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Friday, 8 November 1985
Page: 1861


Senator COATES(3.47) —I hope that the Senate and people generally will excuse the Tasmanians for having their debate about woodchips today, brought on by Senator Walters, but I emphasise that it is a crucially important issue not only for Tasmanians but for all Australians. I will correct some of the rubbish that Senator Walters gave us, and I hope I will do so in a more dispassionate way than she did. She spent most of her time objecting to the Australian Heritage Commission and National Estate listing. She seemed to think that the only reason for National Estate listing was that something was a wilderness area. Of course, that is one of the reasons for listing, but there are lots of other reasons as well. So all her supposed debating points about roads and power lines being adjacent to an area-while we might regret that-are not sufficient reasons not to list an area if it is worthy of listing.

I emphasise also that listing on the National Estate register does not ensure that nothing happens or, to use her emotive term, that the land is locked up. It merely means that if a proposal involving a Federal Minister arises, that Minister has to justify any action that affects that area. It does not ensure that nothing happens. It is purely a matter of listing to ensure that consideration is given. She also mentioned that 31 per cent of Tasmanian land was already listed. In many ways we should be proud of that fact that we have so much that is worthy of national and international recognition. I resent the fact that Senator Walters keeps talking down the wonderful things we have in Tasmania.

I suppose it was to be expected that Senator Walters would attempt to generate some political heat at about this time in relation to the Tasmanian woodchip issue, but it has to be said that she has provided no light whatsoever. She has just trotted out her usual prejudices against this Government for doing the correct thing. She is merely being the agent of the Tasmanian Premier in repeating the misrepresentations that have become well known recently and ignoring the facts. The point that needs to be emphasised is that the Federal Government has not yet taken a decision on this matter. Mr Cohen's statement as Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment is advice to the relevant action Minister-the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin-on the environmental considerations of this matter. It is not a proposal, as referred to in the terms of the matter of public importance; it is advice, and it is advice that is required by an Act of this Parliament, the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act. Other factors as well as the environmental issue have to be taken into account, such as economic and social issues, and they will be. Whether we like it or not, the wood chip industry has become important to Tasmania. It is a significant part of the forest based industries, but it is by no means the major part. It does not employ a great number of people directly but is indirectly a substantial employment generator. Perhaps 1,800 people are involved, not the 4,000 people referred to by Senator Walters. One has to acknowledge that it earns a large amount of export income. But there are arguments against all of those points.

Senator Walters keeps ignoring the fact that it is an export industry, which means that the Commonwealth is involved. It must be, as the Constitution says so. Senator Walters can rant and rave all she likes but there is no open slather right of anyone to expect anything he likes. An export permit is required and the Federal Government is the government which issues such permits. The Premier of Tasmania and Senator Walters have every right to attempt to influence the granting of an export permit but it is the Commonwealth's responsibility and the Commonwealth has the right to impose appropriate conditions.

In the last week or so, following the release of Mr Cohen's advice, we have had to put up with the scare tactics from Mr Gray, including an amazing advertisement in today's Tasmanian papers. If I have the time I will deal with that later. As Ken Wriedt, the Leader of the State Opposition and soon to be Premier, said, it was a ridiculous over-reaction by Mr Gray that was designed to produce fear and confusion in the Tasmanian community. I do not think either Mr Gray or Senator Walters has the right to mislead people so blatantly and they certainly have no right to pretend that they are the only ones concerned about jobs.

In determining the approval of export permits and of any conditions to be attached to them the responsible Minister, in this case Mr Kerin, has to take into account a wide range of factors-economic, social and environmental-and anything else that is relevant, including, as he has said, the question of Commonwealth-State relations, and he will do that in coming to his decision, which he has said will be made by 16 December. He has received environmental advice from Mr Cohen and he now has to weigh that up with the other factors, including employment. Senator Walters well knows that environmental advice is not the only thing to be taken into consideration. I agree that that is a very important aspect. We are talking about some of the most environmentally sensitive areas of the world. But it is not the only matter. I am not going to pre-empt the final decision of Mr Kerin and the Government as a whole. There still has to be the promised consultation with the State Government, the Forestry Commission and the companies. There still has to be this Government's internal decision making procedures; consideration by the relevant Caucus committees and so forth. Mr Kerin had assured the companies and the Japanese industry that buys the wood chips that licences will be renewed. Despite the wild assertions of some, no one has suggested that the industry is to be stopped or that there would be no exports. It is a question of volume and conditions-sensible conditions. Let me quote Mr Kerin's Press statement of 29 October:

