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Wednesday, 10 May 1989
Page: 2190


Senator PUPLICK(3.48) —When this debate commenced I thought I would be spending most of my time simply making reference to one or two of the specific details of Senator Dunn's motion such as those related to the question of the powers of the Commonwealth and its responsibilities under the Heritage Act. However, I find myself compelled instead to answer a number of points raised by Senator Cook in his presentation.

Firstly, Senator Cook raises the issue of what the Commonwealth's real powers are. He says in part that the Commonwealth cannot take responsibility for the way forests are managed. That is true in only the most narrow and limited sense. Certainly the Commonwealth does not have direct power or responsibility as the manager of the forests in New South Wales. However, at the end of the day, it is the Commonwealth's decision as to whether there can be export of woodchips or pulp-and, indeed, what terms and conditions should be imposed upon any such export licences. Senator Cook and the Commonwealth Government cannot get themselves away from the clear responsibility that they have to be satisfied that resources are managed in a way which they find sufficiently satisfactory to allow an export licence to be granted. The Fraser Government had no difficulty in addressing its mind to this matter over the question of sand mining on Fraser Island. It would have been just as easy for the Fraser Government to say, `Sandmining in Queensland is no responsibility of ours and therefore we do not accept any degree of responsibility.' We made it clear that an export licence on that occasion would not be granted and as a result of the clear exercise of Commonwealth power, environmental protection was extended over activities taking place within State jurisdiction, and there is nothing wrong with that and there is no reason for the Commonwealth to shirk that responsibility.

The second point that Senator Cook made to the environment movement is, `Don't come complaining to me. What you should have done was organise support for Barrie Unsworth'. What a pathetic argument that is. `If you wanted to come around and have any credibility with me,' says Senator Cook, `what you should have done was put the runs on the board for poor old Barrie'. Frankly, it is not a good enough argument for him to come along today and say, `If only you had done the right thing by poor old Barrie I might have been prepared to listen to you a little more sympathetically. Go away. That is my fundamental criticism'-his words-`of the environmental movement'. It is not that they are wrong on the facts, not that they are wrong in what they are asking him to do, but they did not back his Party at the last New South Wales State election. That seems to me to be just about the most pathetic argument I have heard even Senator Cook use in this chamber.

Then he says, `Poor me. It is a fair cop for me,'-as if he were some refugee from Division 4 or Homicide-`to have taken an undue amount of time to think about this matter'. I understand that the Minister's time is precious and that he does not want to waste it, but is it not terrible that he actually has to think about these issues for an undue amount of time? What a terrible situation. Then he comes along and says, `We have a $1.6 billion deficit. Why don't we do something about it? We have to address our minds to that question'. Yet the people who want to develop something in terms of downstream processing of pulp mills in this country cannot get from the Government a clear set of guidelines so that they know upon what basis they can make their investments in order to secure some value added in the timber industry. Finally he says, `I am not going to let my mates the timber workers take the responsibility on their shoulders for bearing the burden of structural adjustment'. He should go up to Ravenshoe and peddle that line if he is going to say, in terms of Queensland, that he or the Government will take certain action and that the timber workers of north Queensland are to bear the burden. Remember Senator Burns's earlier comments about forestry industry workers in Queensland who did nothing but enjoy cutting down trees and had never done anything about replanting them.


Senator Burns —That's right.


Senator PUPLICK —That is right. Again he says that that is right-people in the timber industry in Queensland have never taken any responsibility to replant trees. Here is poor old Senator Cook saying, `I am in there for the timber workers', and Senator Burns is talking about the rotten timber workers in Queensland. Frankly, the Government ought to get its act together. Finally Senator Cook comes along and says, `All of our problems are going to be based upon taking as a fundamental starting point the national conservation strategy for Australia'. I welcome that endorsement of a Fraser Government initiative.

I turn specifically to the wording of Senator Dunn's motion. I shall make two comments about the precise wording:

The need for the government to reassess its powers . . .

I do not think that the Government needs to reassess its powers. Its powers are clear; its powers are definite; its powers have been exercised in the past. It is not a matter of reassessing its powers; it is a matter of making decisions and exercising the powers which exist. The second thing she says in her motion is:

. . . the need for the government to exercise its responsibilities to protect the Australian environment under the Heritage Act . . .

Section 30 of the Heritage Act in fact imposes conditions upon the Commonwealth and Commonwealth authorities in a particular regard and I do not believe that in fact it is simply the narrow comforts of the heritage Act which need to be focused on in this debate.

I want to say a couple of things about the specifics of the Eden woodchip licence decision and about the policies to which my party and the National Party have pledged themselves in terms of forest policy in Australia. On 9 January I issued a press statement headed `Eden woodchip licence' in which I said:

The decision over the grant of an export woodchip licence to the Japanese firm Daishowa has been marked by yet further displays of incompetence and factional power-brawling between elements of the Federal Labor Government.

Several elements of the decision made by Senator Cook must be called into question.

In the first place, I am not persuaded that all the figures related to the new quota add up. The increase in the quota of some 300,000 tonnes needs very careful evaluation. This figure is in excess of the resource guarantees given by the State of New South Wales for material to be taken from State forests. It is to be made up from resources taken from private forests, from recovery of waste and from logging activities in Victoria. Such an increase in the quota needs far better justification than has so far been provided.

Secondly I find it incredible that the comments of the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service have not been taken properly into account. Their 39 page study entitled ``An assessment of the Adequacy of Parks and Reserves in the Eden Woodchip Agreement Areas'' was published in June 1987-it has been around for 18 months. The Summary section of the Report itself should have alerted the Federal Labor Government to the problems of inadequate representation of endangered species of flora and fauna in national parks or reserves within the concession area and the need for remedial action in this regard.

