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Wednesday, 24 May 1989
Page: 2576

Senator DUNN —My question is addressed to the Minister for Resources. Does the Minister agree that the 1986 draft and final environmental impact statements by Harris-Daishowa and the supplementary document by the New South Wales Forestry Commission admitted to inadequate surveys of flora and fauna of the area? If so, is the Minister prepared to issue a renewal of the licence without adequate surveys being conducted? What period does the Minister now consider necessary for the conduct of adequate surveys and on whose advice? Further, how does the Minister explain his proposal to allow logging to proceed in parts of the National Estate described by the Australian Heritage Commission as having `very high conservation value' and `very high sensitivity' where logging would proceed contrary to the advice of the Australian Government Solicitor to the Department of Primary Industries and Energy? Lastly, can the Minister explain why another environmental impact statement (EIS) is currently being done by the New South Wales Forestry Commission for the Eden woodchip management area when one was completed last year? Could the new areas covered by the new EIS relieve the burden of logging in the 9 per cent of the National Estate the Minister has excluded from logging in his proposal to Mr Causley, the New South Wales Minister for Natural Resources?

Senator COOK —In relation to the first part of the question, condition 5 (c) of the licence to export unprocessed wood issued to Harris-Daishowa by me requires that standing roundwoods shall be utilised for production of woodchips for export only when supplies of sawmill and logging residues available to the company are being utilised to the fullest possible extent. My Department has taken up this matter with the Forestry Commission of New South Wales and I understand that the company has complied with the terms and conditions of condition 5 of the licence.

In my presentation to Ian Causley, the Minister for Natural Resources in New South Wales, I proposed two substantive ways of supplementing the resource to Harris-Daishowa. I will not go into all the details here, but the first was a proposal along the lines of developing a plantation strategy upon which the woodchip industry could rely. The second was to hold further talks, should my plans be accepted by the New South Wales Government, for more efficient utilisation of small timber and for better use of sawmill residue as well as for looking at the scope of value adding to the manufacture processes resulting in a better utilisation of wood overall.

In relation to the second question, I have a vague recollection that Mr Justice Hemmings may have said something along the lines the honourable senator has inferred but I cannot confirm it absolutely. My colleague the Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories, Senator Richardson, advised me in January of this year that we ought to conduct a biological study looking at the floral and faunal values of the National Estate area in the south-eastern forests. My proposal to Ian Causley was that we do that with a balanced team of experts which would have as a reference panel the New South Wales Forestry Commission and the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. So far the New South Wales Government has not accepted that proposition, although I am waiting, as I said yesterday, for a written response to my proposals.

In relation to the honourable senator's third question, I have made a decision to provide for some forestry activity in 9 per cent of the National Estate forest in the south-east area. That forestry activity is not, I have to say, in conformity with the advice of the Australian Heritage Commission. I have had to make a decision based on an exhaustive examination of prudent and feasible alternatives. Yesterday in the Senate I tabled the written consideration of how I arrived at that decision under section 30 of the Heritage Act. I made the decision on those lines and on the fact that there are upwards of some 700 families in the south-east forests whose livelihood is directly affected by the timber industry. Their future is a consideration that has to be taken into account by a government that has to balance both the industry and environmental considerations and the fact that those families exist in an area which is not enjoying high levels of employment. In fact, the unemployment level in that area is twice the New South Wales average. On the basis of their needs and the industry's needs, I have decided to provide for cutting in, as I said, 9 per cent of the National Estate, leaving 91 per cent of the National Estate forests for the study that I referred to a moment ago.

In relation to the last part of the question, the EIS that is being conducted at the present time is being carried out by the New South Wales Forestry Commission. The one on which we are operating at the moment was needed to underpin the cutting plan for this year; the one being conducted will be needed to underpin the cutting plan for next year. The proposal that I have put to the New South Wales Government would enable us at the end of the period that I have proposed to have a complete environmental assessment of the south-east region to be able to select what areas of forest outside the National Estate can be considered for cutting. I would hope that at the end of the year that I have proposed we would then make a rational decision after giving consideration to all the competing weightings of interest and concern about the forest. That would be a logical and rational way of dealing with the matter. I hope that the New South Wales Government will now consider my proposal in greater detail, that it will not dismiss it superficially as it has but will respond in detail to the proposal. I believe that the community of that area wants a decision and wants this matter to be settled.

I am still waiting for a response from Senator Puplick. Yesterday, Senator Richardson and I both asked him to say whether he supports the New South Wales Government, whether he supports us or whether he has some other position. His silence on this matter is deafening. If silence be consent, I assume he supports the New South Wales Government. Because the policy of the Opposition in terms of minerals and energy is to abolish export controls in certain circumstances, I want to know whether Charles Blunt, if he proposes the abolition of export controls on woodchip exports, is going to stand up and argue for the retention of those export controls.