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Thursday, 7 September 2017
Page: 6640


Senator RICE (Victoria) (12:08): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I table an explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Regional Forest Agreements Legislation (Repeal) Bill 2017 seeks to end the destruction of Australia's native forests, by repealing the Act which enables logging to continue with exemptions from our country's environmental protection laws.

For the past two decades, our native forests have been managed under the banner of ten regional forest agreements (RFAs), established between the federal government and the states.

These agreements cover significant tracts of forest in Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia, and New South Wales.

RFAs were meant to provide long-term forest management to protect these complex ecosystems and ensure the viability of threatened species living in the forests, as well as govern the production of timber from these forests and maintain jobs. They have failed in every regard.

The government has indicated that they intend to 'roll over' the existing 20-year regional forest agreements when they come up for expiry. The lack of rigour and reflection in this position is astounding, and demonstrate that the government does not have any commitment to safeguarding our carbon stores, clean air, water supplies, tourism hot-spots and wildlife habitat.

Let me remind the chamber that the Commonwealth has a duty to protect our environment for all Australians, yet in continuing the regional forest agreements and their exemption from The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act), this government is abrogating that responsibility and allowing an extractive industry to carry out its business with no regard for the long-term damage this does to our forest estate.

Instead of these management regimes which include EPBC Act exemptions, our forests should be subject to the same environmental protections and approval processes that any other extractive industry must adhere to. Logging operations in Australia should not have different rules to mining.

This Bill would wind up each of the ten RFAs when their expiry dates arrive, with the first occurring in November 2017 with the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement.

I note that the Tasmanian RFA has been subject to a 'variation', signed on 18 August 2017 by the Prime Minister and the Tasmanian Premier. This was presented to the public as a 'variation' but the actual outcome is a substantial re-writing of the RFA. This was undertaken without any engagement with this Parliament, despite the significance of its extension of the RFA to 2037 and that, in effect, it makes future extensions automatic, into perpetuity.

This Bill is doing the proper thing, where the Government has failed to, in bringing this major aspect of our forest management to the Parliament.

Industrial logging in public native forests has had its day. It has failed to protect our environment and failed to protect jobs.

The future for our Australian wood products industry lies in a sustainably managed plantation-based industry.

The industry is already well on the way to relying solely on plantation grown timber and fibre. Eighty-five percent of wood produced in Australia now comes from plantations. Propping up the native forest logging industry flies in the face of market demand for sustainable wood products and fails to envision an industry with jobs that sustain communities in the long-term.

Let us help make this vision for sustainable management of our forests a reality.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Senator RICE: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.