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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5440


Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (4:48 PM) —Senator Milne explained that her proposal would not cost in terms of solar hot water heaters. We have plans afoot to promote them much more vigorously than this legislation would. This amendment would prevent them from competing with renewable energy. And that brings us to biomass. The authorities in New South Wales who licence green power have refused to licence the pulp mill in Tasmania because, whatever else it is, it is not green.

The pulp mill burns native forest and the habitat of rare and endangered species. Senator Wong’s colleague the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Mr Garrett, said just two days ago that endangered species were in such numbers in this country that we can no longer afford to be looking at programs to save single species. The government has abandoned that in an age of mass extinctions and climate change—forest destruction being the single biggest destroyer of species on the terrestrial part of the planet—in favour of protecting ecosystems which have rare and endangered species in them.

When you come to that issue you look straight at the forests of south-east New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and of course my home state of Tasmania, where there are an array of endangered birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, molluscs, amphibians and plants, headed rapidly for extinction because their ecosystems are being destroyed. Who are they being destroyed by? The Rudd government and the ministries of Senator Wong, Mr Garrett and the other ministers who gather around the table to wash their hands of their responsibilities.

We have not only a complete breach of the aims of the nation’s environment legislation—which is not only to protect biodiversity but to enhance it and put in place management plans to bring those species back from the brink of extinction—but a very forward plan by Senator Wong, Mr Garrett and the Prime Minister Rudd. The plan has been much deliberated on—we are having this debate to emphasise that point—and the plan is to keep putting the match under these ecosystems, and the bulldozers and the chainsaws into them, so that they are destroyed for Gunns Limited and the Eden pulp mill owners in this country. Those owners take the forests of East Gippsland, the central highlands of Victoria to some degree and certainly the forests of south-east New South Wales, including koala habitat. The national icon does not escape this. There is targeted koala habitat right now on the agenda under the regional forest agreement that Senator Wong cited.

Now we come to this proposal, which is to give subsidies, effectively—through giving the proposed forest furnace in Eden, like that at the pulp mill in Tasmania and the proposed mills in southern and north-west Tasmania and elsewhere in the country, the advantage of being called ‘environmental’—to produce green power when it is destroying the habitat of the very rare and endangered species that the minister for the environment said in Brisbane the other day we, as a desperate last measure, have to protect. Here is a government plan to subsidise the destruction of ecosystems. The Rudd government are ready to pour millions of dollars into subsidising the destruction of native forests. They are to be put into furnaces to be converted into power, which will be sold to unsuspecting customers in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Hobart and Perth as green power. The authorities in Sydney have sensibly said they are not going to allow their name to be attached to this. But that is not going to stop the Rudd government from according it exactly the same environmental kudos as a wind farm, an array of solar panels or a geothermal plant.

The woodchip industry began with Harris-Daishowa’s mill at Eden, which was followed up within 12 months by a mill at Triabunna in Tasmania. That is now 40 years ago. They said they were going to clean up the waste after sawmilling. Senator Abetz and Senator Macdonald are still back with the dinosaurs, still believing the propaganda coming out of this, on a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ arrangement with the logging industry and the unions—which, incredibly, stick with Gunns and other corporations even when they are shedding jobs, as they are doing at the moment, to feed a future job-sparse, computer-rich industry of forest furnaces.

The proposed Gunns pulp mill and the forest furnaces proposed at Judbury and Smithton in Tasmania will burn native forest. I will ask the minister what component of her scheme would be taken up in the first year of running a pulp mill the size of the Gunns’ proposal in the Tamar Valley—the size at least of a large wind farm. It will be in competition with and will undercut the wind farm. While the wind farm will be accredited by the authorities with green power, Gunns pulp mill will not be, but that does not alter the Rudd government’s proposal to subsidise the proposed mega-forest-furnace at the pulp mill in Tasmania.

Remember that the ships have already arrived and offloaded the prime components for this forest furnace. Gunns intend to set it up whether or not they get the go-ahead for the pulp mill, and the only thing stopping that is international investors. Certainly the minister for the environment, the Hon. Peter Garrett, is not going to stop it. He has not stopped it so far and there is no way he is going to stand in the way of it, whatever the results of further studies. Gunns has landed its furnace components on the wharf at Bell Bay and the furnace is largely coming to fruition through the legislation we are discussing here today. This is a death warrant—thanks to Senator Wong, Prime Minister Rudd, environment minister Garrett and the minister for forestry, whatever his name might be, who is just a cipher of the forest industry—on the habitat of rare and endangered species in Australia, subsidised by this government.

