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Tuesday, 15 October 1996
Page: 4184


Senator HARRADINE(5.36 p.m.) —The previous speaker, Senator Murphy, has raised some very serious questions indeed. I believe the government should look at those questions that Senator Murphy has raised and not just hide behind the fact that the management of the forest industry is essentially a state responsibility. The Commonwealth government has not shied away from using its powers under the constitution to influence states to perform better in a range of areas. I believe the government ought to do this now by using its powers under the constitution and in accordance with the Export Control Act. It may well be that ultimately the Export Control Act will need to be amended. I will come to that shortly.

Senator Murphy has raised some very serious questions indeed. As I understand it, he is saying that there ought to be a true incentive for the industry to encourage downstream processing and that these regulations should focus on the source of material for woodchips. I concede that it does not do so. The regulations extend the definition of `residue woodchips'. As Senator Murphy indicated, the definition is broader than what was contained in the now disallowed regulations of the previous government. Under these regulations, residue woodchips mean `control of woodchips derived from sawmill residues or silvicultural thinnings'. Senator Murphy indicated it was estimated that 40 per cent of the export woodchips in 1996 were sourced to the residue woodchips from downstream processing units. I am convinced that the government should seriously look at this question so as to give true encouragement to downstream processing. Senator Murphy has raised this issue fairly and squarely.

The people of Tasmania have often been told of proposals for future investment in Tasmania, particularly in the regional areas, and nothing has come from them. He referred to press releases from the North Broken Hill Company and from Boral. Those companies should bear in mind that they do have a responsibility to Tasmania. They always say that they adhere to that responsibility but, in the area that Senator Murphy has referred to and in the specific statements that have been made by those two companies, they have failed in that responsibility. I hope that they hear what is being said here and that they do take it on board.

That is not to say that they are not reasonably large employers in Tasmania. North Broken Hill provides considerable employment, but it does so because it is privileged to be able to exploit the resources of the state. I know the company will say that there needs to be an extended definition of what are residue woodchips and that there needs to be an additional provision for degraded private forests. I think it could probably reasonably justify its view on that, if it is talking about the long-term establishment of native forests for the purposes of ensuring a future resource, and I acknowledge that point. No doubt, that is one of the reasons that the government has specifically made provision for degraded private forests.

I certainly will be and I think the parliament should be very alert as to how those particular degraded private forests are determined. There are provisions under these regulations for that, but there should also be some sort of surveillance. I know the minister's office intends to do this, but from time to time the parliament should have reports as to how that is operating so that we can consider those reports and take policy decisions on them. Senator Murphy has made some very valid points. I agree with him that further focus should be made on the source of the woodchips, because that will influence, to some extent, the requirement for downstream processing.

Senator Brown, in moving his disallowance motion, did not do his cause good in that he seemed to indicate there was a lack of faith or goodwill on the part of those who were involved in developing these regulations. Senator Brown should just forget about calling everybody slashers and burners of forests. I have heard that. He even called me that. When my family heard it, they burst out laughing, knowing of my association with the bush. I would rather be there now than here. I spent last weekend in Canberra and went out to Namadgi National Park for seven hours on Saturday and another six hours on Sunday. I looked out of my office window just a while ago towards the Brindabellas and wished I was up in that neck of the woods today.

It is important for Senator Brown to realise the sensibilities and niceties of this place. You do not get anywhere by imputing bad will or a lack of goodwill. In my view, one ought to take it for granted that people do have goodwill. That is not only a piece of practical advice but the right and proper thing to do.

Senator Brown should realise that sometimes we meet in this place to get the place working properly. We do that in the leaders meeting. I was quite surprised to read a press release by Senator Brown revealing publicly what occurs at those private meetings of the leaders. Those meetings, by the way, are privileged meetings. I thought they were privileged. The leaders and the whips get together at those meetings to see that this place works properly.

In his media release of 26 September, Senator Brown said this:

At a recent Senate leaders meeting I said that a private member's bill coming from the House of Representatives should not queue jump over private senators' bills originating in the Senate. I am very concerned at moves by Senator Harradine to have Kevin Andrews' bill expedited up the priority order in the Senate. At the next Senate leaders meeting on 8 October I—

that is, Senator Brown—

will be insisting that the Andrews bill is placed below all private senators' bills already introduced.

To be quite frank, I cannot recall what I did at that meeting. I do not think it is terribly important. If we are going to change the rules around this place, I would be happy to know it. If those private meetings, to which people go in good faith to try and get this place running properly, are ones where we are able to go out and tell the world what happens there, that is fine. I am happy about that, provided that I am told the rules.

I have been here a fair while and I always thought that those were the rules, that we do meet on occasions in good faith to see things work out properly. I just take the opportunity of saying that you do not do the cause any good by reflecting on the integrity of people in this chamber, as I believe you did when you introduced this disallowance motion.

A number of things have been said here. Quite frankly, I have been very seriously considering supporting the disallowance motion. I was very impressed with the contributions. I was concerned particularly about the comments made by Senator Murphy. The government must have regard to what he has said because he knows the industry backwards. My problem is that, if I vote for the disallowance motion—I do not know whether it will be carried or whether it will not be—we go back to the 1986 regulations. Frankly, there were no ceilings under the 1986 regulations—none at all. From memory, even under the previous regulations there were no ceilings in the regulations themselves. What happens under those circumstances? The government could attempt to implement its policy under the 1986 regulations. I am correct, I think, in saying that.


Senator Murphy —The minister put out a statement today saying he can and will.


Senator HARRADINE —Thank you. I did not know that. You seem to get the minister's press releases before I do. Senator Murphy has confirmed that the minister has indicated that, if these regulations are disallowed, he will implement the government's policy under the old 1986 regulations.

Those regulations have no ceiling. Senator Murphy has said, quite perceptively, that although there is a ceiling of 5.251 tonnes in the regulations we are discussing there is no ceiling for degraded private forests.


Senator Murphy —For the trial shipment.


Senator HARRADINE —That would not be much anyway.


Senator Murphy —It could be interesting to see how the government actually grants those licences.


Senator HARRADINE —Yes. We should bear in mind that it will be limited. It has been suggested by the government that another million tonnes would be involved. I reiterate that if we disallow the current regulations we will go back to regulations where there is no ceiling. That must be of concern to everybody because if there is no ceiling specifically mentioned in the regulations then what do we have?

The government may well try to implement its policy, including its ceiling under the old regulations, but it will be an administrative decision subject to appeal. For example, a person who has made an application for a licence may appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. You could have a situation, and I suggest you probably would have a situation, where the government could have a ceiling of five million tonnes or so but export woodchips would go over that ceiling.

That is precisely what happened under the previous administration. There was no ceiling. There was a government policy for a ceiling, but there was no ceiling in the regulations so there were appeals to the AAT. The net result was that additional woodchips were exported.

I hope that the government and the companies have regard to what Senator Murphy has said. It may well be that some of these issues will have to be referred to a committee at some stage. It may well be that the government's implementation of the regulations will need to be referred to a committee. We want transparency. I know the government is hoping to have transparency as a result of these regulations. I am certainly willing to assist the government in its efforts even though that might mean that the matters are referred to a Senate references committee at some stage.

It may well be that there is a need to amend the export control act to ensure that a reasonable percentage of woodchips are sourced from sawmills and other downstream processing plants as a means of encouraging downstream processing.


Senator Murphy —If they did that now, there would be no need for a ceiling.


Senator HARRADINE —I take the point. For the reasons I have previously mentioned, I cannot see my way clear to vote in support of the disallowance motion.