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Thursday, 11 May 1989
Page: 2248


Senator PUPLICK(10.31) —The issues which this motion has raised are indeed important issues. I can assure Senator Sanders that the Opposition takes this matter seriously. For that reason I wish to indicate that we will be seeking to adjourn this debate for further consideration. At the conclusion of my speech Senator Reid will be moving that this matter be adjourned and that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for the first day of sitting in August. The purpose of our doing that is that the Government, as Senator Sanders has indicated, has now responded to some of the concerns about the impact of paper pulp mills in Australia by commissioning a team of experts from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to travel to Scandinavia and, I believe, subsequently to Canada to undertake certain investigations on two matters. They will cover some of the technical standards dealing with paper pulp mills in terms of their environmental impact and also the team will examine the processes which are put in place for the development and approval of such proposals. Presumably they will be focusing, for example, on the operations of the Swedish Franchising Board arrangements where a series of well-established processes now provide for the analysis, public examination and environmental consideration of proposals. They provide a certainty, not of outcome but of process.

The Opposition has been critical of the uncertainty of process which has been involved in the series of decisions made about these issues, culminating in the decision which this Government announced not to approve the development of the Wesley Vale facility. There are significant issues, including the question of dioxin emission, the emissions other than dioxin from kraft mill operations and processes and the problems which are associated with unbleached pulp production in terms of both the alternatives to the way in which we currently produce paper and paper products and the availability of resources to establish new mills. It is certainly also true that on both sides of the argument there is a commitment to try to do something about producing a greater value added component in our forestry industry and forest products industry. The consequences of the $1.6 billion annual deficit in forest products are something taken seriously by everybody in terms of both their economic impact and the necessary integration of these with proper environmental standards and requirements. Therefore I do not want to go into the specific details of the issues which such an inquiry could address other than to repeat that the matters which Senator Sanders and others have raised are taken very seriously by the Opposition.

We indicated at an early stage our general support for the examination of these matters. We indicated, in a press statement which I issued on 21 March, our general support for an inquiry into establishing the facts of these matters. On 6 April, together with Mr Howard, I put out a statement which indicated that we wanted to examine this matter in the light of the Government's response to calls that had been widely made for the publication of development guidelines, both in terms of technical standards and in terms of processes for evaluating pulp mill proposals. We said we would be interested to see that information no later than 2 May. On 2 May Senator Button, Mr Kerin and Senator Richardson issued a joint statement in which they announced the establishment and dispatch of the CSIRO mission to which I have referred. That press statement said:

A report on technical issues will be provided as soon as possible and not later than June 30.

We believe it is necessary to see that report before this matter is finally determined by the Senate.

Senator Sanders has indicated the importance of sending this mission overseas. He described it as `fine'; I think that was his word. We believe that the information which will be gained by that inquiry needs to be part of the public record and debate. If that leads to adequate satisfaction of the technical issues which have been raised, and if it leads to the adequate establishment of guidelines in terms of processes, which is the other part of the equation with which the Opposition is particularly concerned, then we will be able to determine whether or not a further inquiry is necessary. We are not in a position to make that determination at this stage, and it is for that reason-in order to have the CSIRO report available to us-that we are seeking to have this matter put off until the first sitting day after 30 June, which happens to be the first sitting day of the Budget session.


Senator Robert Ray —You are hopeful!


Senator PUPLICK —I acknowledge the Minister's interjection, and take no comfort from it whatsoever. Let us assume that commonsense prevails-which is not always a valid assumption in this place-and the first sitting day after 30 June is, in fact, the first sitting day in the August Budget session. It is for those reasons that my colleague, Senator Reid, will now move to adjourn the debate to that date, and I understand that we will have the support of the Government in that endeavour.

Motion (by Senator Reid) proposed:

That the debate be now adjourned.