It is going to produce so-called environmental energy—that is what Mr Gunns calls it these days—which will be sent through Basslink, highly subsidised under a secret contract by the last three Labor governments in Tasmania, putting all the attendant risk through the Basslink cable to consumers in Melbourne. What is effectively going to happen here is that the public subsidy is going to prevent the establishment of real renewable energy, an enormous amount of it, because this pulp mill furnace will squeeze it out. So the unsuspecting denizens of Melbourne, as well as those of Launceston and Hobart, while toasting their bread or having their showers in the morning, are going to be paying a premium for so-called renewable energy. In fact, they are burning the habitat of rare and endangered possum and bird species in the forests of Tasmania.

We have a compliant media on much of this. We will not see too much of this being carried into the public arena. Why not? Because the big story of the day is the coalition and the government getting together to agree on the passage of this legislation, just as the government and the coalition will get together—I told the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Turnbull, this as far back as last February—to agree to an emissions trading scheme sometime this side of the next election. The danger for the opposition is that it may dawn on the government that, if they want to keep the opposition wedged on the issue of an emissions trading scheme, whereas now the opposition wants that legislation put off until next year, it may end up being the government who want it put off until next year so it becomes next year’s issue—if an election is left until next year.

In the middle of the Faustian bargain in this legislation to burn native forests and the habitat of rare and endangered species to produce so-called ‘green energy’, to be sold at a premium are the unsuspecting, good-hearted Australians who will pay more for it. Already, 50,000 or 60,000 have signed up to these schemes. They will in fact be destroying the habitat of the very species the government proclaims it wants to protect.

I will give as an example the giant wedge-tailed eagle of Tasmania. I am told by Mr Webb, who has the eagle recovery centre at Kettering, south of Hobart, that the biggest recorded wingspan of a Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle was 2.98 metres. That is almost three metres. I can hold my arms out and it is nowhere near three metres. This is the sixth-largest eagle species on the face of the planet. It is not going to worry Prime Minister Rudd that a report by Melbourne University, which Forestry Tasmania itself commissioned, found that the probability of this great species in north-east Tasmania going extinct is 65 per cent within the next century or two. But bring in the current Rudd government proposals for logging in north-east Tasmania, as signed off by Prime Minister Howard but taken up, under his own words, ‘100 per cent’ by Prime Minister Rudd, and see that targeted logging go to its endpoint, and, according to this university study—and there is no countermanding study to this; this is Forestry Tasmania itself and the University of Melbourne—the chance of extinction in north-east Tasmania of the giant wedge-tailed eagle goes from 65 per cent to 99 per cent. That is the price of the pulp mill. I might ask any of the senators speaking up in favour of having our native forest fed into these giant forest furnaces and passed off as green energy, displacing real renewable energy under this proposal—


Senator Boswell —What are you going to do with the sawdust?


Senator BOB BROWN —I won’t have to do anything with the sawdust, Senator Boswell, because—


The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Moore)—Senator Boswell, could you please restrain from interjecting while Senator Brown is speaking.


Senator BOB BROWN —it is packed in between so many National Party members’ ears that there won’t be any left over!

The whole point of this is that we have a proposal here which is an utter disgrace to this parliament and to this generation of parliamentarians. In an age of prodigious threat, of climate change threat, people reading this in years to come will not be able to believe it. I went and saw the film The Age of Stupid in the theatre here last Monday night. It is on in Sydney tonight and I think Senator Milne will be there at the end of that film for a question and answer session. I only wish every parliamentarian would see it. It shows the world in 2055 and looks back to this period and asks, ‘How could we have done it?’ Well, here we are in this chamber doing it. Here is Senator Wong, supported ably by Senator Abetz in this bargaining, doing the unthinkable, against the interests of the future of this planet. Senator Milne has got up a sensible amendment to take out this destruction of forests. Senator Wong says, ‘It is there under previous legislation.’ Yes, but here is the opportunity, Senator Wong, for you to support this sensible move—and I predict you won’t.