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Tuesday, 23 May 1989
Page: 2435


Senator CHILDS —I direct my question, which follows the comments made by Senator Richardson, to the Minister for Resources. Has the Minister presented the New South Wales Government with the Commonwealth proposal to resolve the conflict over logging in the forest areas of south-east New South Wales? What does the proposal entail? Has he received an official, considered reaction to the proposal from the New South Wales Government? Can he respond to the comments on the proposal by the Australian Heritage Commission?


Senator COOK —As Senator Richardson has just said, on Thursday, 18 May, I presented the New South Wales Government-in the person of Ian Causley, its Minister for Natural Resources-with a proposal that we, the Commonwealth Government, had spent some time working out. It is a proposal that would settle the issues of the south-east forests of New South Wales and would enable me to proceed to issue a woodchip export licence protecting areas of the National Estate that I have been advised by the Heritage Commission and by Senator Richardson require protection. The day before the proposal was presented, my Department met with the New South Wales Forestry Commission to explain its detail, so the technical matters of cutting cycles, location of compartments, and so on, were understood by the New South Wales Government when I met it. The New South Wales Minister rejected the proposal out of hand. I have asked him for a written reply to what was a very full proposal, and I understand that he proposes to provide one. At this stage we have an oral no, but we are awaiting a detailed response. I trust that it will be a response considered by the full New South Wales Government, and not one acted upon peremptorily by one of its Ministers.

The proposal that I presented was based on the criterion that, since the logging in the south-east forest is a sawmill-driven enterprise, the sawmill industry should be protected-enabling the quota requirements for the woodchip mill, as well as the environmental objectives set out, to be met. In preparing the proposal, I was constrained by the limitations placed on me by the Jurasius case decision in the New South Wales Land and Environment Court, which requires an environmental impact statement before areas can be opened for cutting, and by the National Estate recommendations for areas to be protected, requiring me to discover prudent and feasible alternatives if I could, or, if I could not, to limit the amount of cutting in the National Estate.

Senator Richardson has said accurately that my proposal would involve cutting about 9 per cent of the National Estate. The decision was not made lightly; it was made after exhaustive consideration, and I will shortly table details of how I arrived at it. I found no prudent and feasible alternative, given not only the consideration of the National Estate but also the fact that upwards of 700 families are dependent on the industry and that in that region of New South Wales there is an unemployment rate of twice the State average. I had to consider the industry. The plan that I proposed was worked out on the basis of figures supplied by the New South Wales Forestry Commission.

The second part of the proposal was that, over the next 12 months, we conduct a biological study of the National Estate and the national parks in the area. That biological study would be headed by a team that we believe is balanced, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service of New South Wales and the New South Wales Forestry Commission would act as a referee panel.

There have been a number of criticisms of the package. The first one, voiced by Causley, was that there were not sufficient resources. The argument there is specious, to say the least. Our proposals were based on his figures. We said that if we were wrong we could make an adjustment, and that we were prepared to enter into joint monitoring with the New South Wales Government to test the validity of our figures. We asked Mr Causley whether he could give us an idea of the magnitude of our error, but he could not do so. In addition, he rejected the two proposals that would enable the accuracy of our proposal to be proven.

His second criticism was that the study of biological properties should be reduced to six months. The original recommendation was that it would take two years. The proposal has reduced that by half-to one year. The scientific efficacy of such a study would be damaged if it were reduced to six months. That is just not feasible. The third criticism is that this is an intrusion into New South Wales rights. It is not; it is a simple exercise by the Commonwealth Government concerning our woodchip export licence. The proposal that I have put forward is rational and reasonable. In some of its key elements it is certainly a compromise, but it would work, and it would settle the issue.

I table for the information of the Senate an analysis of wood resource issues in the context of section 30-obligations-of the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975. The analysis was conducted by my Department for my consideration of prudent and feasible alternatives. I table also the comments made on that analysis by the Australian Heritage Commission-comments which, on balance, I have accepted in part. As I have indicated in my remarks, I have been unable to accept other parts. Consistent with my policy of putting these primary documents on the public record, I now table them. In conclusion, I must say that I agree with what Senator Richardson said in concluding his remarks. I would now like to hear whether Senator Puplick does or does not support Ian Causley's refusal to reach a practical, realistic, rational and logical agreement which would settle this issue. This Parliament sits and waits to hear from Senator Puplick on that very matter.