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Monday, 14 October 1996
Page: 4111


Senator PARER (Minister for Resources and Energy)(5.56 p.m.) —Senator Brown's approach to the issue of regulations governing the export of hardwood chips derived from native forests has hardly been surprising, given his ideological opposition to the commercial use of native forests—and, I might say, to just about any commercial operation that anyone wanted to start up.

This approach is confirmed in the Native Forest Protection Bill 1996 introduced by Senator Brown on behalf of the Democrats, which aims to eliminate native forest logging and woodchip exports in favour of plantation. Fortunately, the bill will never see the light of day in the House of Representatives although Labor, as it continues to goosestep away from the national forest policy statement, may yet support it in the Senate.

That the Australian Labor Party supports the motion of disallowance is ample evidence that its rhetoric about jobs is totally and utterly hollow. The regulations provide certainty for a key part of the native forest logging industry, and the importance of this should not be underestimated after the damage caused by the illogical and commercially inept approach adopted by Labor. I could not help but note in the closing remarks of Senator Lees that she said that it did not matter which way the vote went, it was going to be bad; and then she said she would support the disallowance. Really bizarre stuff, I have to tell you.

These regulations plot a sensible, practical transitional approach to dealing with woodchip exports as we negotiate with the states to put in place regional agreements over the next three years. For the past week, Senator Brown has been running the line that the government is attempting to push through new unlimited woodchip export licences. First of all he was saying when the previous regulations were disallowed that there would be unlimited licences; now he is objecting to the regulations that are before us.

He has supported his arguments with statements that he has issued in recent weeks implying that the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Anderson) was on the verge of approving export licences of 10 million tonnes of woodchips. This is patently untrue. Senator, you are loose with the truth. Senator Brown has not let the facts get in the way of a good, emotive scare campaign. In fact, he reminds me of ratbags years ago who used to wander around outside theatres saying. `Repent. The end is nigh.' They used to be brave enough to put a time and date on it, and when the time came and went and the end of the world did not happen they were bitterly disappointed.

Now Senator Brown seeks to disallow regulations which impose a ceiling on woodchip exports for native forest regions which are not covered by regional forest agreements. The Canberra Times of 10 September reports Senator Brown as saying that he would vote to disallow the regulations so that the government would have to take responsibility for each decision on logging rather than have it ratified by the parliament. The Commonwealth makes no decision on logging. Senator Brown should be aware that unsuccessful applicants for export licences have the right to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and that unsuccessful applicants may appeal such decisions to the tribunal which, if these regulations are disallowed, will not be constrained by any export ceiling. Much of Senator Brown's criticism of woodchip exports is based on the misconception that the granting of an export licence somehow gives the licence holder a right to harvest the material.

This is simply not the case, as the responsibility for land use management, including the management of forests, lies directly with the state governments. We must move away from this incorrect perception, fostered by the previous government, that export licences offer protection for the environmental and heritage values of our forests. They do not. The licences confer on exporters the right to export pulpwood; they do not confer the right to harvest. Harvesting may occur in any place and the wood may be processed within Australia.

There are no Commonwealth controls on the domestic use of this material, nor are there controls on the export of processed wood such as sawn timber and paper. The Resource Assessment Commission stated in its 1992 report:

. . . the question of woodchip exports should be considered separately from forest management practices. If the main point of concern is that logging practices associated with the production of woodchips from native forests are unacceptable on ecological or other grounds, it would be more effective to control those practices directly or to implement a different system of land use, rather than impose export sanctions or intervene in established commercial activities.

In the report Adding Further Value to Australia's Forest Products of September 1993, the Industry Commission states:

Some perceive the export controls as a means of pursuing environmental objectives. However, environmental objectives are more efficiently addressed by measures which impinge on all logging operations (eg. codes of logging practice), not just logging operations associated with the production of logs and woodchips destined for export markets.

Given the states' role as forest managers, the most appropriate way to ensure forest values, including environmental and production values, are protected is under agreements between the Commonwealth and the states. The government, therefore, remains committed to the national forest policy statement and its central goals of creating a world-class forest reserve system and providing long-term security for native forest based industries in the context of ecological and economic sustainability.

These are much the same words that Senator Hill used in his speech. I think those on the opposition side have to suddenly wake up. This is 1996. We have a coalition government in power. And you know what? Surprise, surprise—we talk to one another. As Senator Hill said, not only did the previous government not talk to one another; their staff did not talk to one another.

