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Tuesday, 13 October 2015
Page: 7533

Senator RICE (Victoria) (20:16): We are blessed in this country to have some of the most beautiful forests and national parks in the world, and in the past three weeks I have been fortunate to tour some of them. From Helms Forest in south-west Western Australia—home to old growth karri and jarrah—all the way across the country to the Nullica State Forest in south-east New South Wales, home to the vulnerable quoll, I met with conservationists, forest advocates and community members, who each had their own story about the ongoing impact of logging and habitat loss on the wildlife and forests around Australia.

I also had the pleasure to be part of the Australian Wildlife Tourism Conference in Geelong—and what a useful, timely and informative event it was. Combining my work in both tourism and forests, I talked about the intersection of tourism, the environment and policy, and provided a political perspective on nature based and wildlife tourism. Nature based tourism has the potential to be politically controversial, because it depends on natural environments where there are conflicts over land and resource use. We know it is an economic money-spinner, with huge potential across the recreation, accommodation and hospitality sectors. We also know people want to travel to and around Australia to see our iconic beaches, outback, bushlands and forests. But the ways they are planning their holidays are changing, including a growing environmental awareness influencing the choices about where and how they will travel.

The Productivity Commission's research paper in February told us more than 30 per cent of these tourists favour environmentally friendly tourism and, as domestic or international travellers, they have the money to spend. Across the country, nature based tourism is a $23 billion dollar industry. In Tasmania more people are employed in the tourism industry than in agriculture, fisheries and forestry. In the East Gippsland community in my home state of Victoria, there are 1,500 people directly employed in tourism, compared to just 56 in mining. Despite it being one of the main native forest logging areas in the country there are only about 600 jobs in native forest based logging industries. In fact, the tourism industry nationwide currently employs over half a million people—twice the workforce of the mining industry.

Our native forests play a huge role in nature based tourism across Australia. But if they are logged, mined, polluted, invaded by pest animals and plants and have water deprived from them, these opportunities are lost. Their values to education, health—both physical and mental—and knowledge of the world around us are lost. And there are huge costs to the community as their value as water and carbon stores dissipate. We must protect our environments, our heritage and our special natural places as part of building a sustainable economy into the future. Nature based tourism that preserves habitats and the biodiversity of precious ecosystems and improves the economic prosperity of local people and communities is a very important part of this new economy.

Part of my forest tour included a trip to the Jamarri Cockatoo Rehabilitation Centre with the Western Australian Forest Alliance and my colleagues Senators Ludlam and Siewert. This is sanctuary is home to the Forest Red-tailed black cockatoos as well as Carnaby's and Baudin's cockatoos, which have been listed as vulnerable and endangered by both the state and federal governments because of habitat loss. The wildlife carers at Jamarri have, for more than 20 years, been rehabilitating threatened cockatoos and releasing them into the neighbouring Helms forest, which provides the last high-quality cockatoo habitat in the region.

Despite pleas for the forest to be protected, a large section of it was intensively logged earlier this year. These cockatoos have a heavy reliance on nesting hollows in trees that are over 200 years old. But these ancient trees are still being destroyed for low-value products like firewood, charcoal and woodchips, and plans to keep logging them means they will never have a chance to regrow. The continued logging of mature nesting trees in the karri, jarrah and marri forests in south-west Western Australia has led to the rapid decline of many bird and animal species and, with cockatoos living for 40 years or more, we are yet to see the full impact of this loss. The loss of nesting hollows and reduced numbers of young birds will not be obvious until the older birds die off and the numbers crash. I applaud the efforts of the Western Australian Forest Alliance. Their continued advocacy highlighting the impact of logging and habitat loss must be commended. Thank you so much. This all has a direct impact on the local economy. Tourism in the south-west of WA accounts for 21 per cent of all visits annually to the state. And after my visit I can see why: the diversity of native flora and fauna in this area of Western Australia is astounding. Yet logging continues, and with it the precious natural resources that tourism depends on are in rapid decline.

The Central Highlands of Victoria is another area of forest where nature-based tourism opportunities are bountiful. It is home to the now critically endangered Leadbeater's possum and the world-famous mountain ash forests. The Central Highlands have been very effectively rebadged by the local community as the proposed 'Great Forest National Park'. We know what is necessary to protect Leadbeater's possums, and that is to stop logging their habitat through this Great Forest National Park. The park will be a boon for nature based tourism and recreational activities, and will contribute social, environmental and economic benefits for the region.

Unless we take actions like this to protect our native forests, we can kiss goodbye to these potential nature based tourism activities. For the good of the community, we must shift away from the environmentally and socially damaging old economy. The logging in Toolangi and the surrounding forests must cease.

Just last week, I visited the forests of south-eastern New South Wales. Talking with forest advocates and conservationists, I was struck by the fact that I was hearing the same story, over and over again—a story so similar to those I had heard in Western Australia, Victoria and Tasmania: our native forests are worth more standing than logged.

In the Glenbog State Forest, over 100 wombats were buried alive by logging operations last year, despite local wildlife carers having identified and mapped their burrows and given this information to the Forestry Corporation. People like Marie and Ray Wynan from the Jarake Wildlife Sanctuary highlight the plight of the Glenbog State Forest wombats. Their work is invaluable in creating and maintaining local tourism.

The proposed Great Southern Koala Sanctuary is a fantastic initiative that will also offer long-term protection to koalas across the region. You just have to look at images of Australia found in other places in the world to see that koalas benefit the Australian economy. The New South Wales government itself estimates that koalas create over 9,000 jobs and contribute between $1.1 billion and $2.5 billion per year to tourism in Australia. Yet, just like the black cockatoo in WA, the Leadbeater's possum in Victoria and the swift parrot across eastern Australia, habitat loss presents the greatest threat to the survival of the koala. Right now, koala populations across Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT are listed as vulnerable to extinction under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Yet the logging continues, removing thousands of hectares of prime koala habitat.

Regional Forest Agreements are the enemy of the amazingly diverse plants and animals that make up and live in our forests across the country. This federal government wants to roll over these failed state and federal agreements for another 20 years—agreements which place the value of a logged native forest over and above the value of a native forest that is still standing. Regional Forest Agreements must go.

There is much more we can do to protect the amazing native forests across our country. We must strengthen the EPBC Act and continue to fight against this government's attacks on green groups. We must stop native forest logging and shift all wood production out of native forests and into well managed, sustainable plantations. And we must remove the inclusion of wood from native forests from the renewable energy target and focus our energy supplies into other forms, such as solar and wind. And we need to better resource tourism and build more sustainable infrastructure to support a robust tourism sector. (Time expired)