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Monday, 14 October 1996
Page: 4098

Senator BROWN(4.44 p.m.) —I move:

That the Export Control (Hardwood Wood Chips) (1996) Regulations and the Export Control (Unprocessed Wood) Regulations (Amendment), as contained in Statutory Rules 1996 Nos 206 and 207, respectively, and made under the Export Control Act 1982, be disallowed.

If I could condense and clarify that, I simply move that the Senate disallow the government's export woodchip regulations which were gazetted a couple of weeks ago and which put into place a sham as far as any real move towards the protection of Australia's fast disappearing native forests, their ecosystems and the vast array of wildlife within them, including many species facing extinction.

Around the world we see the rate of extinctions now of our fellow creatures at about 50 per day. Dr Norman Myers, the great British scientist who was one of the signatories to the appeal to the world by some 1,200 scientists in 1992 to turn around the factors leading to mass extinctions and which may ultimately lead to the unsustainability of life on the planet, including that of we human beings, was here two weeks ago. He pointed out that it is the loss of forests, above all, which is creating the onward rush to extinction around the world.

We as a northern, developed, rich country ought to be taking a lead in a world stand against the destruction of what is going on in the Amazon, Siberia, Papua New Guinea and elsewhere. But instead, we are going in the wrong direction. Along comes the Howard government which touted itself before the election as the best alternative and as a government which was going to protect the interests of the environment. In the months since it came to power, it has greatly accelerated the rate of destruction of Australia's native forest heritage. Whereas when this government took office, it was already at the obscenely high level of 5¼ million tonnes of Australia's native forest being exported as woodchips to the paper mills and then to the rubbish dumps of the northern hemisphere, the regulations which the minister has now brought in will allow that rate to go to 6¼ million tonnes per annum for starters—a nearly 20 per cent increase.

But on top of that, the government has lifted the lid off the destruction of forests on private land where very many of the most precious environments exist in this country, where many of those endangered plants and species of animal life are hanging on. That will be accelerated without limit. Except this limit: the regulations say that the minister has a responsibility to appoint an inspector—there is no qualification on what that person's expertise should be—to ensure that the forests are degraded. When you look at the definition of degraded, you find that it does not exist. It can be anything. Worse, under these regulations, the government will be able to blame parliament, or at least give parliament the responsibility as minister after minister allows what he or she judges as degraded forests to go to the woodchippers.

Looking at the regulations, they provide no incentive for forests to be protected if they are of high conservation value. In fact, as these regulations read, it is very clearly possible for a landowner who does have very important forest with very important species within it to allow that forest to be degraded, to allow it to be cut down and then to apply for an export woodchip licence so that when the inspector arrives, he or she finds it has been degraded and says, `Tick, it can go to the export woodchip mill.' It is the wrong way to go.

We ought to be giving incentives to those private landowners who are protecting what is part of the nation's heritage. We ought to be regulating to penalise to the extent that it prevents the destruction of that heritage where private landowners do not have the wider interests at heart or, indeed, need an incentive through government to protect that part of the national heritage which they own.

The regulations also allow for trial shipments to be sent to new markets. No limit is put on those. They also allow for unlimited export woodchipping to come from areas classed as having undergone a forest agreement. Just in the last couple of days we have seen the potential for such an agreement in East Gippsland. Once implemented, it would mean unlimited woodchipping within the parameters of that agreement from East Gippsland. But that agreement, which this minister and his state compatriots would like to enter into, protects not one tree in East Gippsland in national park—not one piece of protection which has teeth in it. And wild and wondrous parts of East Gippsland, including parts which are the stronghold of endangered species like Leadbeater's possum, the sooty owl and the longfooted potoroo will not get national park protection under this process. But the woodchippers get the protection; they get the sky's the limit nod through these regulations from the federal government.

It is much better that the Senate disallow these regulations and require the minister at least to work by the 1986 regulations, which would then come back into force. There is one remitting reason for that. The minister himself—whether it be the minister for forests, the minister for primary industries, or the minister for the environment—would be required to own up to the responsibility for what they are doing when they sign the export woodchip licences which allow mega-companies, like Boral, Wesfarmers in Western Australia and North in Tasmania, to maraud national estate forests, to log World Heritage value forests, as in the Tarkine, Picton and Huon valleys in Tasmania and in the Great Western Tiers.

