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Wednesday, 17 November 1993
Page: 3073

Senator COULTER (7.30 p.m.) —I realise that it is Wednesday night and I do not want to detain the Senate for very long. An extremely important issue which is of great concern to many people in Australia, particularly the environmental movement and many people in this place, is the protection of old growth forests, especially in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia. Most honourable senators will be aware that there is in existence an intergovernmental agreement—an agreed forest strategy—which refers to the need to protect and review old growth forests and to protect areas of high conservation value so that they can be properly assessed and certainly not clear felled or interfered with in any way.

  My purpose in speaking this evening is to point out that I have received a document written by the forest ecologist in the Environmental Protection Unit in New South Wales. He points out that compartments 1375, 1380, 1381 and 1387 in the Cathcart State Forest had been set aside as compartments with special prescription qualities. They are recognised as areas of high conservation significance and they are also areas which provide a habitat link between the proposed Coolangubra and Tantawangalow national parks. Despite this recognition and despite the recommendation from the National Parks and Wildlife Service in New South Wales that this area not be touched, it certainly appears from this document that this recommendation was overridden at the ministerial level and permission for the New South Wales Forestry Commission to log these areas has been granted. I therefore seek leave to table this document.

  Leave granted.

Senator COULTER —I thank the Senate. The significance of the document in relation to this chamber and this parliament lies in the fact that there is this intergovernmental agreement in which the states and the Commonwealth, with the exception of Tasmania, have undertaken to defend and protect these areas, pending their complete assessment. Clearly, this document shows that in this case New South Wales has gone against its own recommended protection and the minister has actually overridden the recommendation. Consequently, I believe that this puts the

federal Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories, Mrs Kelly, in a very strong position to invoke that agreement and to say to New South Wales, `You have broken this agreement. These areas should be protected. These very significant areas of old growth forests simply should not be logged'.

  The point of detaining the Senate this evening for an extra three or four minutes was to make that point and make yet another appeal to Minister Kelly to ensure that these very important areas are protected because once we chop down a 300- or 400-year-old tree there is no way we can put that back in less than 300 or 400 years. This is a very asymmetric decision that has been made in relation to forests. We can decide not to chop down the trees; if we want to change our minds next week or next month we can do it. Once the trees are gone, there is no way in which that sort of decision can be changed.

  I appeal again to Minister Kelly to intervene in these areas of high conservation significance, specifically in those areas that I mentioned as having high conservation significance which were set aside by New South Wales itself as areas which should be protected. It appears that the New South Wales minister has simply overridden those decisions and given approval for the Forestry Commission to go in and clear these areas.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 7.35 p.m.