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Wednesday, 10 May 1989
Page: 2193

Senator SANDERS(4.03) —I, too, applaud Senator Dunn for bringing up this subject. I note that this is her one chance of bringing up a matter of public importance during her entire term. We really should take a look at this sort of thing in this chamber. Time after time we rehash boring issues about the economy, but the environment very rarely gets the attention it needs. We heard Senator Cook go on and on. I think it was probably valuable that he did so because he defined his position. He is, after all, the Minister for Resources. He looks at things in those terms. He is not an environmentalist. He does not give the environment first consideration. He gives the use of the resource his attention.

As Senator Puplick pointed out, Senator Cook was very scathing of the fact that the environmental movement did not support Barrie Unsworth at the last New South Wales election. Many have interpreted that election as demonstrating a lack of impact by the environmental movement. But that Government was doomed. It was past its time. Nothing could have saved it. Environmental supporters are rational people who will not vote for a completely corrupt government like the Unsworth Government and disregard that corruption to save some forests. The environmentalists are honourable people, they cannot separate one issue from another. That probably points up our whole argument. When one deals with the environment one deals with all the issues at once.

Senator Dunn —Don't forget the monorail.

Senator SANDERS —I am sure that there are a lot of other things, such as the monorail and the City Council difficulties. I will move on to what Senator Cook said about the power of the Government to act. Senator Puplick touched on one of these powers but he ignored another. In the Constitution under Part V, Powers of the Parliament, section 51 states:

The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to . . .

and a number of things follow. Placitum (xx) states:

Foreign corporations, and trading or financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth:

It is clear that under the Constitution Senator Cook and his Government have all the necessary power to impose their will upon the Japanese company Daishowa over the woodchip issue. They do not do so because they are afraid. It is not that they do not have the power. The fact is that the Government is afraid to use that power.

Senator Cook made an incredible statement. He said that of course the Government was concerned about heritage areas and the National Estate and that it would make sure that those areas would be cut in such a way as to preserve the environment. I can take a lot of political rhetoric and hyperbole but I simply cannot understand how the Minister for Resources can say that clear felling of trees for woodchips is done with his agreement in such a way as to preserve the environment. Perhaps he should examine Hansard and reflect upon his ways at a later time.

Senator Dunn —He will.

Senator SANDERS —I am sure that he will. The subject comes up of the important contribution of the woodchip industry to our balance of payments. We have a $1.6 billion deficit because of the wood imported into the country. Harris-Daishowa (Australia) Pty Ltd generates less than $60m a year in the input of funds to our Treasury. Yet we spend $1.6 billion on importing wood into this country. It makes good sense if we are importing all this wood and it is costing so much money to consider what we are importing and how we could replace some of the imports with home grown products-in this case, timber. We are taking our best wood, our longest and best logs, turning them into two-inch woodchips and shipping them to Japan. We cannot buy locally grown timber any more because of the distortions of the timber industry by the woodchip companies.

The other day I tried in vain to buy a piece of eucalyptus hardwood, a four-by-one, four feet long. I went to a number of hardware stores and timber outfits and found that I could not buy native hardwood any more. When I asked why, I was told that it was because of the woodchippers. The wood is gone. I could buy softwoods, pines, and rainforest timbers, but I could not buy native Australian timbers because the wood is being woodchipped.

If Senator Cook were really serious about the $1.6 billion deficit he would stop the woodchip industry in this country now. There would be no more exports of woodchips if he were fair dinkum. But he is not fair dinkum at all. He wants to make sure that his friends in the timber industry maintain their record profit levels for as long as possible. Senator Cook has no idea of sustainability. It became obvious that he did not when he said that his forest accord would lead to the continued, orderly growth of industry. The only thing that can keep growing forever is a cancer-and it does not grow forever; it eventually kills its host. As I said, the only thing that grows constantly is a cancer.

Senator Cook is completely out of touch with reality when he says that his forest accord is alive and well and will provide a basis for conflict resolution in this country. His forest accord is as dead as a dodo because the only people who agree with it are the industry representatives and the forestry commissions they control. Let us face it, the forestry commissions in this country are working on behalf of the industry. The forestry commissions themselves make no bones about it. They feel their job is to promote the forest industry. As such, they do not really have an impartial role; they are industry supporters. Of course, they would support the accord but the environmental movement has baled out completely. The environmentalists simply do not believe that an accord is possible given the present situation which is biased so much in favour of the woodchippers and the forestry industry.

