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Wednesday, 16 August 1972
Page: 93

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) - I became interested in this matter during the second reading debate by virtue of the fact that Senator Byrne introduced some confusion into the debate, I thought, when he referred to clause 3 of the Bill. What does that clause mean? He agreed with an interjection of mine that it was a most unusual clause. He dealt somewhat with the clause. I think he did so in the hope that the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton), in closing the second reading debate, would give an explanation of what the clause meant. From what I beard and from what has been told to me of the Minister's reply, we got no explanation of the meaning of clause 3. In the Committee stage, in answer to my interjection, Senator Byrne seemed to agree that the Bill is a Bill for an Act. that what we agree to is final as far as we are concerned and that subject to the States approving it it becomes law throughout Australia - with the exception that the States can alter the agreement if the alteration is not a substantial one. In the Committee stage the confusion that Senator Byrne caused by referring to clause 3--

Senator Byrne - I did not cause it. 1 drew attention to it.

Senator CAVANAGH - He drew attention to it. I think he first drew attention to the fact that there is some confusion in the Act. In the Committee stage the amendment has become more confused. In your ruling, Mr Temporary Chairman, I think assisted by your advisers, you suggested that Senator Byrne's amendment was a substantial amendment, that we could not alter the agreement between the States and the Comonwealth and that if the amendment to clause 3 were not a substantial amendment we could have altered the agreement.

Senator Byrne - That was not the basis of the Temporary Chairman's ruling. His ruling was on the basis that the agreement was not a concluded agreement. Therefore, it being not concluded, it may be amended. He did not deal with the question of substantial amendment. That was not the basis of his ruling.

Senator CAVANAGH - 1 would have thought that the amendment could have been moved to clause 9 of the Schedule, as the honourable senator originally proposed. I still think that the amendment is a substantial one. The original clause 9 in the Schedule has 2 requirements. It refers to the planting being carried out 'in conformity with sound forestry and financial practices'. The amendment refers to 'sound forestry, environmental and financial practices'. It is time someone raised the advis ability of the tendency to seek the adoption throughout Australia of uniform legislation. I think the Minister indicated in his reply that this tendency takes away from parliamentary representatives the right to discuss, amend and decide on a Bill. This legislation, which will become uniform legislation throughout Australia, was decided upon by the various State Ministers. Because they have made a decision there is a risk that representatives elected by the people may not be able to change the Bill. Senator Byrne then moved his amendment to clause 3 of the Bill. It refers to clause 9 of the Schedule as it now stands.

Senator Byrne - What I propose to do now is to amend clause 3.

Senator CAVANAGH - I know, but the effect of amending clause 3 is to make a complete alteration to clause 9 of the Schedule.

Senator Byrne - To delete clause 9 of the Schedule and to substitute clauses 9 and 9a.

Senator CAVANAGH - I know, but the amendment includes the word 'environmental*. The original clause 9 in the Schedule states:

The State shall ensure that planting during each year is carried out efficiently and in conformity with sound forestry and financial practices.

The substituted clause refers to 'sound forestry, environmental and financial practices'. What are sound forestry, environmental and financial practices? I do not know. The amendment provides that there has to be some study of that. We have a tendency in legislation to use words that do not have a clear definition of what they mean. At times applications to a court of law are necessary to ascertain what the Parliament said when it passed an Act of Parliament.

Proposed clause 9a creates more problems. The first problem is the one that Senator Webster mentioned: What is a natural forest? Senator Webster does not know, but he could tell us many areas that are not natural forests. What is a natural forest is beyond my knowledge, but those engaged in forestry work might have a knowledge as to what is a natural forest. There is to be no inquiry into the plantations. Under the amendment the only inquiry is into the clearing of natural forests. There has to be an inquiry into the clearing of natural forests. The proposed clause states:

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 . . .

I asked Senator Byrne what was the meaning of an impact study. In his mind it is the impact that it will have on the whole subject of environmental life and flora and fauna in the area. I do not know whether this would be the legal interpretation or what the use of the words 'impact study' means. This impact study is to be made by an independent expert. Who is an independent expert and on what subject is he an expert? Is he an expert on clearing land, on the environment or on wildlife? While he is an independent expert, he is acting on behalf of the Australian Forestry Council, which will authorise the study. After considering the report of the said study, the Council has to approve the clearing. The independent expert, whoever he is, makes the impact study, whatever the impact study is, on behalf of the Australian Forestry Council. It is immaterial whether or not the report is that the land should be cleared. The decision is left to the Council. Even if he advises that the land should not be cleared, it could still be cleared as long as the Council had before it that report and it decided to clear the land.

I do not know the function of the Australian Forestry Council, but I take it that it is not a body which is so much concerned with preservation as with afforestation. I think it would be concerned with having softwoods planted if it were a commercial proposition. Of course, it is not compelled to act. The only requirement necessary to clear the land is the recommendation of the Australian Forestry Council. But it cannot act until an impact study has been made by an independent expert. No matter what the independent expert says, the Council does not have to accept his advice. Obviously, this is wrong. My recollection is that the commencement of this position arose from a dispute between South Australia and the Commonwealth. This matter will bring in the question that Senator Webster raised in regard to State rights. The appropriate Minister from South Australia had protracted arguments with the Commonwealth over the restriction on the amount that the Commonwealth was prepared to give to South Australia in the form of Commonwealth assistance for the plantation of softwoods in the early programme of softwood plantations. Because South Australia possessed a big acreage of softwood plantation, the Commonwealth curtailed its financial assistance. After a long dispute with the South Australian Minister, the Commonwealth agreed to lift the amount payable to South Australia to bring it somewhere into line with the amount previously paid. The South Australian Government thought that this was essential for the development of softwood plantations in that State and also to obtain the acreage. Now we are presented with an amendment which could seriously restrict the results of the great fight that the South Australian Minister put up for the further development of softwoods in that State.

Senator Young - That is what the amendment is trying to do.

Senator CAVANAGH - That is what the amendment could do.

Senator Young - That is right.

Senator CAVANAGH - Naturally the honourable senator is saying that we should oppose the amendment. But I am saying that the amendment is so confused I do not know what will happen. One cannot simply cast aside the environmental considerations in clearing any site for commercial gain. Therefore, I think that some protection should be provided. I have some doubts as to whether the amendment gives those protections because I am unable to interpret it properly. The Opposition has indicated through its spokesman that it will support the amendment with all its imperfections, that has been moved by Senator Byrne. Therefore, it has the support of the Australian Democratic Labor Party and the Australian Labor Party and will be carried. The Bill will then be submitted to the other House as amended by this chamber. I suggest that rather than leaving loopholes to provide picnics for legal men in the future, the Minister should realise the possibility that this amendment will be carried. In view of its possible acceptability to the States and a change in the agreement, perhaps there should be a short adjournment of this question so it can be framed in a way that will eliminate all the anomalies which I see in the amendment and in order to avoid the necessity of court applications from time to time to explain what the amendment actually means.

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