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Tuesday, 3 December 1985
Page: 2785


Senator SANDERS(3.12) —I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The Government's betrayal of trust in failing to protect World Heritage forests, in particular the Queensland wet tropic wilderness areas and the forests of Western Tasmania, from State governments and forest-based industries motivated by the reckless pursuit of short-term economic gain.

I must apologise for my lapse in this matter; I am new in this business. The motion refers to short term economic gain, and that is what is involved. There is tremendous lack of foresightedness, of care for the future. The woodchip industry dates back some 15 years. It was brought in at a time when people did not appreciate the native forests of Australia, when in fact the native forests were considered as something to clear away so that pines could be planted. Another argument for woodchips was that woodchipping would be a way of utilising forest waste from the sawmilling industry. That does make sense; however, the tail is now wagging the dog. I go back to my original point: People now do appreciate native forests; they appreciate the eucalypts and the rainforest in a way that they never did before. In fact, 82 per cent of people polled in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane said that they did not want woodchipping to continue. Using woodchipping is a way of taking away sawmill waste but at the moment sawmillers are reduced to using waste from the woodchip mills. The situation has changed to the point where the best logs are now going to the woodchip mills and the small sawmillers have to make do with what is left.

The export woodchips go solely to Japan and Australia-and Tasmania in particular-supplies the great proportion of the hardwood woodchips used in Japan. It is ironic that 66 per cent of the Japanese land mass is covered with trees. Here in Australia we are down to 5 per cent after having a 15 per cent cover at the time of Captain Cook. Quite frankly, the Japanese think we are bananas; they think we are nuts for giving away our forests. We are not even giving them away, but as honourable senators will see, we are subsidising the Japanese to haul them away. The jobs are not here; they are in Japan.


Senator Walters —On a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President: There must be something in Standing Orders that requires a senator to tell the truth. Senator Sanders is not telling the truth at the moment and this should be looked at in the light of the Standing Orders.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bjelke-Petersen) —There is no point of order.


Senator SANDERS —Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. That is an illustration of the type of rejoinder that we get from certain Tasmanian senators who really do not know the facts and can resort only to personal vilification in their debating tactics. As I was saying, the jobs from woodchipping are not in Australia; they are in Japan. Whole industries have been set up in Japan where whole cities depend on Tasmanian woodchips for their livelihoods. Yet, we are told that we must woodchip more in Tasmania. In fact, Tasmania already has two thirds of its land mass covered in woodchip concessions. In terms of the activity that now goes on, there are some 20,000 hectares a year being woodchipped in Tasmania. That is a large area. What does it really mean? Let us talk in terms of football stadiums-Australian rules, if you wish, or rugby, if you come from another part of the country. That 20,000 hectares is equivalent to approximately 120 football stadiums being woodchipped each week in Tasmania. That is a lot of woodchipping.

We are told by the Premier of Tasmania, Mr Gray, that this is a Tasmanian issue and that the Federal Government and mainlanders in general-those people who live on the other side of Bass Strait-should keep out of this. Let us look at who owns the woodchip mills. First of all, we already know that the woodchips go to Japan, which is certainly not Tasmania, although Japan does seem to own a lot of it. The woodchippers themselves are North Broken Hill, which owns Associated Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd and Tasmanian Pulp and Forest Holdings, and the Adelaide Steamship Company Ltd which holds Petersville Sleigh, which runs Northern Woodchips. So, we see a Premier of Tasmania who himself is from Victoria, saying that this is solely a Tasmanian issue, but in fact all the major partners in it are from the mainland or overseas. The Premier of Tasmania is pulling the same type of demagoguery that he pulled in the Franklin Dam issue. He is exploiting the workers in the forest industry to his own political ends. He is telling them that their jobs are on the line and that they must take action. That is not so at all. Let us look at the jobs in the forest industry. Tragically, it turns out that 4,000 jobs have been lost in the forest industry since woodchipping started in 1973.


Senator Walters —On a point of order, Madam Deputy President--


Senator SANDERS —Oh! Another fatuous point of order.


Senator Walters —No, it is not. I refer to standing order No. 418 which says that a senator shall not be offensive or make any offensive remarks about any members of another House or a State parliament.


Senator Grimes —You would never make a speech.


Senator Mason —Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy President: I think you should regard that point of order as purely frivolous. I have been listening to Senator Sanders's remarks and I thought they were very moderate indeed by the standards of this place.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bjelke-Petersen) —I hope that Senator Sanders will remember to keep standing order No. 418 in mind. I hope he will not make any remarks that are offensive to any other members of the Senate.


