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Wednesday, 16 August 1972
Page: 70

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) - The Australian Democratic Labor Party approaches this Bill from a point of view of some concern. In the first place, I indicate that we support the amendment which has been moved on behalf of the Opposition by Senator Mulvihill. That amendment expresses an opinion of the Senate without affecting the fate of the Bill. We propose, in the Committee stage, to propound an amendment to clause 9 of the Schedule to the Bill. This will be an operative amendment and, if it is carried, it will affect the fate of the Bill.

The question of the development of Australia's natural resources consonant with the protection of the Australian environment is becoming of tremendous significance. This type of confrontation or conflict is becoming significant in every country, but perhaps nowhere more so than in this continent where there is now this tremendous drive for the exploration, exploitation and development of our natural resources. The resources of this vast continent, which are lying substantially untapped in terms of their development, are now receiving the attention of entrepreneurs, prospectors and developers. If we do not move now to ensure the elevation of environmental concern to a very high national position, the opportunity will inevitably and irrevocably be lost. That is why with a Bill of this nature we are disposed to propound an operative amendment in terms of our concern for the preservation of the environment.

The Democratic Labor Party takes very great pride in the fact that, although the growing interest in environmental protection is of somewhat recent origin and has certainly reached great dimensions only more recently, years ago it was the first political Party in Australia to insert in a national policy speech a programme of national conservation. This cannot be denied us. It is a concern we expressed early. We placed it among those very cherished items which naturally must be limited when writing a national policy speech, and we believe that we pioneered the national concern which is now so evident.

In addition, the DLP, with honourable senators from other political parties in this chamber, had the pleasure and privilege of serving on 2 conservation committees of the Senate - The Senate Select Committee on Air Pollution and the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution. The findings of those select committees were presented in this chamber and commended to the Government. The report of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution was the subject of a resolution of this chamber, a rather unusual procedure, that it be taken into urgent consideration by the Government for early attention and action. Since then the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson) has made a statement on the subject; but I should like to see a more recent statement showing what steps have been taken to implement or to adopt, or to adopt with qualifications, the recommendations of that Committee.

Senator Keeffe - They have lost the copies of both reports, I think.

Senator BYRNE - With respect to Senator Keeffe, I do not think that would be correct. I understand that Mr Howson made a statement. Our recommendation was that there should be concurrent legislation and co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States to discover a national plan for the conservation of water. I believe the Senate should be informed periodically of the fate of reports of this Senate and its committees, and particularly to this report since it was the subject of a particular resolution of urgency by this chamber. I had proposed to move that the Leader of the Government in the Senate be required to report periodically on the fate of Senate committee reports, but I understand that there is a motion of that character standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

In relation to this Bill the DLP proposes that before development takes place and before softwood replanting is allowed to supplant indigenous tree growth, be it eucalypt or other indigenous forest, the matter be considered from the point of view of environmental control and protection. The amendment which I shall propose for the DLP in the committee stage of this Bill reflects decisions which were taken over a period of time and more particularly by the Federal conference of my Party in April this year. I think 1 should indicate to the Senate now the amendment we propose.

Senator Cavanagh - Does it relate to " clause 9 of the agreement?

Senator BYRNE - It is clause 9 of the Schedule, which is the agreement. We shall submit that clause 9 as it now stands in the Schedule and which sets out the terms of the proposed agreement between the Commonwealth and the States should be deleted and replaced by the following clauses:

9.   - The State shall ensure that planting during each year ls carried out efficiently and in conformity with sound forestry, environmental and financial practices. 9a. - The State shall ensure that natural forests shall not be cleared for planting softwoods unless the particular proposed clearing has beforehand been the subject of an environmental impact study made by an independent expert on behalf of the Australian Forestry Council and the Council after considering the report of the said study has approved the particular clearing.

The DLP is quite conscious of the fact thai the moving of such an amendment and its acceptance by this chamber will have the effect of not allowing the Commonwealth to subscribe to the projected agreement. That agreement then in altered form would have to be resubmitted to the States, to see whether the States in concord can accept it. We are conscious of that, but we regard the matter as being so important that we consider that should be done. We are conscious of the fact that this is not now an agreement merely to be signed and ratified by the Commonwealth through legislation but that it is a projected agreement which is still in the stage of Commonwealth-State discussion though agreement has substantially been reached. The proposition we have in mind reflects the actual decisions taken by the

Federal conference of the DLP which I shall take the liberty of reading to the Senate, since they are informative as to our thinking on this subject. We referred to the environmental crisis in Australia, and among the priorities we determined were the following:

(iii)   requiring that the presentation of an environmental impact study he a condition precedent to the approval of any development,

(iv)   the adoption of the principle that pollutors (be they Governments, manufacturers or private individuals) be responsible for the cost of cleaning up their own pollution,

(v)   the widespread establishment of national parks and nature reserves (including historic sites) particularly - for recreational and educational purposes - along the coast and in close proximity to large centres of population, but also - and of no less importance - for scientific study, habitat for wild life and the simple preservation of wilderness and:

(vi)   the retention so far as possible of what relatively little remains of our natural forests and landscapes instead of destroying them whether in order:

(a)   to sell wood chips abroad or

(b)   to mine for minerals of transient value (so often for the benefit very largely of overseas investors) or

(c)   to drown large tracts of land under the waters of uneconomic hydro-electric schemes or

(d)   to replace natural forests by specially planted exotic forests which would better by planted on farm and grazing lands no longer economic;

Those are the parameters which our Party considers should occupy the attention of those who are parties to redevelopment or parties to the planning of exotic forests be they of pine or some other tree type or species.

