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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8060


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) (1:21 AM) —For the record, I indicate formally that we will not be supporting any of these amendments proposed by Senator Brown. I indicate that the inclusion of biomass as an eligible renewable energy source in the act was subject to very extensive debate at the time. To reflect the concerns surrounding the exploitation of natural resources for electricity generation, only wood waste was included as an eligible renewable energy resource in the act. Additional eligibility requirements that must be met if wood waste is to be considered eligible were also put in place. These criteria do allow wood products that are sustainably produced and genuine waste to be eligible for renewable energy certificates. The intent is to encourage more efficient use of existing resources rather than promote increased harvesting to supply wood waste for electricity generation. That has always been the case. I emphasise that this is wood waste and it is not intended to have increased harvesting to supply wood waste for electricity generation. To exclude native forest wood waste represents a significant change to the policy and it is inconsistent—and this is the point I was making earlier—with the objective of this bill, which is restricted to administrative change to improve efficiency, effectiveness and integrity of the legislation.

The Greens amendments would have other significant negative consequences—for example, wood waste from the eradication of non-native woody weeds, manufacturing processes, construction of buildings or furniture and sawmill residues would become ineligible for renewable energy sources. This suggestion flies in the face of good environmental management and waste reduction principles and introduces sovereign risk to those entities that have already become an accredited power station under the act and have generated renewable energy certificates in good faith. The statutory review, which is to commence in a few weeks, is the appropriate place to consider those policy matters. Indeed, section 162 of the act already provides for consideration of other environmental impacts that have resulted from the implementation of the provisions of the act, including the extent to which non-plantation forestry waste has been utilised.

We oppose the third of Senator Brown's amendments relating to (2A). It is not clear why the arbitrary time frame of two years has been imposed. We note that once the two-year time frame has elapsed the Greens' proposal—that is, that no woody biomass, be it plantations or native forest wood waste, would be regarded as an eligible renewable energy source—is unacceptable as it represents a substantial change to policy and the treatment of native forests under the act. It is again a matter that should be considered during the very full review that will be held with all the scientific and other support that it needs to look into these issues and to get the proper response.

The government will be opposing Senator Brown's other two amendments. I will not go through all my arguments against those amendments, but our objections are basically the same as the objections we have to the other amendments. I urge the Senate to deal with this bill in the way that it has been put forward to fix any administrative errors that have been made. With all its alleged imperfections—I do not want to debate those today—this regime is better than nothing. By insisting on these amendments we are going to end up with nothing. I think the arrangement is pretty good; this is not the time or the place for arguments about its imperfections. What we want to do is fix the administrative points that the bill is focused on and have this debate at the appropriate time with the review. That was always the intention.

A couple of years ago we looked at this and said, `It will need a full and proper review.' We put in place the arrangements to do that and they are a couple of weeks away from starting. Let us go with what we did two years ago. Let us look at it fully in the cold, hard light of day with all the support needed to distinguish fact from fiction. Let us give everyone the opportunity to put forward their arguments supported by the best science available and we will deal with those arguments. However, tonight we just want to get this administrative bill through to make sure that what is in place operates effectively.