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Tuesday, 23 November 1993
Page: 3455

Senator CHAMARETTE (6.11 p.m.) —This package of legislation—the forest industries research bills—is designed to establish funding mechanisms for research into forest industries and related areas. This commitment to research is outlined in the national forest policy statement, which was signed by the Commonwealth government and all state governments, except that of Tasmania, in December 1992. The document exists largely because the Commonwealth government failed to obtain the support of this parliament for the resource security legislation which was debated in this chamber earlier in 1992. The document was initially negotiated secretly between governments and industry and ultimately reflects this lack of commitment to public consultation and to concerns about conservation issues.

  The bills before us for consideration today establish an administrative framework and funding mechanism for the Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation. Levies will be paid by importers and exporters of unprocessed wood and local mill owners who receive unprocessed logs, with the Commonwealth matching funding at a rate of one Commonwealth dollar for every two dollars raised from the domestic industry.

  On the face of it, this may seem a reasonable proposition for the forest industries and for the Commonwealth government to be pursuing. My concern relates to the concept of charging for forest industry research on the basis of the value of logs extracted from our native forests with no apparent differentiation between a log extracted from a high conservation native forest and one extracted from a plantation or agroforestry operation.

  Effectively, the destruction of our native forests will be secured and will be used to fund research into sustainable options for the forest industries—an extraordinary piece of logic. The irony of charging for resources at a minimal level, as in a levy, and adding to this Commonwealth funding, is that it can provide tacit permission for the stripping of those resources to the enormous benefit of the forest industries and the enormous detriment of our country's natural resources.

  The motivation underlying forest policy and practice must be challenged. There is no incentive here for the industry to move to an ecologically sustainable basis. My colleague Senator Margetts will expand on this point.

  If handled properly, this research program could assist in the movement of the Australian timber and forest industry to an ecologically sustainable basis. The ecological aspect, however, needs to be stressed. The continuation of any practices that involve the destruction of old-growth or wilderness forests is not ecologically sustainable. In my home state of Western Australia for example, the WA Department of Conservation and Land Management is logging many areas of forest that are of high conservation value. Some of those areas were identified in a joint assessment of the southern forest region by CALM and the Australian Heritage Commission in the late 1980s.

  I have recently written to the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories (Mrs Kelly) enclosing aerial photographic evidence of extensive CALM logging in one of the forest blocks identified as having high conservation value and asking her to investigate the extent of this practice in Western Australia. To date, I have had no reply.

  The practice of clear-felling large areas of native forests on relatively short rotations and encouraging regrowth using mechanical or chemical thinning is also not ecologically sustainable, particularly where the native forest that is destroyed is being used for woodchips or charcoal. Sadly, the karri forests of the south-west of Western Australia are all being used as woodchips and the jarrah forests are rapidly being used for charcoal or `activated carbon', to use a euphemism.

  These practices are widespread in the Australian forest industries. This is outrageous in the context of the stated principles of the national forest policy statement, which stress the need for the protection of old-growth and wilderness forests and the management of all native forest areas in an ecologically sustainable manner.

  The principal point I wish to make in this context is that the national forest policy statement also contains extensive provisions relating to the protection of high conservation native forests. The statement outlines a methodology for establishing an agreed set of criteria on which to base a reserve system and to protect those reserved forest areas. So far—this is referred to on page 10 of the document—the government is committed to the establishment of criteria. But the criteria, which it is claimed will be based on principles of comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness, have not been released for public debate or consideration. These criteria must be released publicly.

  I also suggest that the imbalance in relation to approaching the national forest policy that these bills represent must be addressed. Those criteria are very valuable and should precede any kind of levy that is being charged on forest products.

  The strategy to protect old-growth forests contains five basic elements. One of them is an interim provision that requires the state agencies responsible for forest management to place an embargo on any forest management activities that may significantly affect those areas of high conservation value that are likely to be placed into a reserve system. This policy of setting up a forest industries research levy is one of those practices that potentially could be endangering these high conservation areas.

  A moratorium is required in the strategy contained in the national forest policy statement to protect old-growth forests and wilderness. The embargo is not being adhered to, nor is the Commonwealth government taking any action to ensure that the conservation provisions of the national forest policy statement are respected by the state governments which are signatories to the statement.

  The Commonwealth government has the power, through the constitution and through its funding of many aspects of forest conservation and timber industry research, to force state governments to adhere to these provisions. I urge the government to reconsider its rash action in supporting these bills, which actually subsidise state governments for raping our forests.

  It appears that these powers are only to be used in respect of industrial relations matters. It is this inconsistency that is of great concern to the conservation movement. However laudable the research work that is the subject of the bills before us today, it will not help the establishment of an ecologically sustainable timber industry in this country without the implementation of the conservation provisions.

  The funding of the research program that is the subject of these bills will be at the expense of our native forests. Funding can continue only if the forest industry continues to log native forests, including some old growth and wilderness areas. This is totally unacceptable and is at odds with the fundamental principles of the national forest policy statement. In the light of these serious inconsistencies, the Greens (WA) will not be supporting this package of legislation.