The object of this Bill is to continue the agreement by which the Commonwealth provides money to the States for the planting of forests in order to produce reserves of timber which can be used for commercial building purposes. In that process it is found necessary to clear land, to destroy indigenous growth and sometimes to plant areas where there is no indigenous forest growth but which could be used for some other purpose, that is, a plain or undulating land not being close and growing eucalypt forest. We are concerned that this matter should receive the attention of the Parliament and that our point of view should be known, and that it should be indicated to the States that we are concerned in this. We have taken the lead, particularly in this chamber, for the protection of the environment, and the States should be told by this method that we hope that they would be parties to the incorporation within any CommonwealthState agreement on their side of this recognition of the need for environmental reference in any agreements which may he entered into for the provision of finance to supplant indigenous growth by exotic forest planting.

Now I shall refer to more specific matters. The purpose of the first amendment is to ensure primarily that the principles which were set forward not only in our deliberations and in the decisions taken by our conference, but in the announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, are observed. I think the formulation of views such as this while denying oneself the opportunity of carrying them into practical legislative and administrative operation is to be deplored - if that is to be the attitude of the Government. Secondly, our amendment emphasises the importance we attach to environmental matters in any question of redevelopment. We do not think for one moment that consideration for the environment should of necessity and inevitably surmount every other consideration. We know there must always be found that reconciliation between the legitimate need to explore natural resources and the protection of the environment and sometimes one or the other may have to be sacrificed. The important thing is that the environment shall not be disregarded, that it shall be given its due place and at least shall be a matter of concern when a judgment has to be made.

The third matter raised in the amendment again indicates the importance we attach to environmental matters and draws attention to the fact that our Party's policy for so long has been in the forefront in drawing national attention to these matters. We understand, of course, that the development and expansion of a softwoods industry is a natural part of our national economic growth and part of our commercial operations. It does supply a national and an international need. It is part of our trade pattern. We are using the opportunities provided by our land and our climate to grow certain exotics which are marketable and we cannot afford to overlook the opportunity. Therefore, we do not in any sense set our face against the development and use of land for the planting of exotics for this purpose. But again it is a question of finding the proper balance and the wanton laying aside of concern for the indigenous timbers cannot be accepted or tolerated just because of the demands of trade and the commercial demands for the development of an industry.

We feel that already there has been a heavy denudation of our natural forests and this process must be impeded if it cannot be stopped. Recently in our Federal conference we carried a resolution that we wanted to retain as far as possible what relatively little remains of our natural forests. We know that all States are concerned and have passed legislation declaring natural forests and have surrounded them with all types of prohibitions on entry, on use and on the lighting of fires, and have expanded fire services, because this is a diminishing national asset which is extraordinarily precious and is virtually irreplaceable except over a long period of time, as nature has demonstrated to us. We are conscious of those things and that is why we take this very firm stand in relation to this Bill.

I am informed that in New South Wales - I am not from that State - there are particular problems which have led the New South Wales Forestry Commission to undertake to destroy certain natural forests to enable the planting of monterey pines. I am informed also that in one case the New South Wales Forestry Commission contemplates the elimination of a natural eucalypt forest on the Boyd Plateau in the western Blue Mountains some 65 miles west of Sydney to enable the planting of pines for eventual milling at Oberon some 40 miles away. That no doubt can be justified in some sort of commercial terms.

Senator Mulvihill - A policy of reafforestation.

Senator BYRNE - Yes. If that is the situation and the paramountcy of commercial exploitation is the only consideration affecting the minds of those who make the decision then I think it is to be deplored. The purpose of our amendment is to require an impact study on the environmental consequences of this disturbance, replacement or elimination before permission is given to replace indigenous plants with exotic plants of whatever character and for whatever purpose. It appears by no means to be an unwanted presumption to require that to be done. After all, if any commercial exploiter in any field is going into a new enterprise the first thing he will undertake is an impact study. Whether he is seeking to sell a line of soap powder, to develop a new machine or a new technique he will make an impact study, particularly in the field of public relations and advertising.

Senator Cavanagh - What is an impact study?

Senator BYRNE - It is a study of the effect the project will have on the local environment, the local fauna and the local flora. After all, when one replaces a eucalypt forest with a pine forest it is not merely the replacement of a eucalypt with a pine. It is also the disturbance of the ecology of the area and the disturbance of the habitat of animals.

Senator Mulvihill - It is made into a biological desert.

