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Thursday, 17 August 1989
Page: 274

Senator WATSON(3.13) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper:

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) report on bleached kraft pulp mills is of great significance to the future of the pulp and paper industry of Australia, an industry which in this time of record balance of payments deficits offers a positive solution to this problem. This report followed recognition by the Government that it was not equipped to evaluate properly the technical status of North Broken Hill's proposed bleached kraft pulp mill for Tasmania, or the status of the bleached kraft pulp mills in general. CSIRO scientists with experience in chemical pulping technology, oceanography and fisheries went to Finland, Sweden and North America to investigate modern bleached kraft mills and government controls in other countries, and to report on possible alternatives to chlorine bleaching.

The findings of this committee, in summary, were as follows. Firstly, the only significant international market for short fibred pulp obtainable from eucalyptus is bleached kraft pulp, and to achieve the brightness demanded by the market there is currently no alternative to using chlorine. Secondly, the countries visited, although often having a history of intense environmental concern compared with Australia, were not curtailing the development of their bleached kraft pulp industries.

Thirdly, modern bleached kraft pulp mills were using considerably less chlorine than a few of the old mills which had been associated with environmental problems and there appeared to be no short to medium term risk of damage to the environment. Because none of the new mills had been operating for a long time, the possibility of some environmental damage in the long term could not be discounted. However, the scientists noted that so long as base line studies were conducted, followed up by continual monitoring and a commitment to introduce new commercially proven technology, if appropriate, then the long term risks to the environment, if any, would be minimal or insignificant.

The report is not only significant because it supports the belief that modern bleached kraft mills can operate at an acceptable level of risk to the environment but also significant for Australia because 4.8 million tonnes of woodchips-which, when exported, are currently valued at approximately $350m-have the potential to earn $1,200m as bleached kraft pulp. The difference represents an $850m net reduction to the deficit. Australia has a significant and growing trade deficit in forest products. The deficit in forest products has grown from a mere $573m in 1980-81 to over $1.6 billion in 1988-89-a threefold increase in less than a decade. During the decade exports doubled but were overwhelmed by the doubling of the value of imports from a much greater base.

The major component of the forest product trade deficit is paperboard and pulp. Yet the major export category is woodchips. During the history of the woodchip export industry a combination of economic and market constraints has prevented the development of an export based pulp and paper industry. When these were overcome last year environmental concerns further delayed development. Hopefully, the adoption of the CSIRO report, coupled with the production of environmental guidelines acceptable to government and industry, will result in our wood resources being fully processed at home, thus greatly increasing our export earnings.