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Monday, 26 March 2018
Page: 2100


Senator RICE (Victoria) (14:22): My question is to Minister Ruston, the Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water. Media reports this morning quoted sawmill owners in eastern Victoria as saying:

At the moment, everyone is in denial but we're in wind-down mode. We're about to fall over a 'resource cliff' in two years time.

There won't be enough wood for all the mills.

The mill owners called for logging in national parks and water catchments as an option for timber supply. Another major mill last week said their future was under threat because of deteriorating log quality. Minister, will you rule out logging in national parks under any renegotiation of our logging laws, the regional forest agreements?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, it is not appropriate at question time to direct questions without notice to assistant ministers. I will let the responsible minister take the question to the extent that—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: In my decade here, I have not seen questions directed to assistant ministers, and I think most senators know that. I will allow Senator Canavan to take the question.

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:23): I thank Senator Rice for her question to the government. I think it is unfortunate that Senator Ruston can't answer the question, because I am sure she would do a much, much better job at it than I. Regardless, I will do my best as the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. The Australian government supports a strong and vibrant forestry industry in this country. We support the sustainable use of our resources, including our forestry resources, because many more small country towns rely on this industry for their livelihood. It is their lifeblood. Around 60,000 people are employed in this industry and they contribute $24 billion to the economy every year.

We are committed to the regional forestry agreements. We do believe they are the best way of balancing the environmental, economic and social demands to ensure the sustainable use of our native forests. We are seeking also to ensure that we meet our election commitment to establish a 20-year rolling life for each regional forest agreement, to provide resource security and a stable investment environment to the forest industry.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, on a point of order?

Senator Rice: Mr President, I draw the minister's attention to relevance. My question is about whether the government will rule out logging in national parks under the renegotiation of the regional forest agreements.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, you've taken the opportunity to remind the minister of the question. I take the opportunity to respond that the minister took a question that was directed to someone who was not appropriate to have a question directed to them at question time. Senator Canavan.

Senator CANAVAN: I also note that there was a long preamble in that question which called into question the worth of a forestry industry in this country. I'm happy to stand up here and say that we do support those jobs, we do support that industry and, of course, we do support appropriate regulation to ensure the sustainable use of our forests. That's why we support the regional forestry agreements. That's why we want to continue to invest in them and ensure there is a 20-year rolling life for each regional forestry investment that will provide sufficient security to the forestry industry, as well as make sure that we protect the environment over the long term.

The PRESIDENT: Before I call you, Senator Rice, I'll clarify the ruling I made earlier. Assistant ministers are parliamentary secretaries under the Ministers of State Act. They cannot have questions directed to them at question time. There may be some confusion, because there was a period of time in 2013 when some ministers of state under the act were titled 'assistant ministers'. But anyone who is a parliamentary secretary under that act can't have a question directed to them at question time. Do you have a supplementary question to Minister Canavan?

Senator RICE (Victoria) (14:26): I do. Media reports last week noted that the New South Wales government had concerns about the legal uncertainties about the now quite old comprehensive regional assessments that underpin the existing RFAs. Minister, given these legal uncertainties, given the wood running out, given no long-term job security and given threatened species under threat, why won't your government acknowledge that our logging laws are outdated and ineffective and that we should be completing the shift of wood production 100 per cent to plantations?

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:27): My earlier presumption was correct, I think: Senator Ruston would have done a better job answering these questions. But I can confirm that the federal government will rule out any logging in native forests, as per the senator's original question. However, we do support the responsible development of a forestry industry in this country. We make no bones about that. I take issue with Senator Rice's assertion that somehow this is not a renewable industry. It is. It is an industry that is appropriately protected and it does provide a renewable resource for many of the products that we all rely on today. The Greens would have us shut down the whole forestry industry in this country and then still want to use all their IKEA furniture and fancy Matt Blatt furniture or what have you, and that would all be then made from imported forestry products with lower standards and less protection for the environment.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, a final supplementary question.

Senator RICE (Victoria) (14:28): Minister Canavan, I do want clarification as to whether you're ruling out logging native forests or in national parks, but the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement and the East Gippsland RFA are expiring tomorrow; as of now, we haven't heard whether those agreements are going to be extended or whether—as we think should happen—they will be wound up and consigned to the dustbin of history. Are these agreements going to be extended before they expire tomorrow? If not, what's going to happen in these forests where logging is planned tomorrow and beyond?

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:28): I do want to take the opportunity to clarify my answer to the previous question. I meant to rule out logging in national parks, of course, not native forests. I am sorry that that correction was required. I don't have any information in particular about those agreements, so I will take advice on that and come back to the chamber. However, once again I assert the government's commitment—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice on a point of order?

Senator Rice: A point of order: I know that Assistant Minister Ruston has been involved in these negotiations. They expire tomorrow, so can you seek advice now—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, that was not a point of order.

Senator CANAVAN: As I said, we will come back on notice, as is appropriate when a question of such specificity is asked in this chamber. As I said, we remain committed to ensuring that regional forest agreements are the solid basis for the continuing support of the environmentally sustainable use of our forests and the protection of thousands of jobs in that industry.