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Wednesday, 21 April 1999
Page: 4049

Senator CRANE (4:44 PM) —Right at the beginning, I want to say that I agree with a lot of what Senator Forshaw said, but I do have a real problem with having before us in this matter of public importance an argument as to whether or not NAFI or anybody else are using their legal rights—a method of censoring—to protect themselves when they believe they have been misrepresented. That is really what this is all about. They believe they were aggrieved. They went through the proper processes of informing the people concerned that they were considering legal action, and now they are being condemned in this place. If this chamber does not uphold the right of people to protect themselves in the law courts and use those mechanisms, something has gone wrong with the place.

Senator Brown —They haven't gone to the courts.

Senator CRANE —No, they informed them. Listen to what I have got to say.

Senator Brown —They just used the threat.

Senator CRANE —The Senate Regional and Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee went through the resource security hearings very recently in Melbourne. Who turned up there with legal opinions to chal lenge the legality of the legislation on constitutional grounds? It was none other than Senator Brown. So it is fine for him, on the one hand, to put up a legal opinion and use it as a threat against legislation but, on the other hand, to say that NAFI does not have the same right. I find that incomprehensible, I find it inconsistent, I find it unfair and I find it wrong. Furthermore—and here I agree with Senator Forshaw—what is the mechanism that Senator Brown and his supporters use? They go and lie in front of bulldozers. They interfere with the legal rights of people to carry out their lawful business. They cost them money.

Senator Brown —The woodchippers sent in thugs and you know it.

Senator CRANE —They interfere with their jobs and they carry on this process of unlawful activity. On the one hand, they come in here and say, `You cannot do this, this is a censoring of free speech,' which I disagree with absolutely and totally. On the other hand, they think they can take the law into their own hands. I sit in the middle of this debate on a proper sustainable development forestry policy—and I have sat there for a long time. I have argued very strongly for proper sustainable development in our forests and at the same time for development of our plantations. If I have got time, I will come to our very proud record in Western Australia on plantations. But his inconsistency in bringing this motion forward and activities elsewhere I think is a blight on Senator Brown.

At our committee hearings in Melbourne for two days there were a number of attempts made by people in the audience, supporters of Senator Brown, including some of his staff, to intimidate witnesses in front of us, to the point that on a couple of occasions I had to call them to order and I had to ask that his staff should at least demonstrate that they know the way to behave. They were endeavouring to intimidate witnesses who were putting a contrary point of view to the point of view that they held.

Senator Brown —Members of that committee were rude to environmentalists and you did nothing to stop it.

Senator CRANE —I had to call those people to order.

Senator Brown —You were biased.

Senator CRANE —Mr Acting Deputy President, you can let him rabbit on all the time. He is just helping my argument and my position.

Senator Brown —You were biased.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Sherry) —Order! Senator Brown, I have been fairly tolerant of the level of exchange to date, but you are really getting out of hand. Would you please give Senator Crane a go.

Senator CRANE —You can talk about all the bias in the world, the bias on one side and the bias on the other side. I do not think there is really that much difference in the level of bias. What we as legislators have to do is try and get to a balanced position, and that is what the National Forest Policy Statement was all about. That was developed in 1992, when the now opposition was in government, with our support at that particular time. What the RFA process is all about is getting sustainable development in the use of our forests and, alongside that, developing our plantation industries.

I want to deal with the issue of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Professor Fels made some statements last week and was investigating this issue. I have a statement here that has been handed to me which I am prepared to table with the letter. It is from NAFI. It says:

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has not found any breach of the ACCC rules by NAFI in relation to the Forest-Friendly Building Products book. In a letter to NAFI today they have indicated there is no suggestion of any threats or implied threats of exclusionary boycotts by the Association. We have been told that unless anything new comes up there will be no more contact with NAFI.

I just put that on the public record. In my remaining time I want to put some positive things into the debate from this side. I want to relate what has been happening in Western Australia in the development of the softwood and hardwood estates. While I cannot go over all the detail of this, can I just say that from 1960 we have seen an increase in the national estate for softwood from practically zero to almost 100,000 hectares today. That demonstrates the developments that are occurring. When we look at what is happening in the hardwood estate, by species, age and class, we find that we have seen an increase from slightly more than zero in 1960 to in the area of 68,000 hectares now, and that is still growing. I understand from my colleague Senator Murphy on the other side that Tasmania can demonstrate the same sorts of figures in the development of the plantation estate.

While this plantation estate has been developed at its present rate, we will find that there will be an even greater increase in the utilisation of timber out of the national estate developed through plantations. This piece of paper I have got in front of me informs us that in Western Australia something like 200,000 hectares have been planted and that there is potential for about another 150,000 that can commercially produce timber, and that is growing year by year. This does not include any areas on private land where there is also an extensive plantation industry being developed. I think the context in which this matter of public importance has been brought before us is very unfortunate. I am looking forward to the day when we can actually debate the forests in a positive manner in this place. (Time expired)