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Wednesday, 10 May 1989
Page: 2182


Senator DUNN(3.08) —Today I use the only opportunity that I will be given during this term of parliament to raise a matter of public importance to raise a matter that I believe to be of great public importance to many thousands of Australians, not just those who live in the south-east forests. While I understand that matters of great import have been announced within the last couple of days, I believe that the question of the future use of this country's resources is in the long run a much more momentous decision than who sits in which deck chair on the Titanic as it sinks.

I am raising this matter today as I know that the Minister for Resources (Senator Cook) is on the verge of making a decision that will determine not only the fate of the forests in the Eden woodchip concession area of south-eastern New South Wales, but also will set the tone for the future use of the resources in this country. In particular, this will be a guage of the Government's commitment to sustainable forest industry, one in which jobs, as well as the environment, may be preserved in the long term for the future benefit of all Australians, and not just sectional interests in the population.

It is my belief that the Government, and in particular Senator Cook, needs to exercise imagination in the solution of what has been a very vexatious problem in the Eden region, one which has divided the community unnecessarily. This division could be held almost instantaneously by a wise decision by the Government which would and could satisfy the apparently conflicting demands in the local community. Nearly 500 people, including myself, have been prepared to be arrested over this issue. Threats have been made against individuals living in the area and some have taken out their frustrations on the wildlife. It was with great distress that I recently learned that five koalas had been shot in the Tantawangalo area some years ago. If the Government does not make the right decision, this divisiveness will continue and nobody will be satisfied. The forests could be lost; the wildlife would disappear; the jobs would decline with the diminishing resources; and the beautiful old-growth trees would be lost as a source of mental and spiritual rejuvenation.

It is my contention that in the face of the extraordinary obduracy by the New South Wales Government, particularly by the New South Wales Minister for Natural Resources, Ian Causley, in failing to provide the vital information that Senator Cook needs, the Federal Government must take a leading role in the resolution of the problem and exercise the powers it has under the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act and in the drafting of the conditions for the woodchip licence. Section 30 (1) of the Heritage Act reads:

Each Minister shall give all such directions and do all such things as, consistently with any relevant laws, can be given or done by him for ensuring that the Department administered by him or any authority of the Commonwealth in respect of which he has ministerial responsibilities does not take any action that adversely affects, as part of the National Estate, a place that is in the Register unless he is satisfied that there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the taking of that action and that all measures that can reasonably be taken to minimise the adverse effect will be taken and shall not himself take any such action unless he is so satisfied.

Yesterday I asked Senator Cook whether he had sought the information necessary to make a judgment on such feasible and prudent alternatives to logging in the National Estate. His reply suggested that he had sought the information but had not yet received it. He said:

Have I requested information from my Department on the Forestry Commission of NSW? Yes, I have. Am I aware of my statutory obligation to find prudent and feasible alternatives? Yes, I am. The reason why I have requested that information is to be properly informed to make a responsible judgment on prudent and feasible alternatives so that when I have my next meeting with the New South Wales Minister for Natural Resources, Ian Causley, I am able to have the informational base to assert the consideration of prudent and feasible alternatives that I will make.

I do not believe Senator Cook has yet met with Mr Causley, nor yet received the information he requires. He has been waiting months for this information from the New South Wales Forestry Commission and the Minister. That he has not yet received it can only mean that the Forestry Commission of New South Wales, perhaps because it has something to hide, is being uncooperative or that it is keeping poor records.

Much of the debate about the value of the south-east forests centres on their conservation value. I suppose Senator Cook and others know that I have been involved as an editor for a very long time in a long term series of studies conducted by Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service officer, Dan Lunney. Mr Lunney was directed by the New South Wales Cabinet in 1979 to research the effects of woodchipping on the wildlife of the region. He has produced some 20 papers in which he conclusively demonstrates the deleterious impact of woodchipping on the native fauna of the region. I will read into the record some of the conclusions of his many studies. In a paper entitled `Kangaroos, wallabies and rat kangaroos: their past, present and future in the woodchip agreement area of the Eden region, south-east New South Wales', Daniel Lunney states:

. . . there is a strong case to suggest that the current areas set aside, or designated to be set aside from woodchipping, are inadequate for the long-term survival of all macropodid and potoroid populations in the Woodchip Agreement Area, particularly away from the coast, and that a major revision of both land-use and land management options is warranted.

In another study Dan Lunney and Tanya Leary have produced, `The impact on native mammals of land use changes and exotic species in the Bega district, New South Wales, since settlement', published in the Australian Journal of Ecology last year, it is stated:

If the remaining forest habitats are cleared or intensively logged or managed without detailed knowledge of the resident wildlife, it can be concluded from historical records that further extinctions will be inevitable, particularly of those species that have now become uncommon or rare in the district and are known to be dependent upon the remaining mature forest habitat . . .