Now that the EIS has been studied and recommendations have been received, the way is open for Mr Kerin to balance them against the economic and social perspectives of the Government, and their relationship with international trade and Commonwealth/State relations matters. Mr Kerin said that he had pointed out previously export licences would be renewed, but what was of concern to the Government was to ensure the industry operated in an environmentally sensitive manner and that the public could be assured of this.

Mr Kerin has since given clear assurances that jobs will not be lost by his decision when it is made. I now turn to the consideration of the environmental issues. The Commonwealth not only has the right but the obligation, the duty, to give due weight to the environmental matters. The Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 prescribes the environmental impact statement process which has been followed over the last two years on this matter dealing with the Tasmanian woodchip export industry. That Act, as with the Australian Heritage Commission Act, is now more than 10 years old, and I am proud to have been part of the Whitlam Government which introduced those Acts to ensure that proper procedures were followed where the Commonwealth was involved. Senator Walters might reflect that the Fraser Liberal Government kept those Acts in operation. In fact, the Liberal Government used those Acts for the Fraser Island decision, which did not just impose conditions on the export of mineral sands but totally stopped such exports. What does Senator Walters think about that, or is it just okay if her own side does the right thing?

Let us look calmly and rationally at what Mr Cohen's advice and recommendations to Mr Kerin on the proposed export of woodchips from Tasmania actually involved. Let me emphasise in regard to what has been suggested as not being universally approved or totally approved by the conservation movement that anyone would think that that was so judging from the way Senator Walters has performed. The advice is the culmination of a long, detailed and serious process. The EIS into the effects of the woodchip industry on Tasmania was published by the proponents, the Forestry Commission and the companies, in February, and it was open to public scrutiny until May when the comments closed. There were 450 or so submissions in response to that EIS. Then, in September, the final EIS was published by the proponents and, as again is required by the law, the advice from the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, Mr Cohen, followed from that. This is all evidence of the Federal Government taking seriously its responsibilities in respect of the licence decision making process. I do not think Senator Walters can expect the Federal Government to do otherwise. I think the Opposition would be screaming, and legitimately so, if the procedures prescribed under an Act of this Parliament were not followed. One cannot expect that legitimate concerns about the woodchip industry in Tasmania would be completely ignored by a responsible government.

So what does the advice from Mr Cohen to Mr Kerin actually involve? Any objective analysis would lead to the conclusion, as Mr Kerin said, that Mr Cohen's recommendations are balanced and fair and attempt to place reasonable environmental and conservation control, yet allow the industry to continue to plan for its future and to continue to employ Tasmanians. I think it is a great relief that reasonable environmental conditions can be imposed while allowing the industry to continue operating at its present level.

I emphasise that if one looks at the terms of the advice one sees that at every stage Mr Cohen has recommended full consultation and co-operation with the State Government and Mr Kerin is insisting on this. Officials from both governments are in the process of conferring on this issue right now. The Tasmanian Government is involved in the advice that Mr Cohen has given to Mr Kerin. It is suggested that the woodchip export companies have got what they wanted. They have got their licences and they have got them for 15 years-a very long period and perhaps longer than they might have expected. That avoided the need for a public inquiry for which there was a great deal of pressure. Very reasonable conditions are suggested in Mr Cohen's advice including such things as improved forest management practices to ensure that there is sustainable yield and that there be a review of boundaries. Senator Walters objected to a minor review of a national estate boundary because she did not think it was worth bothering about. Let me emphasise the sentence that follows the one that Mr Gray and others have been prone to quote. They quote Mr Cohen as saying that it has been recommended that no logging or forestry operations be permitted in the areas listed in schedule A-that is the 24 or so areas that Senator Walters referred to. Mr Cohen went on to say:

These areas should be reviewed to establish more precise and workable boundaries in the light of the results of the recommended consultations.

