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Monday, 24 June 1996
Page: 2080

Senator CHAMARETTE(7.46 p.m.) —I wish to speak in the Senate this evening regarding four documents which fundamentally indicate that Australia is lagging behind the world in the sustainable management of forests. At the end of my speech, I will seek leave to table those documents. I am allowing the minister to have time to look at them because, unfortunately, I did not give him time to see them beforehand.

It is becoming evident that the international community regards the continued logging of primary karri forests in the south-west of Western Australia as of similar ecological concern to the logging of tropical forests. The documents that I will seek later to table in this place also note that conflict within the community regarding the sustainability of forest management in the south-west old- growth forests is intense. It states that, because of this, certification by an independent organisation to genuinely ascertain sustainability is warranted before any approach other than a precautionary one is legitimate in terms of management of the south-west forests of Western Australia.

The documents comprise the correspondence between the government of the Netherlands and the Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management regarding the use of Western Australian karri in hydraulic engineering, namely as canal liners, in the Netherlands. Document No. 1 is a letter dated 12 April 1996 to Dr Syd Shea, Executive Director of the Western Australian Department of CALM, from a B. de Jong of the Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management.

The second document is the substance to which this letter relates. It is titled Research into sustainable Karri forest management and potential use of Karri timber in hydraulic engineering, by the Directorate General of Public Works and Water Management, Roads and Hydraulic Engineering Division, the Netherlands. The third is a letter from the Wageningen University of Agriculture to the Dutch water management authorities supporting the methodology and thoroughness of the Dutch study. The fourth is a background paper relevant to both, an article by M. C. Calver et al from the periodical Australian Forestry, volume 59 No. 1, titled `Science, principles and forest management: a response to Abbott and Christensen'.

The Dutch embarked upon their study of the sustainability of karri forest management approximately five years ago out of a concern not directly related to karri. Previously, the Dutch water authorities had used the tropical hardwoods azobe and basralocus for their hydraulic engineering in wet environments in the Netherlands. Document two states:

In response to world-wide concern about the detrimental environmental and ecological effects of tropical deforestation and forest degradation . . .

In 1993 the government of the Netherlands drew together a world-renowned tropical timber covenant that would ensure that only timber produced in a sustainable way would be imported into the country as of the year 2000. Their research indicated that the traditional woods azobe and basralocus could not reliably be said to be produced sustainably.

Importantly, a key tenet of the 1993 Tropical Timber Covenant was that `logging primary forests'—those which show no signs of serious anthropogenic disturbance, have high biodiversity and no change in original composition—`is arbitrarily not sustainable'. What we call old-growth or virgin forests are the ones that they believe are arbitrarily nonsustainable.

Secondly, the Dutch policy states that the logging of conversion forests is not sustainable, either. That is where wood comes from forests that have been felled to make way for other land uses, including regrowth forests on what was previously old growth. These points are based on the elementary understanding that old-growth forests cannot be returned to their former complexity under the current logging regimes of CALM. Single species, uniform age trees, usually of non-indigenous species, planted in rows in place of a thriving, self-supporting, dynamic old-growth ecosystem, does not equal ecologically sustainable forestry. Even in terms of logging rotation, when trees replanted in place of 400-year-old trees are felled between 40 and 100 years, that forest never returns to its original majestic state.

As the turning of dynamic old-growth forest ecosystems into monoculture plantations and the logging of previously virtually untouched forests are both linchpins of Western Australian forest management, it is easy to see why karri forest logging failed the Dutch test. The Dutch documents go on to spell out what makes policy for sustainable forest management. It has three tiers relating to ecological concerns, socioeconomic aspects and socio-cultural issues.

The ecologically directed component states that forest policy should be `aimed at safeguarding the sustainability of ecological processes, regulatory environmental functions and the ecological condition of all forest functions.' This means protecting the size and quality of forest ecosystems, maintaining the forest's capacity for natural regeneration and its function as a hydrological or orological screen for its surroundings, and protecting threatened species.

With a national forest policy that has not seen one hectare of old-growth forest protected securely and which has been totally ineffective in stopping export woodchipping from chewing up our precious ancient karri, jarrah and mountain ash, it is clear how far we are from the mark as far as the Dutch are concerned. The final decision, as indicated in these documents, is that the terms for using karri timber for Dutch hydraulic engineering purposes as per the 1993 sustainability agreement are these:

Only karri timber from the existing areas of sustainably managed production forest is allowed.

In other words, that means timber from plantations and agro-forests. Specifically, this item does not include karri timber from primary forests, conversion forests, national parks and conservation reserve areas. Hence, all areas of regrowth forest grown on top of what was previously old growth have rightly been described by the Dutch as being unsustainable methods of forest management in terms of the broad and sensible issues of biodiversity, greenhouse, water catchment and habitat functions of the original forest.

To prove that karri is extracted from sustainably managed production forests, it has to be certified by an independent organisation. The WA department of CALM's assertions as to its so-called world-class sustainable forestry clearly do not cut it internationally. The Dutch believe that an international audit is warranted.

The documents also note with concern that more than 50 per cent of the globally unique primary karri forest will be transformed into production forest under business as usual principles; that is, we will continue to be logging unsustainably because, as has already been stated, conversion forests do not constitute sustainable forestry. More pointedly, they state that, if things continue, only 40,000 hectares of this primary karri forest will remain in the world.

Overarching all of this is a pervasive concern about the lack of knowledge of the effect of present forest management policy on the ecological values of the karri forests. The precautionary approach is not being honoured. This effect will become increasingly clear after monitoring on the basis of the stability of the biodiversity pool; the effectiveness of buffer zones; the effectiveness of disease control measures, such as the control of dieback; how burning policy compares with true natural fire frequencies; how timber production affects ground water levels and salination; and what current forest management means for climate change. These issues need to be monitored on a true ecological time scale that extends well beyond the few months or years usually devoted to such monitoring programs.

Biodiversity works on a time scale of thousands of years while climate change works on a time scale of decades. We cannot ascertain changes to it in a forest management lunchtime. The precautionary approach is more essential than ever at this time in history.

The Dutch decision to reject south-west karri on the basis of its unsustainability is a development in international affairs that will have far-reaching ramifications for forestry management in Australia. This government can no longer hide its head in the sand from the truth of its environmental recklessness in our precious forests. We must radically rethink our approach to the management of our environment not only in the forests but across the whole spectrum of our day-to-day life.

I seek leave to table these documents in the Senate to put on the public record the enormous risk we are taking in continuing down our current path. International governments are now saying what the community has been saying for years. It is now this government's job to listen.

Leave granted.