would remain in the forest, even after sawlogs, veneer logs and timber for power generation were removed. I must say we were not able to test that evidence in the best possible scientific way; only a proper review could do that.

We are quite happy to indicate that we will be moving an amendment, but what Senator Brown has suggested is that we implement a moratorium, probably on the one state that is considering implementation of a scheme of power generation from native forest residue—his own state, the state of Tasmania—because there are effective moratoria in place in Victoria and New South Wales at the moment. What he is asking the Senate to do is implement a moratorium on the state of Tasmania in relation to a couple of projects, one of which has already conducted a scientific review to meet the sort of test we are talking about. We do not think that is warranted in the circumstances, and that is the reason that we believe these amendments should be defeated and that we will move the amendment we propose. We would be happy if the minister were to indicate that he would require such a review to take place. If that were the case then obviously I would have to consult with my party about the necessity of our amendments, but it has not been the case to date.

In relation to the comments that Senator Macdonald made with respect to a briefing from Minister Kemp's office to the shadow minister, Mr Thomson, the advice that I have just been given is that a briefing took place. Matters of the nature referred to by Senator Macdonald were referred to. There were comments in response from the shadow minister and we awaited a reply to those comments. No reply has been received. That is the advice I have received. It was the shadow minister and staff involved in that meeting, I am advised; I did not want to mislead. Perhaps there are matters that remain outstanding from those meetings; that is why there has been a misunderstanding about where the parties have ended up in relation to this matter.

In relation to the committee's report, it was always made clear that the opposition would support the passage of the legislation but retain the right to look at the issue of other amendments. It is clear that other amendments are before the committee at the moment. Having said that, and given that we have certain other business to deal with tonight, I can only indicate that we will not be supporting these amendments.