It may be appropriate if I seek to incorporate in Hansard the advice of Mr Cohen, so that those who follow this debate in Hansard will know what we are talking about. I seek leave to incorporate those six pages in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

ADVICE AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MINISTER FOR PRIMARY INDUSTRY ON THE FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT ON TASMANIAN WOODCHIP EXPORTS BEYOND 1988

The following advice and recommendations are made in accordance with paragraph 9.3 of the Administrative Procedures under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974. (The Act).

The final environmental impact statement (EIS) submitted by the Tasmanian EIS Study Group has complied with the requirements of the Administrative Procedures. It provides a sufficient basis for examination of the environmental effects of the proposal such that, taking into account the recommendations below, a public enquiry under Section 11 of the Act is not considered necessary for the purposes of achieving the object of the Act.

The assessment of the final EIS indicates that there is no overriding environmental reason for not granting licences for the export of woodchips from Tasmania, providing that due account is taken of the recommendations in this document in establishing conditions to be placed on the licences.

It is recommended that the Commonwealth provide a formal indication to the companies that, subject to their continuing to meet their obligations and to the reservations below, there will be no impediment to the issue of licences for a period of 15 years. It is recommended however that the Commonwealth reserve the right to:

upon 5 years notice terminate the obligation to renew the licences

upon 2 years notice vary the resource conditions

at approximately 5 yearly intervals review rigorously the progress of response to the environmental conditions attaching to the licences

at any time suspend or terminate the licences for environmental breaches

vary the conditions of the licence to accommodate changing circumstances, such as implementation of the recommendations of various studies.

It is recommended that the licences require operations to be in accordance with management principles and operational practices described in the EIS or as modified in accordance with recommendations and commitments expressed or implied in the EIS and provision be made for appropriate changes to be implemented in accordance with improved knowledge.

It is recommended that a schedule of significant environmental conditions be drawn up in consultation between appropriate Tasmanian and Commonwealth authorities adherance to which should be a licence condition.

It is recommended that mechanisms be developed in conjunction with the Tasmanian Government to ensure public reporting on an annual basis of:

progress in implementation of environmental conditions attaching to the export woodchip licence issue;

progress in implementation of recommendations of studies referred to later in this document

progress in undertaking further studies to identify and or ameliorate the impact of forestry operations on the environment including those listed later

changes in forest practices with an environmental impact; and

incorporation of improvements in forest practices in the Forest Practices Code.

It is recommended that the Minister for Primary Industry in consultation with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment establish a permanent Commonwealth Advisory Committee to evaluate developments in forestry practices and the annual reports on environmental conditions-the Committee to report to both Ministers.

The development of a Forest Practices Code by the Tasmanian Government is an important initiative and will provide a most important mechanism for environment protection associated with forest operations on both Crown and private land. It is recommended that completion and implementation of the Forest Practices Code be given high priority attention.

It is recommended that the substantial improvements in forest practices which have been developed and applied since the commencement of the woodchip industry, and the proposed further improvements in relation to streamside reserve guidelines, roading standards guidelines and restoration standards for landings should be included in the Forest Practices Code.

It is recommended that improved methods be developed by Tasmanian authorities, in consultation as appropriate with CSIRO, the Australian Heritage Commission and Commonwealth departments, for the pre-logging identification of archaeological sites, rare or inadequately reserved species or vegetation types and other special geological or natural features.

The EIS refers to a number of current studies expected to provide the basis for the development of particular guidelines or standards for inclusion in either management prescriptions or the Forest Practices Code. These include:

a survey of the application and effectiveness of soil erosion control measures,

guidelines for operations in karst landscapes,

guidelines for the identification of archaeological sites,

surveys of species distributions for the preparation of proposals for forest reserves to protect rare species, and

the Forestry Commission study of wilderness areas.

It is recommended that these studies be completed as soon as practicable and the results applied as envisaged in the EIS.

There is a need for further studies, for similar purposes, into:

fauna habitat protection requirements, including retention of habitat trees,

the effectiveness of the Visual Management System,

co-ordinating recreation planning of public lands with the development of forest management plans,

linking corridors between unlogged areas to facilitate fauna movement,

the use of machinery, including cable logging equipment, on steep slopes and erosion control in such areas,

Methods of increasing the utilisation of wood felled in current operations, including the use of in-forest chipping and shorter logs,

soil fertility maintenance,

genetic diversity maintenance, and

fire management.