Senator SANDERS —I will attempt to do so. It seems as if everything I say is offensive to some member of the Senate, but I will do my best. I wonder whether this is a tactic by Senator Walters to chew up my time with frivolous points of order.

I point out that 4,000 jobs have been lost in the forest industry in Tasmania since 1973, 1,300 of them in the sawmilling industry, 700 in the pulp and paper industry, 1,900 in the forestry and logging industry and 100 in woodchip mills themselves. These job losses have been due to structural and technological changes and a lot of them have resulted from the fact that the woodchip industry itself does not really hire people; it uses heavy machinery. Three hundred and fifty people work in the woodchip mills in Tasmania, whereas the pulp and paper mills use 3,200 people. The Forestry Commission has 700 people and saw mills and wood products have 2,300. These figures relate to 1983-84. Therefore, the woodchip industry itself does not employ a lot of people although woodchip exports accounted for 2.6m cubic metres in 1983-84, whereas sawmilling took 0.8m and pulp and paper mills 0.9m.

There has been an impact on jobs in Tasmania as a result of the woodchip industry and there has also been a major impact on such things as roads, the tourist industry and the workers who remain in the industry. The roads are constantly battered by the woodchip trucks. The unfortunate thing is that the woodchip truck drivers themselves are forced to work long hours, far longer than they care to, because of the demands of the woodchip mills. In the Hobart Mercury on 2 October 1985 there was this headline: `Truckie forced to drive 18 hours a day, court told'. The article says:

A Buckland log truck driver told the Hobart Magistrate's Court yesterday he was forced to spend at least 18 hours a day on the road to meet a quota imposed by a Triabunna woodchip mill.

He would lose money if he failed to meet the minimum quota of 15 truck loads every fortnight, he said.

Kelvin John Wiggins, 24, told the court he drove more than 1,000 kilometres on a good day, making two trips to haul logs from Strathgordon to Triabunna.

The workers are certainly not happy and the councils which have to pay for the roads are certainly not happy. There has been a threat to close the roads in Circular Head by the Circular Head Council. The tourist industry is also worried about the impact of woodchipping on the trees which the tourists come to see and also about the impact of the log trucks on the tourists' cars which is perhaps more violent. One of the facts that keep coming up is that the cost of woodchipping to the taxpayer exceeds the benefits to the taxpayer. In other words, the taxpayers themselves are subsidising the woodchip industry. This has been estimated variously at $20m a year by the University of Tasmania and more recently at $15m by the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the Australian National University. In a paper by Paul Parker it is pointed out that in 1984-85 the price of $45 per green tonne equalled only 75 per cent of the prices received in the early 1970s. In other words, we are getting less for our woodchips now than we were in the early 1970s. The paper continues:

After gaining a large share of the Japanese market with high prices in the early 1970s, Australia has continued to lower its prices. The Japanese woodchip trade was studied to determine whether or not trade injuries might arise which would enable other suppliers to complain of Australia adopting practices prohibited under GATT and subsequent agreements. Price undercutting and market displacement are the two features used to detemine a prohibited or `unequitable' market share. Australian prices undercut those of other suppliers in both the hardwood and total woodchip trade. In the early 1980s Australian prices per tonne of hardwood woodchips were ten dollars or more below those of American suppliers-

we are selling our woodchips at a price of $10 a tonne below our American competitors and that is not a very good deal in anybody's terms; even Senator Walters must admit that-

and approximately five dollars per tonne below those of other suppliers. Australia dominated the hardwood woodchip market with two thirds of the supply, but institutional factors are likely to prevent any further increase in the market share. In the total market Australia surpassed the United States as the largest suppliers in 1983 and steadily increased its market share. Both increased market share and price undercutting were demonstrated indicating that other supplies may have a legitimate basis to complain of Australian practice.

In fact we may be in violation of international agreements with our woodchip subsidies. The paper continues:

It was accepted by both industry proponents and critics that subsidies exist. An estimate of 10-15 million dollars annual subsidy was calculated for the early 1980s. This equals five dollars per tonne or ten per cent of the value of the woodchips.