Senator Puplick said, `If the Government were really interested in the downstream processing it would not have killed off the Wesley Vale pulp mill'. The Government did not kill Wesley Vale; it simply did not understand the pressures Noranda was under. The Government merely put up environmental guidelines on Wesley Vale which were technologically feasible and environmentally desirable. They were not even very strong. But Noranda could not live with any environmental controls whatsoever, and had already kicked the props out from under any controls in Tasmania. They made Mr Gray do his famous flip-flop, and removed all the controls from the Tasmanian Government. Noranda could not tolerate any controls because it is in so much trouble around the world, especially in Canada. We saw Senator Puplick's true colours when he scathed the Government for not allowing this terribly environmentally polluting pulp mill to go ahead. He still has a long way to go and a lot to learn before he can be a credible spokesperson for the environment.

What about woodchipping itself? Woodchipping started as a way of utilising waste timber. That is the way in which it was foisted on this country. Back in the days when it started, in the last decade, native forests were considered to be trash trees. Softwoods were the trees which were the flavour of the month, the year or the decade. Our native forests were considered to be something to be got out of the way. There were really no controls over logging.

Our State governments scrambled over each other to give away as much forest as possible. The results of this can be seen especially in Tasmania where vast tracts are still laid waste. The attitude of the time was, `We will take the waste of the sawlog industry and maybe we can go even further than that and use the woodchip industry in order to clear-fell forests so we can plant viable species-we can plant softwoods'. The attitude was, and still is, that a mature forest is an unproductive forest. Our foresters tell us this. `We have to get rid of those terrible, unproductive mature forests because if we don't, they will die'. They actually say this, ignoring the fact that the forests exist now. They have not been clear-felled before. Why should they die off now simply because they are not clear-felled? That is the logic of the time which can justify anything by means of twisting words.

The woodchip industry did take the sawlog waste for a while but then it became obvious that the woodchip industry needed better and better logs. As a result, it gets its logs. If one goes through the stack at Daishowa, or at any woodchip mill, one will find many sawlogs. The mills will deny it, and say it could not possibly be so, and the forestry commissions will deny it, but the fact is the sawlogs are there. Then one goes around to the small saw mills. Senator Cook says he is really concerned about the jobs of the people out in the bush. Has he ever talked to a small miller? I doubt it very much because they are getting very hard to find for one thing. The reason they are getting hard to find is that they do not have any logs any more. The sawmill at Bega closed. The sawmill at Nimmitabel has just closed. If the Government is really interested in supporting jobs in the community, these are the businesses which employ people where they live, and have lived for generations. These mills are now closed because they cannot get the logs. If one goes to the coast, drives by mills which are still operating and looks at the logs they are milling, one will see they have hollow centres, patches of rot-they are milling trash. If one sees Daishowa log stacks, one sees beautiful timber. If Senator Cook was really fair dinkum about jobs and the wise use of this resource, the first thing he would do is go through that stack at Daishowa and make sure the small millers get decent logs, but of course he is not going to do that.

The environmental movement is often accused of not paying attention to economics and jobs and the supply of products at the end of the stream. We are interested in downstream processing. We are interested in making the best and wisest use of the timber. If the environmentalists had their way the forestry commission would go into every coupe that was scheduled for cutting-first of all, the National Estate would be taboo for cutting-and the wood that was to be cut would be examined in terms of the productability of the timber. If productable, the commission should go in and select the highest possible uses for the logs-furniture timber, then sawlogs, then woodchip timber. It is never done in this way, of course. Areas are clear-felled, and much of the best timber is burned and left behind.

I will conclude my remarks here. I know there is one other speaker who would like to speak on the subject. I am rushing and I will not be able to say all I would like to say. I would like to say we have got to get it right now. If we do not get our environment use and timber use right now we will never have a second chance.

Senator Burns —I would like to make a couple--

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Giles) —Senator Burns, I understood the agreement was to have four speakers only.

Senator Knowles —That's right.

Senator Burns —I do not want to join the debate. I just want to put a couple of facts straight.