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Thursday, 7 November 1985
Page: 1760

Senator MASON(4.57) —This report on rainforest conservation is unexceptionable, even commendable, except that it has not saved a single tree. Indeed, in the course of its printing and publication I have no doubt that it has consumed paper that has destroyed a number of trees. The fact that this report is in the realm of words rather than action is its main fault. I could scarcely disagree with its recommendations since they are very much in line with my own private member's Rainforest Preservation Agreements Bill 1982-four years ago-which is listed for debate later today but which we all know will not pass because both the Government and the Opposition have expressed opposition to it. This in itself is an eloquent testimony to the double-talk with which this issue is approached continually by the Liberal and National parties and the Labor Party, which want to duck out for dimly perceived electoral purposes, especially in Queensland. Let us face the truth over that.

The Australian Democrats for many years have been very concerned about the organised destruction of our rainforests and the extremely leisurely attitude of the Government to what in other nations would be properly regarded as national monuments. I refer to the 1000-year old giant trees in places like the Mount Windsor tableland in Queensland, the destruction of some of which I witnessed when I visited the Mount Windsor tableland a couple of years ago. Those big trees, which in other countries would be revered, almost worshipped, because of their age and value and the impossibility of replacing them, were destroyed so that they could become veneer on someone's furniture or boat. They have not added a single square metre of living space to an Australian home or business. They are there in the veneer business. It is about time we all got the word around that it is vulgar and in bad taste to stick rainforest veneers on the front of our furniture. What is wrong with good honest timbers which are solid all the way through? If Australians begin to realise that that timber is much more beautiful in the forest than on the front of their furniture, we might get a decent sort of attitude. Every time a big tree was brought down in that area-I had a look at this myself; I looked at the areas where the big trees had been brought down-a huge expanse of natural vegetation around was also damaged and virtually destroyed. It does not restore itself to its natural state. In the Mount Windsor tableland the areas around it became infested with a particularly nasty weed, the thorny Gympie weed or Gympie bush.

Senator Collard —It is not thorny; it is stingy.

Senator MASON —It is stingy; that is right. Most Australians do not now agree with the tradition that began all this problem-if it moves, shoot it and if it does not, chop it down. There is a general understanding in the community that we have one of the lowest rates of afforestation in the world. People now generally understand that we live in symbiosis with other living things-plants and animals-and that indeed that relationship keeps us alive. If growing things did not provide oxygen and use carbon dioxide we would all very quickly gasp ourselves to death in our own production of that waste. Forests also affect climate importantly. Elsewhere in the world this is understood. It is not understood in Australia and is particularly not understood in this place, judging from the response to a very reasonable Bill which is my own but which was not of my authorship. It was designed and drafted by Mr Justice Murray Wilcox who was then President of the Australian Conservation Foundation. It was the Australian Conservation Foundation's Bill and it was very reasonable and very good. The recommendations are confirming what that Bill said four years ago. It is an indictment of this Parliament that two governments over that time have done nothing about it.

I would just like to make a brief, important contrast of Australia's situation with that of China, a much poorer country than Australia with much smaller resources. According to the People's Daily on 29 June this year, an enormous effort is being made to increase the forests of China. I saw some of this when our delegation was there a while ago. There has already been a 50 per cent increase in forest cover since 1949. In that year trees covered only 8.6 per cent of China; the figure is now 12.7 per cent. By the end of the century the Government of China intends to make it 20 per cent. By contrast, the most ambitious figure we can get for Australia is 5.5 per cent of forest cover. I suggest it is about time we got our act together, stopped the bad joke of subsidising the Japanese to take away our woodchips and gave this matter the serious consideration it deserves.