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Tuesday, 12 November 1985
Page: 2024

Senator AULICH(10.52) —I would like very quietly to move away from the topic of restaurants, food and self-indulgence to some of the concerns that I and other people have about the current state of the Tasmanian wood chip debate. I will talk about it tonight because, due to some tactical bungling on the part of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney) last week, although I was only the second Labor speaker on that issue, I was unable to contribute to that debate. I have seen so much inane, irresponsible and cynical rubbish in the Tasmanian media over the period since that debate that I thought it time people from this side of the House were permitted to give their viewpoints so that people in Tasmania were clear in their own minds as to where we stood.

First, I would like to express my concern about the cynical use by the Liberal Opposition of ordinary people in the forest industries in Tasmania. Over the last week a number of outrageous statements have been made by members in this House and by the Premier of Tasmania on that matter. They have caused particular concern to people in that industry. I am not talking about people who are able to withstand the ebb and flow of financial disaster here and there. I am talking about ordinary people who are making ends meet in their particular lifestyle-the people who own trucks, the people who work in sawmills, the people who work on the floor of places like Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd, Australian Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd and so on. I refer to the people whose voices are not often heard and who are not represented by people on the other side of the chamber who call themselves Liberal politicians. I am talking about one in seven of the Tasmanian working population who are employed in the forest-based industries in that State. I am talking about them because other people have used them as cannon fodder in the political debate so far.

I wish tonight to indicate quite clearly the concerns of Labor Party members. I refer to statements made by the Premier, Robin Gray, Senator Shirley Walters, and the gentle giant, Senator John Watson. The last, generally speaking, has been a man of quiet reserve in this chamber and not used to using hyperbole, exaggeration and so on, but he has fallen into the general pattern set by his fellow senators and Premier Robin Gray. To put the matter in context, I wish to go back to an awesome period in Tasmanian political history. I refer to the Federal election of March 1983. I should like to refer to a headline in the Examiner which appeared in the last week of that campaign. It related to the intervention, presumably at the behest of the Tasmanian Premier, in the political debate of a Federal election by the top public servant in the Tasmanian Government at that time. I refer to the intervention by the Hydro-Electric Commissioner, Mr Ashton, who made statements in a letter circulated to the Hydro work force, and then direct to the newspaper the Examiner, to the effect that a thousand jobs would go-not may go, but would go-in Tasmania if a Federal Labor Government were to be elected in March 1983. That was a disgusting, irresponsible statement by the head of a government agency who should never have intervened in the public debate at that time.

Many ordinary Hydro workers in that State were totally upset and concerned about their jobs as a result of that intervention by that individual, for which I will not forgive him. He was not doing it off his own bat, presumably. He was instructed to do so by the Premier of the State at the time, Robin Gray, who was prepared to make whatever political capital he could out of it. Where are those disappeared jobs? Can anyone in this chamber or anyone in the Tasmanian political network show me one group of jobs that would add up to that 1,000 total predicted by the Commissioner at that time if a Labor government were elected in March 1983? They cannot show me. There has been a deafening silence on the other side since then. One goes back to a similar type of headline that adopted the same old trick. If one put this sort of play on the stage nobody would turn up because they would have seen it before. I ask honourable senators to note this headline: `3,000 forest jobs may go-Premier hits chips controls'-a similar sort of story. Where are the 3,000 jobs? The Premier, using a similar tactic to that used by Senator Walters, has tried to indicate that the recommendations validly made by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) are a Government decision about the wood chip industry for Tasmania. That is not the case, but there are many ordinary people in Tasmania who believe that that is the case, simply because of the work that has been done by Opposition members in this place and by the Premier of Tasmania. For that they should be roundly condemned. Ordinary people in our State are entitled to understand that their jobs are secure unless there is very good reason to think to the contrary. People on the other side know that that is not the case.

Senator Watson —Why can they not co-ordinate their statements?

Senator AULICH —The Liberal senator on the other side, Senator Watson, is attempting to intervene at this stage. He has already had his say. I am having mine now. I quote:

The Commonwealth is now seeking to control the use of about 2 million hectares of land or almost 30 per cent of Tasmania's land area.

Note the use of the words `The Commonwealth is now seeking to control' such and such-again trying to give the impression that the Government has made a finite decision on the future of the woodchip industry in Tasmania. That is not the case. It is a recommendation by the Minister for the Environment who is entitled to make similar sorts of recommendations based upon his responsibilities under the Act that governs his area. It is quite clear; it is not a decision.

Senator Gareth Evans has taken a great deal of flak tonight-unnecessary, emotional, irresponsible flak from people on the other side of the chamber. Senator Walters appeared on Tasmanian television. I was at home on one rare occasion watching television, enjoying the drama and the sport. We then had the appearance of Senator Walters on television-a frightening prospect for any ordinary Tasmanian. It was frightening for people in the industry, who believed Senator Walters when she said that a deal was being done with the Australian Democrats over cash bidding in order that the Democrats could get a trade-off to stop wood chipping in Tasmania. Who did she quote? What were her sources? Her sources were Senator Chipp and Senator Sanders. I am amazed that that one-sided source could be used to indicate a deal. When I grew up, it took two to dance, two to tango. Unless Senator Walters is much more modern than I am, the fact that the Democrats have indicated that a deal was on is not sufficient proof for me. I approached the two Ministers direct-I approached Senator Gareth Evans and Senator Button-and asked: `Is this on? Is that an untrue statement?' They indicated to me that that was not the case and that it was totally irresponsible of Senator Walters and others to indicate that that was the case.

Over the last few days I have had a number of telephone calls from ordinary people in the industry as a result of Senator Walters's statements. I am not talking about the $500,000 or $600,000 people who set up a wood chip industry in the south and then sell out for a capital gain. I am talking about people who have $200,000 or $300,000 invested in a truck or rig or people who are working on the floor of APPM or in ANM. They are the people who ought to be protected in this place and they are not being protected by people such as the Liberals opposite, who have used them in every possible way, in a most cynical way, over this whole issue. I am saying to them: `Wait until the final Government decision is made'. People from the top to the bottom of the industry are now starting to realise that they have been led up the garden path by a group of honourable senators opposite, just as they led us up the garden path in Tasmania in 1983.

Up to this point the Tasmanian debate about wood chips has generally been sensible, constructive and basically intelligent. I have to applaud the efforts of people on both sides of the debate in Tasmania, the people who are pushing the development line and those who are pushing the conservationist line. The responsibility that both groups have shown has been a vast improvement on the level of debate that existed during the dam debate. Now honourable senators opposite-they will stay in opposition for a very long time-in cahoots with the Premier of Tasmania have taken advantage of the situation and tried to stir up needless trouble in the State. They will not be forgiven for that because after December of this year there will be people who will know that it was a big lie. Honourable senators opposite ought to be condemned for that. I put on record my disgust with the activities of certain Federal senators on that issue.

Senator Walters will leap to her feet like a tree suddenly lifting from the forest floor. This will be about the sixth occasion on which she will say something about the Tasmanian wood chip industry. I suggest that she wait until a decision is finally made and then, if she has the courage, I will debate the matter with her at any place, at any time, anywhere and with any group. I am now on record as saying that and if she is prepared to take up the challenge she should stand up and say so now.