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Tuesday, 10 September 1996
Page: 3170

Senator MARGETTS(7.04 p.m.) —It is not often that I am in a position to thank Senator Abetz in this chamber but I will thank him tonight for bringing to my attention the issue of a $700,000 advance to the woodchip industry in Tasmania.

Senator Abetz —No, there is no such thing—$700,000 advance?

Senator MARGETTS —Well, he has talked about assistance from the new government in relation to the timber industry.

Senator Abetz —No. It's under the Labor government.

Senator MARGETTS —Whichever government is responsible, I thought I would mention, before I seek leave to continue my remarks so I do have a chance to read it, that there is a report that has not yet been tabled in the parliament—I wonder why—which has been produced by the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories which relates to the subsidies to Australian resource industries.

That report—as I say, it is a wonder it has not been tabled yet—indicates that the actual fiscal assistance or subsidies to Australian resource extraction industries barring mining, and not actually mentioning pastoralism specifically, works out at $5.6 billion per year. I would say this is a conservative estimate. It was a government report. The environmental subsidies—that is, the damage to the environment, water resources and other environmental subsidies which the community in the future ends up paying—were estimated to be in excess of $8½ billion. I would say that is also conservative in some respects and, as I said, it did not include mining, apart from energy. I am grateful to Senator Abetz for pointing out this particular report. Yes, I will have a look at it and read it later.

The taxpayers of Australia, despite what is said about level playing fields, do pay a whopping amount of money every year to subsidise resource extraction in Australia and often it is said that we have no other choice: we have to have slash and burn budgets. I would say that governments in Australia are paying something like $5.6 billion a year in subsidies to resource extraction, including timber extraction, removing forests and turning them into glossy paper in Japan.

If those industries require subsidy then people ought to know about that and then we should make better decisions so that we do not come out and make nonsense statements like, `We have to slash and burn basic social infrastructure because there is no other choice.' There are choices. They are being made all the time. The choices are that resource extraction industries are much more important to give welfare to than people who are actually using it effectively to maintain the basic social infrastructure of Australia.

There is plenty of information which says that the level of investment in resource extraction is actually creating less employment per unit of investment. It is jobless growth that is created by such types of increased investment. Basically, the real growth that is occurring may be occurring in totally different sectors which do not seem to get the same level of support that the resource extraction industries get.

Employment has gone down in many areas including, and perhaps specifically, timber industries or those industries which turn old-growth forests into little chips and send them overseas to make glossy paper. Therefore, we ought to look carefully—and I and Senator Brown will look very carefully—at this report. I am sure you will hear from us in the future, giving more details once we have had the chance to have a look at the fine print. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.