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Tuesday, 23 November 1993
Page: 3465


Senator BROWNHILL (Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia) (8.39 p.m.) —I want to support the remarks made by my colleague Senator Tambling in this debate on the Forest Industries Research Levy Bill and cognate bills. A little earlier tonight Senator Gibson also made some very important remarks. He is actually someone who knows more about the forest industries in this place than most. He is someone who has played a part in a constructive way and an administrative way since he has been in this place.

  I cannot recall any other industry that, as Senator Tambling has suggested, has been scrutinised or called on to justify itself more than the forestry industry. There is an attitude amongst some groups that, whatever the results of any inquiry and no matter how open state governments are about their operations and methodology, the only option for management of our forests is no logging. Despite all the evidence, there will always be people who want forests to remain intact, untouched and unproductive, but we just cannot go on that way. We have a renewable resource which, if logged properly, can go on for many years. This group of people who do not want any logging is the same group which has no alternative answer as to where income will be generated for towns and communities that depend on a viable timber industry. All too often, this is the same group of people who depend on other taxpayers, through the public purse, to finance their activities.

  These objections continue to be made, despite all the evidence which shows that Australia needs to increase productivity and value adding—which just about everyone in this place agrees with generally—in the forests and wood product industries within a framework of ecological sustainability. I have said in this place many times before that we have to have production and protection going hand-in-hand. We cannot just lock up everything and say that we are not going to have any production.

  There is enormous potential within Australia for expansion of the timber industry, because Australia only supplies two-thirds of its domestic requirements. In other words, we import more than $2.4 billion worth of timber and export only $775 million worth of product. That is unlikely to change in terms of increased domestic production while we have such instability within the industry.

  I was talking earlier tonight with Senator Gibson about what really is needed. We have to have resource security. People have to be able to log a native forest in a sustainable way. If we put in a plantation we need resource security so that if somebody at some later stage finds a long-footed potoroo on that plantation, logging will not be stopped, which is quite a possibility with the way things are.

  There needs to be real security of investment, just as we need it for mining and agriculture. If we do not have it, how do we get the investment and the people wanting to produce a product that we all use? It is sitting around us here now. We cannot say we cannot log any forests because we would have nothing to sit on because there would be no seats; we would have no roofs over our heads and no houses to live; we would have nothing. We have to have security for the people in the timber industry so that they can go ahead and produce the product which helps us all. We are not going to get investment without that firm direction from the government or a commitment that will protect that investment from the whim of future governments.

  By the same token, we have to look after the forests and make sure it is done on a sustainable basis. I have not yet met anyone in the forest industry who has not been a very good conservationist. People in the forest industry are conservationists themselves. We have a renewable resource in the timber industry. If people on the other side want to laugh about it and think that trees do not grow, they should look at how quickly the trees have grown around this Parliament House in just a little while. Trees can grow very quickly and it can be done on a sustainable basis.

  The arguments that the environmentalists put to prevent logging of native forests are made in isolation from world realities. While Australia continues to under supply its own market, imports of timber from endangered forest areas in other countries continue unabated. If we were real conservationists, we would rather use timber from our well managed local native forests than have it come out of other forests around the world. In a national sense we create an imbalance in trade and in a global sense we destroy the environment and that is not sound management of our planet.

  The much used slogan, `Think globally, act locally' has not translated well when it comes to Australia's timber and paper needs. Regarding resource security, the Resource Assessment Commission's inquiry into options for the use of Australia's forest and timber resources concluded:

. . . security of investment for the wood and wood products industry is essential to the future of a competitive industry. Its preferred approach included provision for compensation.

It also argued that the benefit to the community from using native forests and plantations could be increased by providing certainty to industry, which I have already discussed, and security of access to resources. On plantations, it argued:

The Inquiry found that the extent to which wood from plantations can replace wood from native forests is limited by past rates of planting. Further, unless the community is prepared to accept significant dislocation of regional industry and employment it will not be feasible to accelerate the replacement of native hardwoods with softwood resources.

We have had that inquiry and that is from the Resource Assessment Commission's annual report 1992-93. That needs to be understood by those who oppose the forest industry. The only alternative is to encourage people to use less timber, and that is hardly appropriate as a stimulus to our economy.

  Those who defend the forest industries acknowledge freely that not always have our native forests been well managed, but like so many other industries in Australia, including farming, we have learnt by our mistakes. The Forest Protection Society acknowledges that freely. Earlier this year, in the introduction to a very good book of that society, its National Director, Robyn Loydell, said:

The Forest Protection Society . . . does not harbour pretences about being a scientific organisation.

It said later:

We all know that managed wood production is a form of forest disturbance. Whether it is within the capacity of our forests to cope with such selective disturbance for the benefit of humans is the question which should be the central focus of future debate in this country.

Perhaps if this central issue had been addressed 20 years ago, much of the pain which has followed many ill-conceived forest closures could have been avoided.

The FPS commissioned a study by Dr Peter Attiwill, a quote from which I think is well worth reading out. He quoted from T.C. Whitmore, writing on tropical forests, who said:

. . . (they) are a renewable resource which can be utilized and still retain their diversity and richness for mankind's continuing benefit; but only if we care to learn enough about how they work, and also if, as has been repeatedly stated, utilisation takes place within the limits of the forest's inherent dynamic processes.

That is really about using a forest to its best ability and using the forests so that the renewable resource can be used.

  I commend the Forest Protection Society for the job that it does; I believe that its 9,000-odd members around Australia have really done a lot to make sure the debate in Australia is much more balanced. The annual summer protests that have become almost a standard entertainment in the south-eastern forests for school holiday tourists are as predictable as they are phoney. At the end of the day, they do not increase anyone's knowledge of the forest industry. They cost the industry and they merely exacerbate the combustible situation with loggers who are trying to earn a living in a tough occupation, and who are tired of being provoked.

  The forest industries in Australia are and can continue to be a valuable economic and environmental asset if they are allowed to get on with the job. These bills will assist the industries to continue to manage our forests; they will increase our knowledge of how best to do that; and they will help to create a much needed investment environment.