We have taken a whole of government approach to the process of government because we believe we were elected for all Australians and not just a narrow group. We recognise the Labor Party's sectional interest. They are the political arm of the trade union movement. They make no bones about it. And of course the minority parties tend to compete for the same narrow sectional group. Hence, we cannot have the Greens moving a motion in here or putting forward some sort of proposal without the Democrats coming in and saying, `Me, too.'

We believe the goals will be achieved through regional forest agreements between the Commonwealth and states. The commitment of this government to the sustainable management of the forest reserve is demonstrated by the provision of an extra $48 million for accelerating the RFA process. The comprehensive regional assessments leading to RFAs will be accelerated without compromising the integrity of the process to achieve a lasting solution to the forest policy impasse of the past decade.

Large areas of forests which might be needed to establish a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system are now protected under the deferred forest agreements and interim forest agreements with the states. Industry is restricted to harvesting in areas approved by the former Labor government under deferred and interim forest agreements. These agreements identify all areas that might be required by a CAR reserve system, and the states have agreed not to harvest in those areas either for export or for domestic use.

This agreement not to harvest those possible CAR reserve areas is of much more conservation value than a ban on the export of pulpwood after the trees have been harvested. RFAs will be negotiated to ensure that a CAR reserve system is established and that harvesting outside those areas is done in an ecologically sustainable manner.

I recently sat through the estimates hearings where Senator Brown questioned officials in relation to potential domestic use of wood that is currently exported. The government recognises medium- to long-term supply security is a critical issue for the industry. The decisions of the former Labor government created a great deal of uncertainty for the forest based industries and the communities dependent on those industries. Many billions of dollars principally for value adding projects in fibre board, wood pulp and paper production would be invested by the forest industries if they were certain about long-term government policy direction and the security of resource supply, enabling more woodchips to be utilised domestically.

It must be recognised that the pulpwood that is being exported as woodchips is entirely unsuitable for producing products such as furniture or other sawn timber products. It is, however, entirely suitable for production of printing grade paper, and the export market therefore offers the highest return for this valuable resource. There is certainly no evidence that any domestic processor which requires pulpwood for its operations has ever been lacking in material. The regulations to which we will revert if this motion is successful, the old unprocessed wood regulations which predated Labor's ill-conceived arrangements, which were disallowed by the House of Representatives, are adequate to implement the government's transitional woodchip licensing policy.

We have heard a lot about forest policy from Labor Party shadow ministers since the election, but what we have heard particularly in relation to regulations is they have not learnt any lessons. They have failed to see that the states are absolutely committed to the national forest policy statement, that it is in their interests to get regional forest agreements in place and the Commonwealth out of their hair. Yet, instead of working with the states in a spirit of cooperative federalism, they have treated them with disdain and introduced the ill-conceived woodchip export regulations disallowed recently by the coalition.

Perhaps the most pernicious feature of these regulations was the two-stage licensing process under which the volume of woodchips allowed to be exported from any state was slashed if the states failed to achieve agreed milestones towards implementing regional forest agreements. The government recognises that we must set deadlines for the implementation of national forest agreements. But punitive approaches such as those adopted by Labor are simply counterproductive. We have set some boundaries for our negotiations with the states. The regulations currently before the Senate will ensure that from 1 January 2000 woodchip exports will not be permitted from areas not covered by regional forest agreements. The states understand this condition is immoveable.

Finally, I wish to make the point that the government is not trying to mislead the public into believing that all woodchip exports from our forests will cease in the year 2000. Woodchips will continue to be exported under regional forest agreements as part of an integrated, sustainable and internationally competitive native forest logging industry. The previous government's position was precisely the same. If it has changed, they should have the courage to come out and say so.

While the government recognises this decision on forest policy has not met the demands of all stakeholders, it is a firm and balanced decision consistent with its recognition of the regard that all Australians have for our forests for their outstanding natural qualities and source of sustainable employment and wealth.

The new regulations introduced by this government were not greeted by the outcry that accompanied the making of Labor's ill-conceived and illogical regulations in November last year. In fact they have been broadly welcomed by the community and, in particular, by communities in which people's livelihood depends directly upon an ecologically sustainable timber industry. I urge all senators to vote against this motion before us today.