The rate at which these studies can be completed is important for further development and application of improved environment protection measures. It is recommended that these studies be commenced and the results applied in forest management as soon as practicable. It is further recommended that the Commonwealth consider methods by which early completion can be assisted, including collaborative arrangements involving Commonwealth authorities.

It is recommended that the Commonwealth consider ensuring further funds are directed to research into matters affecting, and programs related to, the woodchip industry and associated forest operations, for example by an export levy. The research and programs should be directed particularly to areas associated with the environmental effect of the industry, the further development of intensive forest management and measures for the promotion of forest based industries.

The resource estimates given in the EIS have been calculated by an acceptable method and relate to the areas described in the EIS as available for logging, the cutting strategy and level of utilisation proposed, and the data available from forest assessment and inventory surveys. Should any of these variables be changed, the resource estimates would change accordingly. Provided that the Forestry Commission continues to routinely revise its resource estimates on a regular basis related to its planning cycle for preparation of forest management and logging plans, the estimates of sustainable yield given in the EIS may be accepted as a basis for consideration of the woodchip exports which may be approved at this time. Some public submissions on the draft EIS cast doubts on the resource estimates but did not give a better basis for estimation. The environmental assessment has been based therefore on the figures given in the EIS.

It is recommended that the volume of exports approved be reviewed in the light of any major changes to the sustainable yield or circumstances envisaged in the EIS, and that the volumes be based on a comprehensive assessment of available wood sources and utilisation practices, with a view to ensuring that at all times the approved cut is consistent with the best available assessment of sustainable yield.

It is recommended that, should there be any new proposal, arising out of the Tasmanian Government's pending decision on the utilisation of pulpwood from the Southern Forests, which would require a significant variation to these parameters in such a way as to increase the environmental impacts described in the EIS, a further formal examination of the environmental effects of the total proposal be required.

The proposal does not involve the logging of significant rainforest areas on Crown land. It is recommended that no approvals be granted for export of material taken from rainforest areas as defined by Jarman and Brown.

Of the original 53 National Estate places identified in the draft EIS as having forestry significance (subsequently consolidated to 37 when places wholly included within others were eliminated), the Australian Heritage Commission has advised that for 12 places forestry operations are judged not inconsistent with National Estate significance. For three further places, the Commission advised that, subject to certain conditions, forestry operations would not adversely affect National Estate significance. These three places are shown on the attached Schedule B. The remaining 22 places are listed in Schedule A.

It is recommended that consultations be established between appropriate Commonwealth and Tasmanian authorities to examine all areas on the Register of the National Estate where there is apparent conflict between National Estate values and the requirements of the sawlog and pulpwood industries. These consultations should aim at defining precise boundaries for parts of the National Heritage areas which might be affected, those areas where National Estate values should be fully preserved, and options for the protection of environmental values in areas where forestry activities are anticipated. It is recommended that the consultations take account of the current Tasmanian rainforest and wilderness studies and the other relevant investigations referred to in the EIS.

It is recommended that no logging or forestry operations be permitted in the areas listed in Schedule A. These areas should be reviewed to establish more precise and workable boundaries in the light of the results of the recommended consultations.

It is recommended that logging in the three places listed in Schedule B be permitted only in accordance with conditions specified by the Australian Heritage Commission in consultation with appropriate authorities.

AHC LIST OF PLACES WHICH, ON THE INFORMATION PROVIDED IN THE EIS, MAY BE AFFECTED BY LOGGING

Place

AHC

Reference No.

Schedule A

Registered

South West Tasmania...

6/1/101/4

Central Plateau Region...

6/1/80/36

Great Western Tiers...

6/1/80/40

Mole Creek Caves...

6/3/32/48

Woodbridge Hill...

6/1/5/5

Listed

Western Tasmanian (includes South West Tasmanian and Central Plateau Region)...

6/1/101/18

Norfolk Range...

6/2/31/41

Sumac Rivulet...

