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Friday, 8 November 1985
Page: 1858


Senator WALTERS(3.31) —I have submitted the following matter of public importance to the Senate for discussion:

The economic, social and constitutional implications of proposals by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment concerning the renewal of Tasmanian woodchip export licences.

The advice and recommendations of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, Mr Cohen, to the Government concerning export licences for Tasmanian woodchips, if implemented, would be nothing short of disaster for the development of my State. The recognition of this situation is underlined by the reception that was given to Mr Cohen's visit to Hobart today. Two thousand forestry workers, 60 trucks and hundreds of cars lined Holyman Drive, the entrance to Hobart Airport, to make sure that Mr Cohen understood their feelings. What did this brave Minister do? Did he have the courage of his convictions? He snuck off down a track over the sand dunes so that he would not have to face the men whom he is prepared to put out of work. Not only was this action cowardly but also his advice to the Government is typical of the thinking of a Minister from a centralist government.


Senator Coates —Do you think it was his decision?


Senator WALTERS —Of course it was his decision. It represents the most extensive land grab the Federal Government could undertake. While Mr Cohen's recommendations start off basically by agreeing with the environmental impact statement commissioned by the Federal Government, they end up departing radically from it. He recommends that there be no logging or forestry operations in 24 vital areas, a recommendation completely opposing the intention of that environmental statement. These areas have already been logged, are in the process of regeneration or it is planned that they be logged. These 24 vital areas chosen by the Minister have been either registered, listed or nominated for listing on the National Estate.

Let us get it quite clear. The Minister has recommended that in return for issuing a 15-year woodchipping licence by the Federal Government large tracts of land must be set aside for wilderness areas over which the Federal Government will have sole control. They will be locked away from the industry for future development. Already the Hawke Government has, through constitutional changes brought about by strange interpretations from just three of the current High Court of Australia judges, grabbed much of Tasmania's south west and refused to allow us to build the Franklin Dam. All honourable senators will remember the way the Government went about that travesty of justice. We all remember the part played by the then Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans, which resulted in his demise as the first law officer of Australia. This matter is of no less importance. It is a further attempt to grab land but by a different method. It would set a precedent which would allow any Federal government to blackmail a State into handing over control of its land in return for an export licence that, for its very survival, must be granted.

Let us look at what would occur if these recommendations were accepted. The Tasmanian timber industry is the most efficient timber industry in Australia. The timber millers in my State have been operating for over 140 years. Concessions first issued over 60 years ago to establish and maintain viable industries would be dismantled. It has been estimated that 3,000 people would lose their jobs and most of the efficient industries would be closed. Two veneer factories certainly will close, along with three major hardwood saw-mills. Many of the smaller saw-mills will go to the wall, followed by the larger companies.

The areas chosen by the Minister, in his advice for locking away the wilderness areas, contain 20 per cent of our total long term resources of top quality saw logs. It is estimated that 40 per cent of our planned resource areas is needed for saw logs over the next 30 years. The areas represent all of the remaining significant stands of virgin forests. These are mature eucalypt forests which, unless they are harvested as planned, will be lost to the industry forever. This is because the trees in those areas are approaching the end of their life and will be replaced by other varieties. Anyone who argues with that does not have a clue what he is talking about. The need for these top quality logs by the saw-millers is paramount in keeping their companies viable. They must have access to top quality logs as well as lower quality logs. They must have top quality logs in sufficient numbers, otherwise the balance of their industry will be upset.

I would now like to explain the effects that the Minister's recommendations would have on our paper industry. Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd is the company most affected by Mr Cohen's recommendations. Firstly, while the bulk of ANM's operation is for domestic use-that is, mechanical grade pulp wood for newsprint and saw logs for milling and veneer manufacture-a small component is destined for overseas markets in the form of woodchips. This is derived from chemical grade pulp wood, mainly harvested as a by-product of the mechanical grade pulp wood. Prior to the export of woodchips, this low grade timber traditionally was wasted-burnt in the forest-because no other market was available for it. As the market for woodchip exports developed, the efficiency of the total industry increased substantially. It is obvious that the company needs the Federal Government's permission for a woodchip licence for a totally efficient and viable industry, yet the Minister is blackmailing the company, saying that there will be no export licences unless 40 per cent of ANM's concession, which is covered by the areas he has designated for no logging or forestry operations, is locked up for wilderness. The suggestion is preposterous. It is not just that ANM would lose 40 per cent of its concession, but 50 per cent of the mature forests of that concession are to be found in that area. Half of the mature forests which are ready for harvesting, supplying top quality saw logs in Tasmania-the report says-should be denied Tasmania's most efficient companies.

Australian Newsprint Mills, Australia's only manufacturer of newsprint, is a company which produces 70 per cent of Australia's newsprint needs, has never sought subsidies, competes on the open market without help from government, and asks only to be left alone and not interfered with by Big Brother, but allowed to go ahead and make a business that Tasmanians can be proud of. The company directly employs 1,500 men, not counting the hundreds of families who rely on their living through indirect employment. That company, along with Associated Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd-our other paper company-and the rest of our timber industry are a group of the most efficient companies, but how can they cope when governments grab half of their resources, resources which the companies have used and planned on over the past 50 years? It is quite unreal for any government to expect them to do other than close down.

