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Tuesday, 9 February 1999
Page: 2230

Mr NAIRN (6:17 PM) —The current member for McMillan was not in this parliament prior to October last year when his colleagues voted against this legislation—legislation which could only have been brought forward by a coalition government. The Regional Forest Agreements Bill 1998 has come about purely and simply as a result of a decade or more of double-crossing by federal and state governments on the native forest hardwood timber industry.

This legislation is absolutely necessary for companies, small, medium and large, to even consider investing in new technology in this industry. There are many companies still hurting badly as a result of the political decisions that were made, particularly during the 13 years of the former federal Labor government. They made political decisions rather than scientific decisions. In fact, the hardwood timber industry has been attacked so many times I often wonder why companies involved hang in there. But, for many small communities throughout my electorate, it is just as well that they have. Although they suffered attacks from radical urban greenies on the one side and Labor politicians on the other side, they have hung on and they have remained, and they are a crucial part of those communities' economies. They are a smaller part in many cases, I might add, but nonetheless crucial.

After all the political decisions made by the previous federal Labor government which have decimated the industry in my electorate, that government had an awakening on the road to Damascus. After they had paid their debt to the extreme Greens, they decided that further decisions should be scientific decisions, not political ones. Hallelujah, one might say. So we had the National Forest Policy Statement and Regional Forest Agreement. Those sagas continue, and in many cases it has been an absolute battle to ensure that it is a scientific process rather than a political one.

In New South Wales, the Labor government there has been playing the politics to the nth degree, as you would expect. They pre-empted the whole process in my electorate by declaring many areas of national parks when the process had hardly progressed at all. How you can make scientific decisions before the data collection and analysis has been done is beyond me. The New South Wales Labor government probably thought that by making the types of scientific decisions that they did that it was really scientific—it is just that it was political science, not real science.

As part of the big sell that they did in the region, Bob Carr promised all sorts of jobs. For that matter, the previous Labor member for Eden-Monaro prior to 1996 also made plenty of promises. In fact, I think he announced the same project, which was a state government controlled project, three times in the campaign in 1996. It was going to create about 400 jobs, and we still have not seen one of those jobs. They talked about all these wonderful jobs that would appear out of national parks and places like that. We have been waiting with bated breath for all of these jobs that were going to replace the many hundreds of jobs that have been lost out of the timber industry. The other day, there it came, here were these great new jobs coming from national parks—14 new positions. Wow! That will have a great impact on the many hundreds that have been lost with the premature locking up of the forest areas before the scientific process was completed.

Even when you look through the jobs that were being advertised, these 14 wonderful positions, the saviour of the south-east, you read through some of the positions like field officer and then you get down to the bottom and it says, `Note. Temporary position under section 33, 34 or 38 of the Public Sector Management Act 1988 for a period of up to 12 months, with possible extension.'

So they crowed and put out press releases and got it to run that all of these things were going to be wonderful—and they are not even real jobs; they are temporary jobs. And we all know the extent to which the national parks were created before the scientific process was barely halfway through, let alone finished. They have not got the resources to even look after these national parks. I know the Minister for Forestry and Conservation, who is at the table, is very concerned that forests have been locked up prematurely and that there is not the proper management to look after them.

This whole process, which has been going on for some time, has certainly made a number of companies very cynical. Harris Daishowa in Eden, which have contributed enormously in that region, have proudly on their wall an agreement that was signed by the Labor Prime Minister of the day and the Liberal Premier of New South Wales for certain agreements that would provide certain levels of timber all the way up to the year 2006—or 2009, I can't recall. But it is immaterial because it is a long way in the future. That agreement is not worth the paper it is printed on.

When you have investors from overseas saying, `I've got an agreement which is signed by the Prime Minister and the Premier,' the two most senior people in the country, you would think that was worth something and that you could do some long-term planning. But that particular agreement, as we all know, is not worth anything. That is why this legislation has become so important. Those companies have been through that exercise, they have tried to make decisions on investment and they have been stung every time by political processes.

The way in which the Labor Party ran forestry policy for so long was totally political, with no science in the making of decisions. How you lock up national parks before you gather the data, in a process which is supposed to be totally scientific, still has not been explained to me to this day. That is why we need this legislation, which will give security to those companies so that, if further political decisions are made in the future that are detrimental to what those companies have invested in, they will have some comeback, which they did not have in that previous way.

The debate is very timely particularly for my area, given the New South Wales state election. It would be very interesting to know just where some of the people who are running around the countryside at the moment really stand on this issue. I know that we have had a deafening silence from the Labor candidate in Monaro, who is clearly embarrassed about the number of jobs that have been lost as a result of the New South Wales government pre-empting this process and not allowing the RFA to be completed and so locking up those jobs. I do not know how the Labor candidate in Monaro can even go down and doorknock in an area like Eden when it is his mates in Macquarie Street who have thrown those jobs out the window.

In addition to the Labor candidate, we also have an Independent who is standing for Monaro. He is also not saying too much at all, because we all know that at the end of the day his preferences will go to the Labor Party. There is a nice little deal going on there. It is a real challenge for these people to say where they stand, because it is very important that this RFA is completed. Nothing will probably happen until after that New South Wales election. It is extremely important that it is completed as soon after the New South Wales election as possible.

I know the coalition will not accept what the state government has done. There is some room for movement, even though the New South Wales government unilaterally went off and declared national parks before the process was completed. There is some movement in that area to get some of those jobs back, but that does not get away from the fact that this legislation is needed to provide that ultimate security.

As for some of the other things have been raised in this debate about value adding, I am just staggered that the member for McMillan can stand there and talk about downstream processing and accuse us of doing something wrong in relation to Burnie. I am not sure what class at school he was in at the time, but it was probably a junior class when Wesley Vale was closed down by the Labor Party. I would encourage him to go back and read some history about the stopping of Wesley Vale by a Labor government. Then we will see if he can stand up and talk about downstream processing.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr NAIRN —We have a coalition government that has specifically appointed a minister for forestry. That is what the industry has wanted. We have highlighted the importance that we have placed on this industry by specifically appointing a minister for forestry, who has announced $40 million assistance in Tumut.

This is a major project in Tumut for processing, not only to get that plant going down there but also for new technology. Some new technology will come out of this project down there which will be very interesting for those in many other parts of the country, particularly in my area of Bombala, where we have a very large pine forest. In fact, Bombala and its pine forest is the area where the state Labor government has announced many projects over and over again which have never materialised. But the new technology which will come out of Tumut will give an opportunity for the smaller downstream processing of pulp and paper to be put into places where there are substantial amounts of that sort of timber. That is an aspect that has to be dealt with fairly smartly in an area like Bombala because there is a major asset sitting there on which the New South Wales government continues to lose an enormous amount of money year after year. In fact, it is an asset that is deteriorating.

I note the high priority we have placed on this industry over the last couple of years and also the RFAs that we have battled for and have managed to secure in Tasmania and Victoria, where there are governments that understand the industry and have not been subject to the blackmailing by the extreme Greens. We have had difficulty in New South Wales. We hope that, after the state election on 27 March, we will be able to negotiate a good end to the Regional Forest Agreement. The security in this legislation is vital to add to those RFAs.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.