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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26342

Senator LEES (2:57 PM) —My question is to Senator Ian Campbell, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. I ask the minister: has he read the proposal by WWF called a Blueprint for a forest industry and vegetation management in Tasmania? Does he support the four key recommendations? In particular, does he support an end to clearing existing native forests for other use such as plantations? Is the federal government prepared to insist on improved forest management practices right across Tasmania? Finally, does he support the full protection of the Tarkine area, which is listed on the Register of the National Estate and is Australia's largest remaining temperate rainforest?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I thank Senator Lees for a question on Tasmanian forests. It is an issue that a lot of Australians are very concerned about. I have seen the WWF blueprint. I do admit to not having read it from cover to cover. I notice that the Wilderness Society and, I think, the ACF brought out a further document this week which, again, I have seen. I thank all of the people involved in both of those documents—the World Wildlife Fund, the Wilderness Society, the ACF, the scientists and the members of the community that have helped create those blueprints—for making an important contribution to the debate.

Tasmanian forest issues have been at the centre of the forest debate in Australia for many years, as you would know, Mr President, being a Tasmanian yourself. The important thing—I am sure this view is shared equally by me and by the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, who sits in the Senate with us—is that the Australian government are well aware of the public interest in the forests and how they are managed and conserved. This government, probably more than any other, has sought to strike a balance. Through the national forest policy process that was established under the previous government—when Senator Faulkner was the minister for the environment, so long ago—and the implementation of the regional forest agreement processes, we have, without any doubt, improved forestry practices around Australia and in Tasmania. Our government are committed to continuous improvement in forestry practices as a critical element of ecologically sustainable management.

The commitment to continuous improvement in forest practices applies to Tasmania. Under the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement, some 440,000 hectares were added to a reserve system that results in protection within reserves of 2.74 million hectares. That is roughly 86 per cent of old growth forests on public land, 95 per cent of high-quality wilderness being reserved and something like 40 per cent of the Tasmanian land mass. In anyone's language, we have as a government, with the cooperation of the Tasmanian government, and as a nation achieved historic levels of protection for Tasmanian forests.

It is fair to say that there are some very genuine, committed conservationists and scientists who would say that the process has not gone far enough and that forestry practices need to be improved. The RFA process includes regular five-year reviews. Senator Ian Macdonald and I have before us at the moment a review of the RFA, which I will be looking at in some detail. In developing the Australian government's response to that review, we are considering how ongoing forest management issues can best be addressed. The Australian government recognise that, like any other natural resource management issue, there needs to be continuous, open and informed community discussion about the decisions that affect the people and the environment in the long term.

Senator LEES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I am pleased to hear the minister note that there is enormous public interest in these issues. I certainly agree that substantial parts of the significant areas have been protected, but the problem in the Tarkine is that the very centre of it, the heart of it, is due very shortly to be logged. So I ask the minister: apart from buying back those logging rights from the Tarkine, which are there by agreement—estimated at between $12 million and $20 million—and then going through the processes to extend the World Heritage area to include the Tarkine, what are the other barriers to making some decisions to protect this important area?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I appreciate the fact that Senator Lees has a sensible and balanced approach to this issue. She recognises, as do many Australians, that the Australian government, under the leadership of John Howard, have brought more protection to Tasmanian forests than any other government in Australia's history. We also recognise that there needs to be continuous improvement in the process. I think the government, through cooperation with the Tasmanian government, will need to address the review. I know that the Tasmanian government stands ready to do that. I will work cooperatively with Senator Ian Macdonald, the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, to look at the review and consider how we can best balance the interests of the regional forest agreement, World Heritage values and the interests of the logging and forestry industries and, very importantly, how we can protect the long-term interests of this crucial part of the Australian environment. (Time expired)

Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.