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Wednesday, 16 August 1972
Page: 68

Senator KEEFFE (Queensland) - It is not my intention to speak at length on the Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill 1972. But I do reiterate the importance of the amendment that was moved by my colleague, Senator Mulvihill, when this Bill came before this chamber yesterday. To refresh the memory of honourable senators, I will repeat the terms of the amendment. The Opposition criticises the Bill on the basis that there is no national plan for:

(a)   the full use and development of Australia's forestry resources; and

(b)   the conservation of existing hardwood forests and associated flora and fauna in relation to softwood plantings.

It is now a number of years since this agreement was reached between the Commonwealth and the States, but I doubt whether the Commonwealth has ever taken a very keen interest in how the money is spent. I can speak with some experience of what has happened in my own State of Queensland where the Forestry Commission under the existing Government set-up in the last 12 or 13 years has been a rather haphazard sort of organisation. When 1 say that, I am not criticising the trained people of the Commission or those who work in it. The policy of the Queensland Government goes from stump to stump, as it were, without any real planning. Particularly in north Queensland areas, much agitation has occurred for the establishment of softwood forests. These pleas largely are neglected, in the southern areas, taking in the Gympie district, the Mary Valley and adjacent areas, over a period of years the usual procedure has been to carry out a destructive programme in large areas of existing native softwoods and native hardwoods for the purpose of planting exotic softwoods.

The purpose of the financial agreement is to see that sufficient money is available and proper planning is carried out - I question the latter - for the establishment of these exotic softwood forests. It has been said by conservationists that in this field there has been complete neglect of the indigenous flora and fauna. When a large area is placed under exotic softwoods, most of the indigenous wildlife disappears entirely. The usual procedure is to feil the existing trees and bulldoze large tracts of country, which subsequently are burnt off, and then the replanting takes place. There are large areas of forests where proper regeneration can take place. It is not impossible, according to some forestry experts, to plant exotic softwoods in existing hardwood areas without carrying out a destruction of all the existing trees in those areas. It is in this field that the Commonwealth ought to exercise greater supervision.

Other conservationists have suggested that, when areas are totally cleared, strips of the indigenous scrub country or forest country ought to be left for the preservation of flora and fauna in that area. My colleague, Senator Mulvihill, mentioned yesterday one example in which a species of kangaroo completely disappeared from an area that had gone under exotic softwoods. This occurred in that whole area with the exception of a small patch in the forest where some kangaroos were able to graze on native grasses. It is, I think, a well understood fact amongst all authorities concerned with Australian wildlife that, when planting of exotic pines and other types of softwoods takes place, the berries, nuts or cones produced by the new trees do not provide the food necessary for the survival of existing fauna. But, if the plantations are laid out in such a way that some of the original scrub country or forest country and, in tropical areas, rain forest country can be preserved, it is certainly possible to save the local fauna and also the local flora.

It is on these grounds that the Opposition's amendment has been moved. We wish to see planning carried out on a proper basis. For a long time reafforestation has been a sort of unwanted child in the Australian community. Many years ago it was looked upon as an area of activity in which the unemployed could be absorbed. It has been shown that the planting of private forests is a most profitable industry. If one looks at Australian pines - not a great area of them has been planted in this country - one finds that after a reasonable period, frequently much less than 20 years, thinning can be carried out and the thinnings can be disposed of as a profitable enterprise. The same situation applies with respect to the various exotic pines. After a suitable lapse of time, depending on the type of tree and the nature of the country in which it is grown, the thinning processes produce timber and other by-products which return a profit. So, if the whole of the reafforestation programme is properly planned, no need exists for this country in the long term to continue to import softwoods. We ought to be able to carry out a reafforestation programme in such a way that we can provide all the timber that is required for our own market and probably, in the long term, have an exportable surplus.

Nevertheless, we should not lose sight of the fact that, unless reafforestation is properly, planned - this includes the regeneration of areas of native softwoods and native hardwoods and possibly the introduction of scattered sowings of exotic softwoods in the regeneration areas - quite harmful effects may result. Long term planning must be carried out. The authorities responsible for the forests in the respective States - particularly do I know that these remarks apply to Queensland - seem to operate in a sort of economic grasshopper field in which this activity can be expanded this year because the necessary labour or money is available while there is no plan- ning for it next year. No long term planning at least occurs on a percentage scale by which a proper programme is set out so that reafforestation can be carried out in a manner which is economical and which helps us to preserve out native plants and animal and bird life.

I know that Senator Douglas McClelland will touch on some of the more technical aspects of this matter, so I propose to confine my remarks to those few paragraphs. I hope that the Commonwealth, through its various agencies and particularly through the Minister for National Development (Sir Reginald Swartz), will exercise some supervision of the States and the manner in which they dispose of this money.

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