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Thursday, 31 August 1989
Page: 709

Senator LEWIS(4.28) —The Senate is debating the report to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) entitled Pulp Mills: Modern Technology and Environmental Protection. The Senate first considered this report on 17 August this year. I heartily endorse the contributions of my colleagues Senators Watson, Puplick, Archer and Stone on that date. I urge people interested in this paper to look at the Senate Hansard of 17 August to see what they had to say in relation to it.

This report on pulp mills really arises out of the Wesley Vale disaster-I do not think there is any other way to describe it. A proposal was put forward to build at Wesley Vale a pulp mill of major importance to this nation. When I say that it is of major importance to this nation, let me also quote what the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, Senator Button, said in a press release on 18 August 1988:

This project is very important for the forest industries in Australia. It will mean adding value to the product. It will mean up to $300m net addition to the balance of payments and create an average of 800 jobs in the construction phase each year for three years and then 400 jobs in the operating phase.

Yesterday, the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh), in an address to the National Press Club, repeated the points which the Opposition spokesmen have been making for 18 months. At last the Government has got the message. Of course, Senator Walsh, while he represents the Government as Minister for Finance, in many cases does not represent the views of his colleagues. But he took up the point that we are all concerned about the environment. We are concerned about many things. We want to do many things. Especially on our side of the chamber we want to do what we can for the aged and the young. We are concerned about education and health. But there is very little we can do unless we get the economy right. This economy is not right. We had an opportunity to do something to alleviate our current account deficit, which has been running at over $17 billion for this year. It will probably be around $20 billion for this year. But Senator Richardson stuck his nose in and told the joint venturers that their proposed plans were not good enough, that there were not sufficient levels of environmental protection. He imposed certain obligations upon the joint venturers, as a result of which they walked away from the project.

This report, prepared by eminent scientists, discloses the untruth of Senator Richardson's criticism, because the proposal involved a targeted level of effluent toxicity of level 4. That is the highest level aimed at by the rest of the world. For example, the Canadians, who currently have a level of 1 and 2, are hoping to achieve level 3 by 1994. This proposal was at a toxicity level of level 4 right from the outset, yet this Government, through Senator Richardson, destroyed this project, one of the economic projects that may have helped get this country out of its current hole. The environmental level would have been as good as any in the world-better than most countries. The Canadians were aiming for it in the mid-1990s. The proposal was rejected because Senator Richardson stuck his nose in and interfered. So the joint venturers walked away. I say they walked away because that is the truth, notwithstanding the Government's attempt to rewrite history by pretending that they did not walk away.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bjelke-Petersen) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.