Woodchipping is subsidised. It is a drain on the public purse. When we are talking about woodchipping there is another consideration besides money and jobs. That, of course, is the effect on the environment. A woodchipped area is not a pretty sight. The Forestry Commission claims that these areas are regenerated. I have flown over Tasmania on numerous occasions and I have taken members of the media and members of Parliament. I or any other pilot could show them numerous areas which have simply never been regenerated, where the erosion has been so severe that there are no trees at all, just scrub or perhaps some wattle. So the environmental damage is great. Other damage is to the animals in the area, which suffer greatly due to loss of habitat. Additionally, some 250,000 animals are killed in Tasmania every year because of woodchipping.

Let us see what the Australian Labor Party says about the significance of these Tasmanian areas we are trying to save. The ALP's environmental platform for 1984 states:

A Labor Government will-

* * * *

Recognise the national and international significance of Western Tasmania Management Area consisting of the existing National Estate areas of the South West and Central Highlands of Tasmania together with the boundary revisions recommended by the Tasmanian Panel of the Australian Heritage Commission.

* * * *

Assist the Tasmanian Government to research and implement economically viable alternatives to continued forestry operations in the Western Tasmania Management Area.

It has done neither of these things. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, Mr Barry Cohen, tried to stop logging in the National Estate areas, but the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, wants to allow logging in the National Estate areas. He wants to turn the decisions over to the Premier of Tasmania, Robin Gray, and his Forestry Commission. The Tasmanian Forestry Commission will have control of these areas. What about the Forestry Commission? In an article in the Australian Forest Industries Journal of February 1980 entitled `Forestry Protects Sawmillers in Tasmania', Mr Paul Unwin, the Forestry Commissioner, was asked by the editor:

So if you have a Minister or a Cabinet not deeply interested in forestry this could cause a lot of trouble for the industry?

Mr Unwin replied:

Exactly so, the Commission could be forced to accept the amendments. So, to overcome this problem we have introduced into the Bill a clause which says that the Minister cannot-quite categorically-cannot make an alteration to a Forest Management Plan unless he has received a certificate from the Forestry Commission stating that the proposed amendment will not in any way affect the rights of the forest industries. To achieve acceptance of an amendment the industry has to approve it in writing.

This is clear proof that the Tasmanian Forestry Commission works for the industry in Tasmania, not for the people. It works not for the Government but for the industry. This is what the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, is going to give the Tasmanian Forestry Commission, which works expressly for the industry.

I now turn my attention to rainforests-the unique forests in Queensland that are remnants of the once great forests of the world, which are rapidly dwindling. Time is running out for the world's rainforests. Even the mighty Amazon rainforests are being cut. The rainforests have unique flora and funa and unique tourist values. All these things will be destroyed by the logging which is going on precipitately. It is very necessary that the north Queensland tropical rain- forests be listed as World Heritage areas. A number of experts have looked at these areas and have come up with the opinion that, if this is not done this year, next year the virgin rainforests of Queensland will no longer exist; there will no longer be any areas of virgin rainforest. Yet this Federal Government is dragging its feet. This World Heritage listing has to be done by 31 December. The Federal Government either refuses or is afraid to tackle Joh Bjelke-Petersen on this issue. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment does not want to fight with him, as he does not want to fight with Robin Gray. But this listing is essential. The ALP's platform 1984 states:

Given Labor's recognition of the environmental significance of Australia's wet tropical rainforests, carry out the appropirate scientific research to evaluate the Greater Daintree Region's eligibility for World Heritage status.

The ALP's platform spells it out. People in Queensland-State ALP people at least-understand the difficulties. Last Saturday in Brisbane a Queensland State ALP member, Mr Pat Comben, who is the MLA for Windsor, said that the nomination for World Heritage listing is an electoral advantage, not a disadvantage. There is an astute Queensland politician. He accused Mr Cohen of producing a litany of inaction, passivity, default and neglect. This is an ALP person speaking. He sent a message to his ALP colleagues in Canberra which stated that their political survival would depend on the survival of the wet tropics. This is a closely parallel situation with Tasmania, where the ALP is trying to downplay any woodchip reforms. It wants woodchipping to continue unabated because it feels that it will be an electoral disadvantage if it takes a stand. I am here to tell members of the ALP that if they do not take a stand they will go down the drain in the next election because people are sick and tired of the ALP making grand promises in its platforms and then not adhering to them when it comes to election time. It is time that the ALP in Queensland, Tasmania and the Federal Parliament, bit the bullet. Not only its political survival is at stake-this will be a massive issue, like the Franklin issue-but the existence of some of the most unique areas on earth are also at stake. It is time for the politicians to stop playing games. It is time they earned their salaries and did something for the benefit of all Australians-living and to come. We must stop woodchipping and logging our priceless heritage.