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Thursday, 6 March 2003
Page: 9408


Senator HEFFERNAN (2:14 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, Senator Ian Macdonald. Will the minister outline the impact of the recently announced NSW Labor forest policy on timber communities and on the regional forest agreement in that state?


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —I thank Senator Heffernan for his question. I know he has a genuine interest in the workers in the north-east forest areas that will be greatly affected by this decision of the New South Wales Labor government. For the benefit of the Senate, I recapitulate that last Sunday Premier Carr announced he would be removing some 65,000 hectares from production forests and locking them up in 15 new national parks, state conservation areas or state forest reserves. These areas are currently within the RFAs that the Commonwealth government has signed with the New South Wales government. There has been no consultation at all with the Commonwealth government, and this is in breach of at least the spirit of the regional forest agreements that Premier Carr personally signed with the Prime Minister in March 2000, less than three years ago.

Industry sources tell me that the New South Wales Labor government is already struggling to fulfil its existing supply commitments and is currently spending something like $65,000 each week in trucking logs from the south of the state to the north of the state to try and meet its RFA commitments. Premier Carr has said, in trying to appease the workers in the north-east, that he will be offsetting the impact of locking up these areas by opening up buffer zones for logging. Unfortunately those buffer zones are already included in the calculations of the timber required. Industry have told me and have publicly said that, as a result of this decision, some 1,400 jobs will be lost in the north-east of New South Wales. These are jobs of workers from smaller regional and rural communities in the north-east of New South Wales.

Obviously on the eve of an election Mr Carr is desperate to get preferences from anyone, even from a group of people who would boil the brains of our young people by giving away free hard drugs like ecstasy. Mr Carr is determined to try and get preferences from people like that by giving away the jobs of workers in country towns in New South Wales. And where is Country Labor at this time? Have we heard any objection from Country Labor to these sorts of proposals? The worst part of this is that it shows that Mr Carr cannot be believed—his word cannot be taken. It was not three years ago that he signed a solemn agreement with the Prime Minister to honour these RFAs. On the eve of an election he has broken his agreement without any compunction whatsoever.

We have heard rumours about these national parks being put into production areas for some time and I have written to the New South Wales government on many occasions demanding an assurance that they would not breach the RFAs. I have had assurances in writing—which I have here, Mr President— from Mr Refshauge and the New South Wales government saying, `We will not be doing this; we will not be breaching the RFAs.' They are not worth the paper they are written on. That is the trouble and the real tragedy of this: Premier Carr's word cannot be believed. If you cannot believe him in relation to regional forest agreements, what can you believe him on? Any promise he might make in this election should be subject to the same sort of scrutiny. You cannot believe him here, why would you believe him on anything? I feel sorry for the Labor Party opposite because they support regional forest agreements, and they voted with us on that. Yet your state Premier is breaching these agreements—


The PRESIDENT —Minister, I remind you—


Senator IAN MACDONALD —and putting at risk the jobs of workers that you guys are supposed to be looking after.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Macdonald, I remind you that your answers are to be directed through the chair and not across the chamber.