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Thursday, 25 September 2008
Page: 5724

Senator ABETZ (6:30 PM) —Plantation forestry is a vital component of the makeup of the social and economic fabric of many of our regional communities right around Australia. There is a debate within the community about the plantation sector, with varying views expressed. Those views, when expressed, should be put with integrity and honesty. People of integrity and honesty can, and do, disagree. They can even feel strongly about their disagreements. I, for one, hold to what now seems to be that very old-fashioned view that farmers ought to be allowed to determine which crops they grow on the land that they own. But one thing that should not be condoned is the deliberate placing into the public domain of information that is objectively wrong and false.

Those that support the farm forestry sector continually have to put up with fiction writers such as Richard Flanagan and Bryce Courtenay peddling their fiction about forestry. Their expertise and knowledge is about as relevant as a forester’s literary critique of their novels. People like the ill-informed Messrs Flanagans and Courtenays of this world are unfortunately encouraged in their campaigns of misinformation by elements in the media and some Green MPs. Just yesterday, Senator Milne, on the Tasmanian Country Hour, attacked the so-called ‘tax breaks’ that ‘have encouraged plantations to take over thousands of hectares of prime farm land’. Then she told the Country Hour listeners:

I’ve just done a case study of Preolenna ... in Tasmania, which shows that a whole farming district has been destroyed in terms of its social fabric because of what is an invasion of plantations. Not only have all houses been bulldozed, but the infrastructure is gone, the last of the dairy farmers were driven out because there weren’t enough of them left for the milk trucks to continue coming. People lost the school bus run. And all that is left of that community is a plaque.

The listeners were told, ‘all that’s left is a plaque’. It would be pretty devastating and powerful—if it were true. You see, the Greens just assert, then they reassert, repeat it ad nauseam and then expect people to believe them regardless of the facts. Well, what are the facts? Preolenna, allegedly with only a plaque to its name, is still actually in the phonebook, with a postcode. It has a community hall.

Opposition senator interjecting—

Senator ABETZ —I think I heard something about Gormanston—is that right? Gormanston does not even have its postcode in the phone book anymore—to make the distinction. Preolenna has a community hall. It recently won its local council’s Australia Day award for community event of the year. So a non-existent community with no people has a non-existent community centre and wins an award. The Preolenna festival is in fact run by the non-existent—one would assume—local mothers club. These non-existent mothers from this non-existent community use the funds earned to purchase equipment at their non-existent community centre, for use by the non-existent community. The residents of Preolenna are rightly offended by Senator Milne’s false claims about their community. Preolenna was a community in decline, with non-viable dairy herds of 40 cows per farm. In short, they were going broke, out the door backwards, until the land use was changed to tree growing.

This change of land use has the Greens crying crocodile tears. But the Greens have a long history of changing the goalposts—on any issue, but especially in relation to forestry. I wonder who said:

... a plantation-based forest industry in Tasmania would also entail, in terms of the present institutional arrangements and the farmers who benefit from those, a shift from the major benefit going to a handful of midlands silvertails to, I guess, what are commonly called the dirt farmers of the north west and the dairy farmers ...

I am saying that it is good to move plantation forestry into those areas and to give the dirt farmers, as they are popularly known, more crops, greater diversification and robustness through the establishment of those plantation resources.

It has been demonstrated in studies - and I quoted this on a previous bill - that planting—

wait for this—

up to 15 per cent of those farms in trees is very beneficial ...

And then I wonder who said:

But the direction for forestry in this State is quite clearly that of forestry on a secure plantation base, and of course those plantations should be established on—

you’ve guessed it—

cleared agricultural land. Trees are a crop, just like any other crop, and they should be grown where crops are grown and the farmers should be given the opportunity to benefit from that … The dirt farmers should be given a chance …

… forestry establishment should be taking place … in plantations on cleared agricultural land … I would be very pleased if we could move to that.

Then there is another quote: ‘You can’t force farmers to plant trees, but you can change the policy settings so the economic incentives are there.’

Yes, all those quotes were from a former leader of the Greens in Tasmania over a period from 1993 to 1996. But now this same party is saying:

… tax breaks have encouraged plantations to take over thousands of hectares of prime farmland.

That is what Senator Milne told the Country Hour yesterday. Is that the same party that in 1996 was asking for tax breaks and economic incentives for tree growing? Yes, it is. And the concern for the dairy farmers expressed yesterday by Senator Milne—is that from the same party that advocated in 1993 a move to plantation forestry in the cropping and dairy sectors? Yes, it is. And the pretend concern over too much farming land being converted to tree cropping, which stands at below five per cent in my home state of Tasmania, is coming from a party that asked for 15 per cent—that is, three times the current area—to be put into plantations. Where? On the north-west and the dairy farms.

The gross inconsistency of the Greens simply needs to be exposed. Their exaggeration—no, it is not exaggeration, in fact; it is simply false to assert that, for example, Preolenna is only a plaque. These falsehoods need to be exposed as false. No longer can we allow it to be said that some literary licence has to be given—as some media people allow Richard Flanagan and Bryce Courtenay—in relation to the forestry debate. The truth should be spoken and must be spoken. Even if you are against growing trees on farmland, surely you must condemn this type of false assertion being injected into the public arena. Once again, the Greens and Senator Milne have just gone too far. They have overstretched in a desperate bid to try to make out their arguments.

I hope that this in some way corrects the record in relation to what Senator Milne said on the Country Hour in my home state yesterday. This debate will undoubtedly continue, but I do make this plea to the Richard Flanagans, the Bryce Courtenays, Senator Milne and the Greens: just say the truth, tell the truth and have a debate on the facts—not on the fiction that they make up.