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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 4207


Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (5:48 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This statement is a commitment by the Rudd government, after 11 years of Howard government commitment, to the continued destruction of Australia’s native forests and woodlands and, with them, the habitat of the wildlife that they contain through the unnecessary process of providing export woodchips—with Gunns Ltd, the world’s biggest hardwood export woodchipper, being the big driver in Tasmania—to make wrapping paper and ultimately greenhouse gases, in Japan, and for other purposes, when the two million hectares of plantations which the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in his statement notes that there are now established in Australia can provide all the wood needs of the nation for house building, paper and all other uses combined.

It is also an enthusiastic endorsement from the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and his cabinet of the proposed Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania. There is no doubt that the 100,000 people of the Tamar Valley will be shuddering at the way in which this has been pitched, nearly at the end of June, to prop up the faltering expectations by Gunns Ltd that they can get investment on the international markets. The CEO of Gunns, John Gay, announced for the third or fourth time—I do not know how many times, but not for the first time—a couple of months ago that finance would be forthcoming and he would be making a statement by the end of June. Once again, we are very close to that date and that statement has not been made. But one wonders, in reading this document of enthusiastic support for John Gay and his board—which does include the former Liberal Premier of Tasmania who Senator Milne referred to a short while ago—whether the department has some knowledge about that financial situation. We will wait and see.

I also know, however, that the statement completely leaves blank the negative impact of this vastly polluting and destructive pulp mill on both the farmlands and the economy of many small businesses in the Tamar Valley which is estimated to be between $2 billion and $3 billion per annum and the impact that this gargantuan consumer of forests, with its attached forest furnace, would make on 200,000 hectares of Tasmania’s native forest if it were to proceed. We know that in recent months some of the machinery needed to establish the forest furnace has been landed from international ships at Bell Bay at the site of the proposed pulp mill, and there is no doubt that Gunns, if it does not get the go-ahead for the pulp mill, still intends to build the forest furnace which would produce as much electricity as the Franklin Dam by burning wood from the native forests of Tasmania with a plantation component as well.

As stated in their prospectus for the pulp mill, the intention of Gunns is to sell the electricity as green energy onto the market. That means the Melbourne market.  People in Melbourne would be deceived into believing that the electricity which was heating up their toasters in the morning and warming their houses at night was coming as an environmental bonus. Indeed, that deception would be enhanced under the laws being promulgated by the Rudd government. In fact, where it would actually be destroying the forests in Tasmania and the habitats of wildlife, the electricity would be marketed as green and, presumably, under the rubric of ‘Green is good’. It is a Faustian line of presentation and part of the deception which covers a villainous attitude towards forests by the people making money out of them—and they are a very small group of people. Much of the money flows out through the Sydney and Melbourne stock exchanges to overseas interests. It does not stay in this country, and just as is largely currently the case with the woodchip export industry it will be the same for the pulp mill: any profit coming from it will flow out of Tasmania whereas the small businesses in the Tamar Valley put their money back into the community, thereby keeping jobs and sustaining the local economy.

That has not stopped a process in Tasmania of authorisation of this pulp mill. Serial Labor premiers have ignored the public concern. For example, the former Premier Jim Bacon conducted the biggest community consultation process with the people of Australia to protect the Tasmanian wild forests, but he abandoned it, totally ignored it and proceeded to authorise the continuation of woodchip exports out of the state. In the 2004 election both Mr Howard and Mr Latham offered similar packages to Tasmania, but Mr Latham offered a more generous financial package. Then Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon gave his endorsement in the run-up to the election, as the public understood it, to John Howard and helped him win the next election. He was in league with the then Liberal Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, and let down the prospective Labor leader, Mark Latham. The CFMEU, with red flags flying in the Albert Hall in Tasmania, came to the aid of Prime Minister Howard to dump a prospective Labor government. In a twist of political fortune and allegiance that many people will never, ever forget, the people of the logging industry were manipulated through a union and through a failed Tasmanian Premier. There was so much public misinformation that Mark Latham’s offer was lost and with it a potential $700 million of investment in Tasmania which we will never see. That is the way it went and that is the way it continues to go.

I went and saw the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Mr Burke, some months ago in his office. He had a great array of people from his department outside and asked if I wanted them to come in. I said, ‘No, I don’t, I want to talk to you.’ I am not going to comment on anything he said, but he listened intently for the best part of half an hour while I told him about the important other values of the wild forests of Australia, not least those of Tasmania, and invited him to come down and see them. I told him the massive value the forests have as carbon banks, as a hedge against climate change, which is discounted to zero. He mentioned it once in the statement, but it is seen as a zero. In the mention he gave in the statement, he indicated that cutting down trees and turning them into other produce is a good way to save carbon. It is part of this colossal spin and deception upon which this industry is based these days. The minister and the Prime Minister turned down my offer—and it was a heartfelt offer—to go to Tasmania without the media just to look at the other side of the coin and see forests such as the Upper Florentine Forest, where good-hearted Australian citizens are at the moment camped out in wintry weather trying to defend the forest against this Rudd government and the Labor government in Tasmania.

Of course the minister did not accept my offer. He flew down before Christmas after his appointment—and no doubt has done so many times since—to communicate with the logging industry and be totally taken into their camp. As the minister for forests, I suppose one cannot cavil too much with that, but then one has to ask where is the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, whose job is to go in and advocate for the forests, not against them. He refuses to come and talk to the community groups who want to take him out to the forests in Tasmania. He has also turned down my repeated requests for him to come and do what he is beholden to do as duty minister for the environment—that is, to go and see these forests and the wildlife and the alternatives, because I repeat that this is a totally unnecessary industry, as was whaling before Malcolm Fraser put a stop to that in 1978. (Time expired)