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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1347

Senator DEVLIN(7.26) —I wish first to assure the Opposition senators from Tasmania that I support the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill 1987, a Bill which will be recognised as perhaps a watershed in terms of the Federal Government's attitude to protection of the environment and protection of areas which are clearly in the world heritage category. The Tasmanian Government caused divisions in the Australian community over the Franklin dam. Let me remind honourable senators that the economics of the Franklin dam in the context of hydro-electricity power generation in Tasmania are now well known to have been completely fraudulent. All Tasmanians know, with the benefit of hindsight, that the Franklin dam would have been a gross waste of the nation's resources. I remind Opposition senators that the Hydro-Electric Commission just recently started to pay interest on the money that was borrowed to build the Pieman Dam, and there is no industry to use that power.

It is quite obvious when looking at the record so far in Tasmania that very little thought has been given to this matter by the State Government or by the forestry industry. There has been a forestry industry in Tasmania for many years, since prior to 1970. This industry in the early 1970s was essentially a saw milling industry operated by small family concerns, subcontractors and small companies. The woodchipping industry got under way and the whole nature of the forest industry in Tasmania changed rapidly, for the first five years or so, then there was open slather, with anyone who could use a chainsaw or drive a truck moving in. The industry became dominated by large companies. These companies still exist but most of the small concerns disappeared, as it became unprofitable to stay. By 1982 some 80 or 90 sawmills had closed down as their local source of supply was logged out and they were too small to compete with large mills by transporting sawlogs from further afield.

We have seen an enormous decline in the number of jobs available in the sawmilling and logging industries in Tasmania. Since the introduction of woodchipping, over 4,000 jobs have been lost. Anybody who cares to look at the census figures will see that this is clearly the case. It seems that no one was very upset about the small mills and subcontractors going to the wall, but the profits of big companies appear to be far more sacrosanct. I think the sort of bleating we have heard from Tasmanian Opposition senators in this House underscores that point entirely. The Federal Government must govern for all Australians; in this case for timber industry companies and their employees, who rightly defend their rights and livelihoods, as well as for those groups that are aware of and watch over our historical, cultural and environmental assets.

The Federal Government is party to, and is obligated to carry out, many international agreements. That watchdog role sometimes impacts upon State resources, whether or not that is liked by the State governments. However, this is a necessary function of any Federal government. The Commonwealth Government in this case has assessed those obligations and concluded that its role is to conduct an inquiry which will have as its sole aim the sorting of the facts from the rhetoric.

The PRESIDENT —Order! It being 7.30 p.m., under sessional order, I put the question:

That the Senate do now adjourn.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 7.30 p.m.