6/2/31/43

Savage River...

6/2/31/42

Tinderbox Hills-Mt Louis...

6/1/5/10

Snug Tiers...

6/1/5/13

Back Run Hills...

6/1/7/9

Douglas River...

6/1/91/40

Cherry Tree Hill...

6/1/91/41

Lower Marsh Creek...

6/3/51/31

Mount Vulcan-Simmons Hill...

6/3/50/80

Bluemans Creek-Brushy River...

6/1/91/42

Harding Falls...

6/1/91/43

Mount Victoria Rattler Range...

6/3/51/32

South Esk River Headwaters...

6/3/51/33

Ben Nevis Foothills...

6/3/51/29

Nomninated

Jacky's Marsh-Quamby Bluff...

6/3/32/56

Mount Tooms...

6/1/91/45

Snow Hill...

6/3/81/59

Schedule B

Tasman Peninsula...

6/1/7/2

Tooms Lake Conservation Area...

6/1/91/45

Ben Lomond National Park &C.A....

6/3/51/3

(Conservation area only)


Senator COATES —I thank the Senate. I did not want to read all the advice, but I wish to highlight some of the points raised in it. For example, it is recommended that mechanisms be developed in conjunction with the Tasmanian Government to ensure public reporting. It is also recommended that a schedule of significant environmental conditions be drawn up in consultation between appropriate Tasmanian and Commonwealth authorities, adherence to which should be a licence condition. So it goes on. In so many places there is a requirement for consultation. Nothing could be more reasonable.

I turn to the national estate areas that have been referred to by Senator Walters. Four are not relevant because there is no available timber there. There are eight where forestry operations can continue without any effect on the national estate significance. Three major areas have been given the okay and are listed in schedule B on the basis that conditions be applied to forestry operations so that there is no adverse effect on national estate significance. These are the Tasman Peninsula, the Tooms Lake conservation area and the Ben Lomond conservation area. There are 22 areas in schedule A where there is to be no logging. That seems to be a large number, but let me emphasise that 14 of these contain less than 0.2 per cent of the available timber resource. Of the other eight, one is merely deferred, pending more information; three are primarily rainforest which does not come into this issue at all and another one contains less than 0.1 per cent of the available timber resource. So Senator Walters can talk about 24 areas, but that is obviously an exaggeration.

The national estate listings do not and cannot limit the industry by themselves. As I explained earlier, they affect only Federal ministerial decisions and the Government has recognised simply that in the absence of prudent and feasible alternatives, it has a duty to do what it can to protect sensitive and unique areas for the future. There should be recognition by the Opposition that the Government takes seriously its obligations under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act. There also should be recognition that the woodchip industry has not been perfect. There are problems that need control and the industry has not solved Tasmania's economic problems. I refer to Mr Gray's advertisement in todays Press. He ends his open letter to Mr Cohen by saying:

There should be no further federal interference in the right of Tasmanians to manage their land and their resources, and to determine their future for themselves.

What he is ignoring in that advertisement is the Federal Government's responsibility because we are talking about exports. There is a legitimate interest by the Federal Government in doing the correct thing about this matter. I do not have the time to answer all the points that were raised in Mr Gray's advertisement. It is just ridiculous for him to talk about 25 per cent of Tasmania's forest resources being closed and then to go on to say that 3,000 Tasmanians will lose their jobs. Even if this exaggerated figure of 25 per cent is right, how can a loss of 25 per cent of Tasmania's forest resources affect three-quarters of the jobs? I could go on to rebut those points in Mr Gray's advertisement.

I just finish by emphasising that there has been no final decision. The Federal Government will take account of economic and social factors as well as the environmental advice from Mr Cohen and, of course, the further environmental advice that is required under the Australian Heritage Commission Act from the Australian Heritage Commission, I emphasise-as Senator Aulich would have emphasised but for earlier altercations that obviously will not allow time for him to do so-that what we want, in consultation with the relevant Tasmanian authorities, is to have the least disruption to legitimate forestry activities while taking into account sensitive environmental values in the national estate areas which should be protected. Obviously the Opposition would ignore environmental conditions. This Government will not do that. We have a duty to future generations which we must fulfil.