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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 4209


Senator MILNE (5:59 PM) —This ministerial statement from the Hon. Tony Burke, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, is entitled ‘Preparing our forest industries for the future’. The title in itself is misleading; it should be ‘Sandbagging our forest industries and keeping them on corporate welfare’, because that is precisely what this ministerial statement does. I just cannot understand why there is not any movement from either the Labor Party or the Liberal Party at the federal level or the state level to move to protect forests when everybody knows that we are losing those forests at a faster and faster rate and that we are losing species that are being driven closer and closer to extinction—and it is being funded by the public purse.

These native forest industries have not stood on their own two feet for generations. Forestry Tasmania loses money every year. Forestry Tasmania runs up massive debts, and the legislation that has gone through here to guarantee state governments’ ability to borrow will see Forestry Tasmania sending Tasmania bankrupt. We have rescued them time and time again, and this forest industry keeps on saying, ‘Give us more Commonwealth money and we will make the transition out of native forests.’ And, year in, year out, the Commonwealth provides multimillions—$45 million to $50 million in recent years—for this transition out of native forests, and all that happens is that it entrenches the industry in native forests.

The industry go out and buy equipment to keep on logging native forests. They keep on putting people into jobs logging native forests. There is barely even an attempt to make a transition, and there is never any performance assessment of this Commonwealth money that is ploughed in in corporate welfare to keep on logging forests. There is never any assessment of how effective the move has been. Nobody will forget the CFMEU outside the Albert Hall with the former Prime Minister John Howard, encouraging people to vote for the coalition because they would see to the logging of more forests than former leader of the Labor Party Mark Latham was prepared to see happen. Prime Minister Howard stood up there and said that the Florentine would be protected—and it was not; that was misleading. They went ahead and let it be logged.

We are now seeing a minister making a statement to the parliament saying that there will be no more native forests logged for the pulp mill than are currently logged. The Wilderness Society assesses that 200,000 hectares of native forests will be logged for the pulp mill. That is apparently what Minister Burke thinks is fine. That is the end of some kind of transition out of native forests. If there is a transition out of native forests to plantations, why did Gunns require a 30-year agreement to log native forests? It is because they want to log native forests, they want to send woodchips overseas and they want to have the native forest woodchips that they cannot sell overseas—the ones that are poorer quality—so that they can burn them in their forest furnace.

This Rudd government is going to declare that green energy under the renewable energy target legislation and allow people to think they are buying renewable energy when they are seeing the burning of Tasmania’s precious forests, our carbon stores. It might occur to people that Minister Burke is now saying, ‘We are going to count the carbon in furniture, in forest products’. Less than 10 per cent of the carbon from a forest that is logged ever makes it into a durable piece of furniture or a wood product. The rest goes, and a huge amount goes to atmosphere. One of the biggest sleights of hand is this notion that we are somehow getting a net benefit by logging native forests. What we need to do is separate out the emissions from the logging of native forests from the soil carbon, from the burning of native forests, and at the same time look at the uptake from native forests, look at the carbon store and then at the flux.

We need to look at this thing properly, not at this sleight of hand that is here. Minister Burke’s statement several times mentions balance, and every time you hear the word ‘balance’ you know it is a socioeconomic political construct that will see destruction of forests or the environment. It is part of the view that all that Australia is good for is digging up, cutting down and shipping overseas. The minister makes all sorts of claims about jobs, and the wildest claim in his ministerial statement suggests that there will be 8,000 direct and indirect jobs because of the pulp mill and 1,500 jobs created during its operation. Gunns itself says that 292 jobs will be in the factory and that there will be 1,600 jobs during construction, so it does not even pretend that these thousands of jobs are out there.

Furthermore, there have been studies about the jobs that will be lost to the fishing industry and the tourism industry. But the horror for people in the Tamar Valley is the statement in the minister’s statement that is about setting up the forest industry leaders ministerial roundtable which will have the job of securing industry investment, a government and industry collaboration to secure investment—code for: ‘Stock market, listen. The federal government is coming to the rescue of Gunns.’ The second thing is that Minister Carr has another group, the Pulp and Paper Industry Strategy Group. What is its job? It is to develop a plan to encourage innovation and attract investment in pulp and paper manufacturing in Australia—code for: ‘We are going to use taxpayers’ money to bring the heads of the logging industry to Canberra and we are going to work with them to use our embassies around the world to do whatever it takes to try and get investment in logging native forests.’

It is not going to work, because the investment community knows that they cannot afford to compromise their social responsibility and their environmental codes of practice by getting involved in this disgraceful, polluting pulp mill that will log native forests, that will have a wood-supplying agreement of 30 years, that will pollute the atmospheres of the Tamar Valley and Bass Strait, that will diminish housing values in the Tamar and that is not wanted by the Tasmanian community. I think it is important for Tasmanians to realise that they have got Jodie Campbell, Sid Sidebottom, Dick Adams, Duncan Kerr and Julie Collins, who are all Labor members, in the five Tasmanian electorates, and they are standing there with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, who has said:

I want to see the Gunns Bell Bay Pulp Mill built.

He went on to say:

The Bell Bay pulp mill will be good for jobs, good for industry and good for Australia.

Interestingly, he does not mention the environment, because it will be bad for the environment, and bad for the environment is actually bad for Australia. It will not be good for jobs. It is a net jobs loser. You cannot promote yourself as a natural destination and go and log your native forests.

Let me also add that in the assessment process the impact of this pulp mill on the forests was not assessed at the federal level. Why not? Because Liberal and Labor collaborated in this place to make sure that in the assessment conditions under the EPBC Act they excluded the assessment of the impact of this project on the forests. So nobody has looked at the impact on the forests. Nobody has calculated it. In fact, the greenhouse gas ramifications of logging a native forest coupe have been excluded. Nobody will be counting the greenhouse gas emissions from the native forest burning furnace, because under their accounting practices it does not count.

This is a disgraceful effort, and I will tell you why it is here. It is here because the Tasmanian industry is in a state of collapse; $620 million of taxpayers’ money has been thrown at them and they are still in a state of collapse. They are losing money hand over fist. They are losing jobs hand over fist, and so they are asking to get on the public welfare system, on the taxpayer dollar. We are told there is no money to do all sorts of things around Australia, including looking after our horticultural industries and every other industry. We do not have money for that, but apparently we have millions more to give to the logging industry to destroy our forests. This is an opportunity to restructure logging outside of native forests, while the industry is in a state of collapse, while the mills on the north-west coast are about to close. That is what the government should do, not just give another sop and a huge bucketload of Commonwealth taxpayers’ money to this industry.