They cut from under them the living universe in the forests for so many of Australia's marvellous marsupial and bird species, and a myriad of insect species, many of which are still not identified or known to science and many of whose roles are still not even understood. Successive governments give the nod to the bulldozers and the chainsaws moving in on this fantastic natural asset which is being destroyed at a record rate in this wonderful country of ours. Each morning we wake up to find there is less forest than ever before in history.

I want to point to the criticality of this vote. This vote is another means of accelerating the obscene export woodchipping industry which is marauding our forests. Yet, if I read it correctly, no less than eight senators in here hold shares in those big export woodchip companies. Herein is a conflict of interest, I submit. I do not believe it is ethically correct that people who hold shares in these woodchip companies ought to be voting for this motion which is in their benefit, which will add to their profit lines, which will give them licences for the increased destruction of our forests and export—at the profit of those companies—to the paper mills of the Northern Hemisphere.

The increasing export under this government, outside the woodchip trade, is of whole logs from Tasmania. This government is currently giving a licence to the Tasmanian Forestry Commission, now named Forestry Tasmania, to export 100,000 tonnes of plantation softwood logs, totally unprocessed—with them go the jobs—to the Northern Hemisphere. Those logs ought to be protected, ought to be substituting for the cutting down of our native forests, which are supporting what remains of the sawlog allocation from our forest industries.

I think that every senator who holds shares in Boral, or Wesfarmers, North or any of the smaller woodchip companies that are involved, ought to think very carefully about the impropriety of voting for this motion if that is what they are considering doing.

Senator Hill —Voting for it? They would be voting against it!

Senator BROWN —Voting for your regulations, thank you, Minister, and voting against this disallowance motion. If this Senate were to split so that one side voted for and one side voted against, the vote of at least one minister and at least one parliamentary secretary, as well as a number of other members of this Senate, will determine the outcome. Their vote, which cannot be divorced from their interest in the profit of these woodchip companies marauding our forests, will determine the day, to the advantage of those woodchip companies and to the detriment of the Australian national estate forests.

It is a matter of great gravity that should not be treated lightly by any member. I draw to the attention of senators the standing orders which require that should such a senator entering into this debate have such an interest they should declare it. The standing orders say that, should such a senator not enter into the debate but vote against it, if that senator determines to vote—and I submit they should not—they should declare their interest afterwards. Then let them live with the public debate that is going to follow as to the propriety, if it happens, of this Senate, through their vote, giving the go-ahead to expanded woodchipping in this country to line their pockets and to rob the Australian community of its national estate.

Senator Panizza —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order! I have been listening to this debate to date on this declaration of interest. I think accusing any senators, whether opposition or government, of lining their pockets through which way they vote is a reflection on those senators. After all, any senators that hold shares have declared them. The senator should be asked to withdraw those remarks he has been making.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Ferguson) —Having taken advice on that point of order, Senator Panizza, I do believe that probably it is only a debating point at present and that no direct accusation has really been made.

Senator Panizza —On a further point of order, you said it may be getting close. Senator Brown put out a press release naming the ones he considers hold shares in lines like Wesfarmers. He has named all five of us, I think—myself and Senator Crane, and I cannot remember the rest. I think he is getting very close to reflecting on us.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Panizza, on the point of order, a press release made outside of the Senate is not actually before the Senate at present. But I would ask you, Senator Brown, to be careful in what you say when you are making a reflection on other senators in this place.

Senator BROWN —Certainly. What I meant to say is that those senators opposite and any senators on this side who would gain in any way from a vote on this matter ought to think very carefully about taking such an action. My advice to honourable senators is that they do not vote on this matter if they think a gain might come to them from it or even if they are unsure about it, because propriety says that it would be a matter of principle not to do so.

Having said that, I want to conclude by making this appeal to the Senate. We are here in the interests of the wider Australian people. We are here to reflect their aspirations for the future. We are here in the interests of future generations and not just ourselves. It is important that we hand on to those generations this great nation's forest heritage, the abundance of its wildlife and the diversity of its species, and the joy, the wonderment and the spiritual uplift which that forest repository gives to us now but will afford to a much greater need and an even more heavily populated, more troubled and more fast moving world that our children of today will inherit.

The signs are flashing, `Wrong way, go back.' This regulation may interest the woodchip companies, but it does not interest the people of Australia. Repeated opinion polls show that 60, 70, 80 and 90 per cent of Australians believe our wilderness areas should be protected, our wild forests should be protected and our wild species should be protected. I make an appeal to the Senate to disallow these regulations as a small indication that we can turn the tide, that we can put other wiser values before the instinct for immediate profit, which seems to be driving those woodchip companies.