Senator BYRNE - Yes. It involves the disturbance of the habitat of the creatures who live in the eucalypt forest. It may be, for example, a koala bear which is one of the inhabitants. So an impact study is not merely a study that looks at whether one will conserve as much water by the growing of pines as by the growing of eucalypts but the whole effect on the environment and the ecology of the area. Surely it is not too much to say in this new concept of environmental concern that is developing all over the world that this is a matter that should be taken into consideration in any developmental project where there is a danger of disturbance of the ecology or the environment by the contemplated commercial venture. In New South Wales recently the State conference of the Democratic Labor Party opposed the development of the Boyd Plateau on the ground that it would be better to include the land in the proposed Kanangra-Boyd National Park. I do not speak with great authority about it, but our conference did, and there were men .there who were intimately associated with the area and who knew something about it. Apparently there was a reasonable and available commercial alter native to the projected development of the Boyd Plateau. Surely that was the type of thing that could well have been the subject of an impact study by a body equipped to do it and to whom the study could have been entrusted.

We agree that the development of the wood chip industry for export, particularly to Japan, is a matter of very great commercial consequence but we must remember that in the development of this industry, which may be of long or short duration because we know that commerce is subject to the vagaries of international relations and things of that nature, it may well be that when we have developed the industry at the cost of our eucalypts we will find that the trade has collapsed or disappeared and the eucalypts have gone never to be regenerated or recovered. That in my concept would be an extraordinarily bad bargin. I have raised the question of using plain and undulating land instead of forest land for the development of these exotic pine forests. The Democratic Labor Party feels that the Commonwealth should lay down as a matter of principle, so far as it lies within its constitutional power to do so, that the use of land for pine plantations should wherever possible be in areas of this kind rather than in areas which would involve the displacement of the natural flora. Therefore the Democratic Labor Party propounds this amendment. It is an operative amendment. I notice in the Bill that, while this agreement has apparently reached the point where it is substantially an agreement entered into between the Commonwealth and the States, clause 3 states:

The execution, on behalf of the Commonwealth, of an agreement between the Commonwealth and a State substantially in accordance with the form contained in the Schedule to this Act is authored.

I do not quite know how that clause was to be read if the Bill went through in its present form. It would mean that we would adopt, apparently, the agreement in the form contained in the Schedule which is part of this Bill. But if a State, being a party to the general understanding, legislated that schedule, provided it was substantially in accordance with the terms of the Schedule, it would be a party to that agreement and we would be bound in some way by the so amended Schedule. I do not canvass that. All I say is that obviously contemplated in clause 3 of the Bill is the possibility that either the Commonwealth in the passage of legislation or any one of the States at the same time and in the same way may see fit to vary in some particular the agreement embodied in the Schedule of this Act. That appears to be contemplated in clause 3. If that is so, there is nothing untoward in our making some adjustment to the agreement as it now appears in the existing Schedule. If that amendment is accepted and the Schedule is amended we say that we are prepared to subscribe to this agreement but with a qualification. When it goes back to the States any one State may say: 'We will so legislate in terms of your variation', or it may not. Correspondingly, if the State of New South Wales, on looking at this Schedule and this agreement, as we are looking at it today, decided that it should insert something, I presume we would have to look at the matter again here. So I take it that the whole matter is still inchoate and is still a matter of agreement between the States as to the final form in which the agreement should emerge, or alternatively if one of the States adopts it substantially but with some variations then the Commonwealth would adopt this Schedule and the 2 would run together, for what this is worth.

Senator Cavanagh - That is a most unusual clause.

Senator BYRNE - lt is a most unusual clause and I am not quite able to discover what is the purport of it. At least it does indicate that there is room in this Parliament for us even at this stage to make a variation to the agreement as it is recited in the Schedule. In that case the States would have to look at it and see whether they are prepared to concur in that agreement in that new form or, as I say, legislate in other terms with the 2 agreements running along together substantially in concurrence. Nevertheless, we will propound our amendment to the agreement in terms of the circulated proposal which provides for the insertion of new clauses 9 and 9 (a). I know that the current agreement runs from 1967 to 1972. Just what the financial consequences would be if this Bill were held up, I candidly am not aware at the present time, but I have little doubt that the financial consequences would not be irremediable. Even though there were some delay in obtaining total Commonwealth and State concurrence there is little reason to believe that the matter would be held up and that any further moneys which were needed in any sense or for any purpose would not be provided and would not be available.

So far as I can see, the agreement has not yet expired and therefore the Bill perhaps is not of that urgent nature that requires immediate passage to prevent the supply of money from completely disappearing and the whole of the projects being suspended. For those reasons, the Democratic Labor Party supports the Bill in principle. It supports the expression of opinion embodied in the amendment propounded by Senator Mulvihill on behalf of the Opposition. The Democratic Labor Party will present its own amendment to clause 9 of the Schedule at the Committee stage. We trust that we shall have the concurrence of the Senate in that proposal. I understand we will receive the concurrence of the Opposition and I trust we will also have the concurrence of the Government.

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