They are the comments that I made in January. They are comments by which I stand, and they are comments which I do not believe the Government has, in any sense, answered in the period since then.

I turn next to the specifics of some of Senator Dunn's remarks. I do not believe that there is anything surprising in some of the comments made in the research reports of Dr Lunney and others. Of course any sort of activity of this magnitude undertaken in a forest area impacts on wildlife. However, I think that Senator Dunn betrays some element of her own ideological approach to this when she refers to this as one of the consequences of, and I use her words, the European invasion. That is a particular view about this matter which I do not share. The term `European invasion' is a prejudiced and ideologically-based term which does not really advance the debate very far.

I am not persuaded of the extent to which she has provided evidence about so-called breaches. I do not believe that the woodchip company itself has been entirely proper and forthcoming with the authorities in terms of what it is doing, but I do not believe that the honourable senator has established all of the evidence about alleged breaches. Those of us who are familiar with the film Without Prejudice would know that occasionally making charges without supporting evidence is certainly a good way to get a headline.

In terms of overall management I quote from some of the commitments made by the coalition parties in the section of our environment policy headed `Forest Policies.' In part our policy reads:

The co-ordination of policies can best be achieved drawing on the work and expertise of the Australia Forestry Council and by making effective use of Memoranda of Understanding with individual States. There is great expertise in the various State Forestry Commissions and various formal Codes of Practice are in operation. The Commonwealth also has clear responsibilities related to matters such as the granting of export licences.

We go on to say that we `recognise the primary responsibility of the States in forest policy matters while in no way resiling from the proper discharge of national responsibilities'. We believe in `greater protection in national parks of a wider spectrum of the genetic diversity of our native forests'. We support the `development of plantations, especially of hardwoods, in order to lessen, over time, the pressure of the timber industry on Australian native forests.'

We believe that there ought to be more steps to encourage the adoption of the most scientific and appropriate practices of modern forestry management. We stress the importance of reafforestation programs as major contributions to maintaining the long term future of both our forests and our forest-based industries. Finally, where access is to be granted to resources on public lands we believe that security of tenure should be provided for those who are to have that access granted to them. I seek leave to incorporate that section of my Party's environmental policy in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

Forest Policies

Australia's native forests are a unique and scarce resource. Australia has a responsibility to protect and manage its forests, especially its rainforests in the face of wholesale destruction of the forests in under-developed or lesser-developed countries. At the same time the timber industry is a major resource and manufacturing industry in Australia and one which should be encouraged to expand. Australia has both the expertise and the experience to manage its forests effectively to integrate policies of conservation and resource utilization. The co-ordination of policies can best be achieved drawing on the work and expertise of the Australia Forestry Council and by making effective use of Memoranda of Understanding with individual States. There is great expertise in the various State Forestry Commissions and various formal Codes of Practice are in operation. The Commonwealth also has clear responsibilities related to matters such as the granting of export licences. Policies will be put in place by the Liberal and National Parties which

recognise the primary responsibility of the States in forest policy matters while in no way resiling from the proper discharge of national responsibilities

encourage greater protection in national parks of a wider spectrum of the genetic diversity of our native forests

promote the development of plantations, especially of hardwoods, in order to lessen, over time, the pressure of the timber industry on Australian native forests

encourage the expansion of private forest operations where appropriate including the expansion of their export opportunities

promote a greater value-added component within the forestry and timber industries

encourage the adoption of the most scientific and appropriate practices of modern forestry management

adopt a National Rainforest Strategy along the lines proposed by the 1985 Report of the Joint Commonwealth-State Working Party on Rainforest Conservation

stress the importance of reafforestation programmes as a major contribution to maintaining the long-term future of both our forests and our forest-based industries

where access is granted to forestry resources on public lands, those granted access should be provided with long-term security of tenure for their operations.


Senator PUPLICK —I am aware of the alternatives that are being presented but time does not permit me to go into them in detail. The paper entitled Forest Policy and Practice: A Consideration of Forest Strategies for Sawlog-woodchip Programs by Dr R. G. Florence of the Department of Forestry at the Australian National University, in regard to one option put forward, said this:

This option recognises the importance of Coolangubra and Tantawangalo State Forests in terms of their conservation values and in terms of the contribution they can make to regional industries and employment.

Dr Florence goes on to argue a case for extending rather than reducing the resource base made available for exploitation in the Eden area. On the other hand, in the paper entitled, Proposal for a Preliminary Feasibility Study of a Program of Hardwood Plantations and Agroforestry in the South East of New South Wales, prepared on behalf of the South East Forest Alliance by Walker and Peisley, an alternative set of proposals is put forward. We are awash with sets of alternative proposals. It is clear that what is needed is some evaluation and some positive decision one way or the other by the Commonwealth Government based upon the undoubted power that the Commonwealth has to approve or disapprove of export licences. Primary responsibility obviously lies, and should lie, with Mr Causley and with the State Cabinet in New South Wales. But that does not mean that there is not an ultimate responsibility on the shoulders of the Commonwealth Minister responsible for granting an export licence to satisfy himself and his Government that they have agreed to a proposal which is environmentally sound, economically feasible and protects the jobs of people who are entitled to have their jobs adequately protected by governments at a Commonwealth and State level.

Senator Dunn's motion would have provoked a great deal of debate had we had more time to go into some of the specifics of the motion before us. Nevertheless, I am glad to have had the opportunity to participate in this debate and to indicate once again the sorts of arguments put forward by Senator Cook on this issue and their manifest inadequacy.