In this context, the current plan (Forestry Commission of NSW 1982) to log a substantial proportion of the State Forests for woodchips and sawlogs by the year 2010 will undoubtedly continue the deleterious impact of the European invasion.

In another study, `Roost selection by Gould's long-eared bat . . . in logged forest on the south coast of New South Wales', by Daniel Lunney and others, the conclusion is:

The second logging cycle, due before the turn of the century, will remove most of the remaining suitable roost trees before they have been replaced in the coupes logged in the first cycle. Therefore we conclude that the second logging cycle, under the current logging plan (Forestry Commission of NSW 1982), will have a major deleterious impact on the survival of N. gouldi unless gullies are redefined to include all drainage lines and that these remain unlogged. An additional strategy, to maintain a range of larger tree sizes, is to extend to more than a century the time over which the second logging cycle takes place.

In the Jurasius hearing in March of last year, Mr Justice Hemmings concluded:

I am satisfied that as a consequence of the nature of the activity-

that is, woodchipping-

it is likely that many species of fauna will be adversely affected by the current logging operations and this effect is likely to be compounded by fire. I am also satisfied that if the current logging operations continue for a long term it is likely that arboreal populations could significantly change, particularly if regrowth forests fail to provide adequate habitats for birds and mammals.

Whilst it is apparent that tree dwelling birds and mammals are not evenly distributed in the region, I am satisfied that existing management procedures and prescriptions do not guarantee the maintenance of composition and description.

There are other papers, but I am running out of time. These other papers suggest that the present system of parks and reserves is inadequate for conserving the full range of ecosystems in the region. An earlier paper I quoted from supported exactly that point.

The National Estate areas have been recognised as being of particular value. I know that Dr Harry Recher, who was a co-author with me on an ecology book published some 10 years ago and which won a prize from the Royal Australian Zoological Society, has worked closely with the Forestry Commission. In a 1987 study, he recommended certain new prescriptions for dealing with wildlife management in the region. One of his findings was that large, specially selected patches of unlogged mature forest should be left in the compartments of the logging areas now and until the regeneration on adjacent logged areas is mature in 100 to 150 years from now. Dr Recher is very critical of the Forestry Commission and says that it has refused to take up those recommendations. Last month, he said:

I've attempted to cooperate with the Forestry Commission and Harris Daishowa to develop wildlife management policies in the context of a continuing woodchip industry, but they no longer appear willing to implement such policies . . .

In view of this, the only way the conservation of wildlife can now be assured in the region is by the creation of new national parks immediately.

It is excellent that the Government has recognised the value of the National Estate areas and has put Tantawangalo and Coolangubra on the list. We know that under section 6 (c) of Coolangubra's export licence condition Daishowa is not supposed to take pulpwood for export from these areas, yet the District Forester, Tony Howe, admitted on local radio that the company was extracting pulpwood from Coolangubra. In a remarkable display of casuistry-a word that I find myself having to use more frequently than I care to in this place-Senator Cook denied that the wood had been extracted for export. He said it had been quarantined, whereas I maintained it had been stockpiled. He wrote to Rick Humphries of the Australian Conservation Foundation as follows:

. . . this material from Coolangubra is quarantined and may not be ever approved for export.

Whatever word is used, the effect is exactly the same. Daishowa had cut the wood from a National Estate area and was leaving it on the ground in the hope of getting permission to export it. If that permission could not be obtained, the wood was going to be burned or left to rot away and be good for nothing. At least two lawyers disagreed with Senator Cook in relation to this matter. Mr A. Robertson, of Wentworth Chambers, last month wrote:

. . . it is no answer to say that no approval has yet been given for export of pulp wood already extracted. It does not appear that a further approval is necessary. Any approval must be given beforehand to avoid a failure to comply with the condition or restriction.

At the end Mr Robertson says:

In summary, in my opinion, on the basis of my instructions the company may not have complied with the condition or restriction to which it was subject by virtue of regulation 9 and clause 6 (c) of the schedule. My reason for this conclusion is that the condition or restriction is directed to the operation of extracting pulp wood for export as woodchips and the Department did not, before that extraction took place, notify the company in writing that the proposed operations were acceptable to it.

There is another decision supporting that of Mr Robertson, by Nicholas Seddon from the Faculty of Law at the Australian National University. I ask Senator Cook whether this means that Daishowa could cut out the entire forests of the National Estate areas and leave the timber on the ground in expectation of permission to export, and whether he could or would do nothing about it. That is the logical extension of his argument. If that is the case, section 6 (c) is nothing but a paper tiger.


Senator Brownhill —A paper tiger made out of timber.


Senator DUNN —Good point. Senator Cook is very proud of section 6 (c), which, he says, he inserted in the export licence to give him a belt-and-braces control over cutting in the National Estate areas. Well, I am afraid that the belt and braces are slack and the senator's pants are in danger of falling down.

