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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4486

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (4:42 PM) —I seek leave to take note of the response of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to the Senate resolution concerning mountain ash forests that has just been tabled.

Leave granted.

Senator BOB BROWN —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This is a response to a Senate resolution regarding mountain ash, or Eucalyptus regnans, forests in Australia. It is a response from the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Mr Burke. I had sought the government’s response to the report by Professor Brendan Mackey at the Australian National University and his colleagues Dr Heather Keith, Dr Sandra Berry and Professor David Lindenmayer on the greenhouse gas release from the destruction of Australia’s tallest forests, which are indeed the mountain ash forests of Victoria and Tasmania. What we have in this response from the minister is a complete lack of information and, indeed, a revelation of extraordinary ignorance in the department and of the minister himself. You will note, Mr Acting Deputy President, that after the question of whether the report from the Australian National University has validity comes this conclusion from the government:

Neither report—

because they include a further report from the Australian National University on proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in Australia—

provides sufficient detail to allow a review of the validity of the findings.

In other words, the government has no idea. Minister Burke does not have a clue about the greenhouse gas emissions from the destruction of Australia’s tall forests, primarily by the export woodchip industry. The Senate asked:

 (ii)          What government measures are being taken or considered to protect Eucalyptus regnans forests in Australia that are currently targeted for logging …

The minister resorted to an answer which was basically ‘none’. There are forests that are protected, but for those that are targeted for logging under the regional forest agreements—which, by the way, were established by the Howard government back in the 1990s—no change is planned. This is despite the Australian National University report showing extraordinary volumes of greenhouse gases being emitted through the destruction of these forests. In fact, it is the biggest release of greenhouse gases through terrestrial logging anywhere on the planet. Quite remarkable. Acre for acre it is much greater than, for example, the destruction of rainforests in Brazil, Indonesia or Central Africa. The minister says:

The sustainability indicators report prepared for the ten-year review of the Tasmanian Regional Forests Agreement indicates there is 68 000 hectares of predominantly E. regnans forest in the state, of which 18 000 hectares is reserved.

In other words, 50,000 hectares is targeted for logging. Then comes the minister’s anaemic excuse for that outrage in terms of greenhouse gas emissions:

The 50 000 hectares available for timber production—

read ‘available for woodchip export to the Japanese and Chinese markets’—

is predominately regrowth. Of this, 45 000 hectares is on public land.

These regrowth forests—and we are talking about forests seeded as far back as 1898 due to wildfires over a century ago—should be allowed to grow to their full potential, taking out of the atmosphere enormous volumes of greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide. There is nothing like them for achieving the greenhouse gas emissions reductions that this nation needs, in this week in which we are discussing the government’s recipe for failure in tackling climate change. The minister says that, of the 50,000 hectares in Tasmania of Eucalyptus regnans, 45,000 hectares is on public land—that is, within reach of his say-so. He goes on to say that VicForests, the Victorian authority:

… report that current approved timber release plans—

that is, forest destruction plans—

exist for 2771 hectares of predominantly E. regnans forest in Victoria. This area is estimated to contain 363 621 cubic metres of sawlog and—

Opposition senator interjecting—

to the interjector on my right—

796 772 cubic metres of pulpwood—

that is, woodchip.

What we have here is a complete studied ignorance by this Rudd government. In an age of climate change, we are looking, if you accept Sir Nicholas Stern’s asseveration, at a potential price of more than $100 a tonne for the carbon stored by these forests if they are kept standing upright being released at something like $12, $14 or $16 a tonne by the Tasmanian Labor and Victorian Labor governments through the destruction of these forests. That is the royalty that will be gained from selling them into the export woodchip market. It is economically outrageous, it is environmentally outrageous, because we are talking about the destruction of prime habitat of species of Australian plants and wildlife, including rare and endangered plants and wildlife, and it is outrageous from the point of view of greenhouse gas emissions.

But then in the last paragraph comes the clincher from Minister Burke, who after two years should be on top of this portfolio but obviously does not understand it. The Senate asked:

(iv)          Whether ending native forest and woodlands removal in Australia would reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10 to 20 per cent.

He said, in effect, ‘I have no idea.’ You will see in the document that he said that logging of native forests and woodlands, where it is measured by the government—that is, to create agricultural uses on that land—puts 77 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere each year. Shame on the Bligh government in particular, because it is the greatest creator of destruction of these woodlands, but shame also on the Northern Territory, Victorian, Tasmanian, South Australian, Western Australian and New South Wales governments. The minister went on to say:

According to the National Inventory Report 2007, the area of native forest available for harvest activities—

that is, for logging destruction—

sequestered and stored 36.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2007.

That is, in one year the area of forest now targeted for destruction under the indirect authority of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Mr Burke, sequestered—that is, took out of the atmosphere—37 million tonnes of carbon dioxide two years ago. That is now stored in these forests. He—along with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Penny Wong, and above all the Prime Minister of this country—is prepared to have these forests, which are targeted for destruction, release not only all the carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases stored over decades or centuries in the past but the 36.8 million tonnes absorbed in 2007 and end their career as a massive absorber of greenhouse gases. That is what is afoot here.

This government has legislation before the parliament that it says meets its obligations to reduce greenhouse gases. That legislation in no way deals with this outrageous dereliction of duty by the minister for forestry and the Prime Minister of this country in sending to destruction the biggest carbon banks—that is, hedges against climate change—that we have in terrestrial Australia. This document is an affront to the Senate. It is a record of studied ignorance by the Rudd government in 2009. These forests should be protected by law to prevent the greenhouse gas damage to all our futures that will come from their studied destruction by this government and the several Labor governments at state level which are involved.