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Wednesday, 27 September 1972
Page: 1255

Senator KEEFFE (Queensland) - Before the suspension of the sitting the subject of the discussion before the chamber was the alteration to the Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill 1972. You will recall, Mr Temporary Chairman, that a few weeks ago the Senate carried an amendment setting out certain fairly tight controls on the various State forestry departments in relation to conservation and insofar as the Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill was concerned. Subsequently the Bill went back to the House of Representatives which in turn has sent back the amendment we are now discussing which states:

That the Senate's amendment be disagreed to, but that in place thereof the following amendment be made: 'In the Schedule, at the end of clause 9, add "and shall ensure that environmental factors relating to the planting have been considered".'

This is a watering down of the amendment that was originally carried by the Senate. The Opposition cannot be accused of being unco-operative. I think if we are prepared to accept this amendment the responsibility is then on the Government to ensure that certain measures - and perhaps it would be proper to describe them as safety measures - in relation to conservation are carried out.

I have been impressed by the way in which my colleague Senator Mulvihill has fought for the cause of conservation generally in this chamber. Earlier this year I decided to have a fairly good look during a road tour at many of the areas under dispute in New South Wales. I was not impressed with what I saw in some cases where areas of forests arc being disposed of in the cause of progress. I am not a fanatical conservationist. I believe that conservation and progress have to march hand in hand. But the responsibility of government is to see that there is balanced development. The programming envisaged over the next 20 or 25 years will cover several million acres which are to be replanted mainly to exotic softwoods. The area could be much greater than this. This will depend a great deal on population growth, overseas balances, what the Australian requirements are and, of course, how many synthetic materials are developed in that time.

Basically though, it is the Commonwealth that will be responsible. The Commonwealth ought at least to have the courage to have an overseeing eye so far as the respective State authorities are concerned. Senator Byrne, who spoke earlier in this debate, referred to the destruction of a eucalypt forest on the Boyd Plateau to enable the planting of softwoods with eventual milling in the Oberon area. I challenge the right of the Minister at the table to deal with this Bill in an impartial manner. I made some brief reference on the last occasion on which I spoke on this Bill. I was surprised at the bitter opposition that the Minister put on that occasion to the amendments. With all due respect to the Minister and his replies to questions in this House, he has not really been a friend of the conservationist. When we delve a little deeper one can probably find some of the reasons for this. I have complained on previous occasions about the political morality of the Government. Whilst I am not casting aspersions on the personal integrity of the Minister, I think he would do this Parliament and this country a service if he allowed some other Minister to handle this Bill.

Honourable senators will recall that Senator Cotton said on that occasion that a softwood forest in the area of the Boyd Plateau, which is not very many miles from Sydney, would absorb carbon dioxide at a massive rate. I ask the Minister, with all due respect for you, Mr Temporary Chairman, why he is not worried about planting softwood forests in those areas which have already been denuded of their indigenous trees and shrubs - areas much closer to the metropolis of Sydney - if he is interested in the absorption of carbon dioxide. Anyone who flies into Sydney can see at any hour of the day or night a great blanket of smog that arises from chemical causes in the city area. But this is the first occasion on which I have heard the Minister use in this chamber the words 'carbon dioxide'.

I suggest that what I propose to say to the Minister does not go close to defamation, as I think the Minister said to someone else on one occasion. 1 do not propose to be defamatory in any of the remarks that I make. But I do propose to ask the Minister a number of pertinent questions. If he feels then that he ought not to handle the Bill 1 will feel very happy about it, and I think that a lot of Australians will feel happy about it, too. We have to remember that this is the territory from which the Minister comes. There is a ' large area of fast growing exotics in this part of New South Wales. This must inevitably mean big returns to a business enterprise in which the Minister has substantial holdings. I know how 1 would feel if there was a decision by the Commonwealth or some other government to resume an area of land perhaps on which my 32-perch ranch was situated if 1 were offered 10 times its market value.

Senator Cotton - I wish I was.

Senator KEEFFE - Mr Minister, you are not an old man.

Senator Cotton - Thank you very much.

Senator KEEFFE - In a few years time there will be returns coming if the softwood planting develops in this area. This planting will be of radiata, or one of the other types of softwood.

Senator Cotton - No, it is a radiata forest largely, senator.

Senator KEEFFE - All jokes aside, might I say that this is not really a moment for humour.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - This is not eucalyptus?

Senator KEEFFE - 1 cannot agree with Senator Douglas McClelland because there are certain extracts from eucalyptus that kill all germs. But I am a bit worried about this Bill. In a very short period of time if one has fast growing exotics, there are substantial returns to be derived from thinnings. If one happens to have a milling plant within fairly close proximity obviously the timber will not be moved to sawmilling interests situated 500 or 600 miles away. But with the developmentof all the by-products associated with timber, this sort of enterprise is probably even more lucrative than meets the eye at this particular time.

I ask the Minister, first of all, if he is a past Managing Director of Timber Industries Pty Ltd which is situated at Oberon.I think that if the Minister answers these questions frankly and then hands over to another Minister to deal with the Bill we will be a lot happier. I ask the Minister also whether he is or has been a Chairman of Directors of Cottons Pty Ltd situated at Broken Hill.

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