Daishowa has committed other breaches of its licence conditions. It is clear that wood suitable for saw logs is being taken to the chip mill for pulp wood-I saw this for myself when I was there-and there have been serious-and, I believe, credible-allegations that the company is taking wood from unauthorised areas. Yesterday, when I asked Senator Cook about these matters, he avoided answering me directly, so I ask him again today: is he prepared to request records of tonnages going over the weighbridge into the chip mill?

The third matter that I want to address is a question on which timber workers and conservationists are in 100 per cent agreement-that is, the necessity of establishing a sustainable resource that is managed both for its conservation values and for long-term employment. But let us put this in an economic context and look at the contribution that Harris-Daishowa (Australia) Pty Ltd-or should I just say Daishowa?-has made to Australia since it started in the early 1970s. Firstly, it is a wholly Japanese owned company. The Federal and State governments at the time allowed this on condition that Australian equity would be sought in the future. That did not happen, so our largest woodchip export scheme, and one of our most significant forest industries, remains 100 per cent foreign-owned.

Secondly, in the first eight years of operation the company declared its profits and paid no tax, but at the same time its parent company rose to third position among Japan's huge paper manufacturers and made after-tax profits of $26m in that same period. This meant that the Australian subsidiary was selling its woodchips to the parent company-that is, to itself-for the costs of production. As a result, Australia missed out on taxes for those earnings, and Daishowa still has little incentive to increase its prices and, hence, pay additional taxes to Australia when it is selling chips to itself.

Thirdly, Australia receives the lowest price per tonne for its woodchips of all the major exporters to Japan, despite the fact that our chips are of the highest quality and are the most uniform. Why the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Mr Kerin, does not set better prices is a mystery. Some cynics say that our forests are thrown in to support continuing coal exports from New South Wales. Senators may not know that Daishowa has also received considerable funding from State and Federal governments over the years. It received at least $600,000 in export expansion grants from the Fraser Government. A reduction of $400,000 was made by the New South Wales Government in the company's royalty payment to help it to build a road to the mill, and the company also received a $125,000 grant from the New South Wales Government to help in the housing of company employees.

Overall, the royalties paid by Daishowa have been low. Last year they amounted to about $12m, with about $60m in annual export revenue-a drop in the bucket compared to a wood product trade deficit of about $1.5 billion. This is a very small amount when we consider that we have given over nearly 300,000 hectares of State forest to the industry. Our woodchips are then manufactured in Japan and sold back to us at vastly inflated prices. The industry now directly employs about 136 people, with 1,500 dependants, but it is the least labour-intensive of the forest industries. As woodchipping replaces sawmilling, the employment opportunities diminish. Employment in Australian forest industries fell by 25 per cent, or 26,000 jobs, between 1970 and 1985 and can be expected to continue falling.

Nobody likes to see our old native-growth forests being sold off for a song, and everybody would like to see the development of a sustainable industry-even Senator Cook, who said last year;

. . . woodchipping is the lowest value, lowest effort way to export forest products. Relying on exports of woodchips sells short the resources on which our children depend.

At a recent rally in Canberra, Senator McMullan said:

I believe it is important that this country move to a situation where we are able to sustain a level of forestry operations which does not further denude our remaining native forests.

Logging operations in Australia should not be carried out in our priceless natural forests. Forestry operations should move to plantations on previously cleared land.

Clearly, people in the Federal Government oppose the current operations at Eden.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and other conservation groups have put forward detailed proposals for the development of labour-intensive hardwood plantations across the country. The ACF publication The Wood and the Trees argues for the establishment of between 250,000 and 405,000 hectares of eucalypt plantations over the next 15 to 30 years, to be introduced at the rate of about 10,000 hectares per year. It is clear that what is required is a rapid transition of the industry to a plantation-based industry, improved resource utilisation, and a greater commitment to value-added processing of extracted timber, yet in the 20 years since the establishment of Daishowa no feasibility studies have been carried out. These are essential in evaluating the full range of policy options pertaining to the conservation of the region's native forests and the development of an ecologically sustainable and economically viable forest industry.

I urge Senator Cook to give the matters that I have raised the most serious consideration before he makes his final decision. I urge him to give the same consideration to Senator Richardson's recommendations. Two hundred thousand people have put their names on a petition; 9,000 have written to Bob Hawke; 500 have been arrested. Clearly this is a major election issue. I should like to see a wise decision on the part of the Federal Government and on the part of Senator Cook. I remind him that former Premier Neville Wran regarded the conservation of the New South Wales rainforests as one of his Government's greatest achievements. Let us hope that one of the Federal Government's greatest achievements will be the conservation and the sound economic and sustainable management of the south-east forests of New South Wales.