To explain the stupidity of the Minister's recommendations, I turn to the legislation passed by the Labor Government, the Australian Heritage Commission Act. While the Act has no direct influence on domestic use of areas on the National Estate register, section 30 of the Act gives power to the Commonwealth Minister to refuse to issue export licences for materials that have come from such areas-an overriding power that can and would in this situation render the areas not viable. Moreover, there is a considerable indirect pressure on the company or individual whose private property or concession is listed by the Commission. Once it is listed, conservationists apply considerable pressure to add it to the areas of wilderness. This pressure is what the Minister has succumbed to. We must bear in mind that over 31 per cent of Tasmania is already listed or nominated for listing on the Register of the National Estate, nearly a third of our State has been nominated.

How do these nominations come about? I will deal only with those affecting land areas. Any individual can nominate an area of land for any reason at all. The broad guidelines cover social, historical, aesthetic or scientific grounds. Indeed, one area of ANM, the Snowy North area, was approved for listing on the following spurious grounds:

Minor boundary rationalisation to shorten boundary length and make it basically convex in the vicinity of Snowy North . . .

It goes on to say that it is `free of major intrusions, and forms part of this area's zone of remoteness'. These are absolutely idiotic grounds-just to straighten a boundary. It is said that it is remote. It is within two kilometres of areas that have been recently logged. It is absolutely ludicrous. Yet this is an area that Mr Cohen is recommending be locked up.

Let us have a look at some of the other areas. For the Mueller-Tim Shea extension area the general reason given is that that area is heavily timbered with wet sclerophyll forests. That is certainly not unique in the area, nor is it an endangered forest type. We have 23 per cent of that in our State already locked away. Again, the area nominated from the south of Tim Shea is mainly young forest growth, forests that were destroyed in the fires of 1934. Moreover, logging operations have been undertaken in recent years up the Mount Mueller Road, a road right through an area that the Minister is recommending be returned to the wilderness. It is a road to service the transmission line that runs through the centre. The boundary of this is immediately next to areas of developed farmland. Remote? The Minister does not know what he is talking about.

Let us have a look at the Beech Creek extension area. The description of that is very much the same. It is stated that it contains a mixed rain forest and wet sclerophyll-hardly unique in the area. The fact is that it has been extensively logged, and is currently the subject of major logging operations, particularly in the area around Glow Worm Creek and Coles Creek, and also west of Wayatinah and the Heels Spur area. There have been substantial alterations of that through man-made movements in the area. Yet these are exactly the areas that the Minister is suggesting we return for wilderness. He just does not understand it. Nothing could be more contradictory. Heaven knows, we in Tasmania ought to know what a wilderness is. It is an area that has not been logged, an area that has not been clear-felled. It is country which, to quote the conservationists, is still in its natural state, not spoilt by the action of man. How can areas with roads and transmission lines going through them, areas that have already been logged, be classed as wilderness?

As I have said, 23 per cent of our State is already wilderness. What is wrong with the Minister? Has he not understood anything? How can he suggest that 40 per cent of a company's concession, much of which has been logged should go to the wilderness areas? Apart from anything else, it is no longer wilderness, and nothing he can do can make it so. He has not understood what the heritage is all about. He obviously believes that any area listed by any greenie in Tasmania should be handed over for their sole use.

It is no use the Australian Labor Party trying to placate Tasmania, and it is no use Senator Coates, who will follow me in this debate, saying that none of this will occur. He may not know that at this very moment the Australian Democrats are doing a deal with the Government to change their vote on legislation for cash bidding for off-shore oil exploration. Let us get it very clear. They are offering to change the way they voted in April on legislation for cash bidding for off-shore oil exploration. They have promised to change their vote on that issue, and as long as the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, comes down with Mr Cohen's recommendations the deal will be sealed. I do not know whether Senator Coates realises it, but there is no point in Mr Kerin coming to our State and debating the matter with our Premier, as he did, saying that not a job will be lost and that he will make sensible recommendations to Cabinet. There is no possibility of that occurring if the Government succumbs to the deal being offered by the Democrats.

Senator Sanders, with Senator Chipp, has already said that the deal is on as long as the Government accepts it. Senator Sanders is terrified that the Cohen recommendations will not be accepted by the Government. If they are not accepted it will be for only one reason-that the Liberal Party in our State has made it very clear that there will be no Labor Party members left in Tasmania if the Federal Government destroys any further property that is rightly the property of the State. If the Government takes away 3,000 jobs from Tasmanians it should not expect a vote from us. The Government has already lost all its votes on the west coast; in the future it might not get any votes from Tasmanians.

In conclusion, let me reiterate what Mr Cohen has recommended to the Government because it is important that we get this clear. In return for issuing woodchip licences for a period of 15 years, 24 vital areas of forest concession will be locked away from future development by Tasmanian industry. The recommendation is a disaster. It is nothing but blackmail. It would force 3,000 men and women to join the dole queue and would set Tasmania's economy back to a peasant economy.