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The order of the day having been read for the resumption of the debate on the question—That the Government amendment be agreed to—

Debate resumed.

Question—put and passed.

Mr Tuckey (Minister for Forestry and Conservation) presented reasons, which were circulated, and are as follows:

Reasons of the House of Representatives for disagreeing to the amendments of the Senate

Senate Amendment Nos. 1-3

The Amendments propose that the objects of the Act are to:

. ensure that Regional Forest Agreements ("RFAs") are consistent with the National Forest Policy Statement 1992 (as assessed against certain criteria); and

. establish a Wood and Paper Industry Council.

Further, the proposed definition of "RFA or Regional Forest Agreement" requires that the agreement "has regard to":

. the objects of the Act; and

. certain assessments relevant to the region.

The House of Representatives does not accept the Amendments as:

. the proposed criteria against which an RFA is assessed to determine its consistency with the National Forest Policy Statement are either beyond the scope of an RFA, too vague or better dealt with through the definition of "RFA or Regional Forest Agreement" contained in the original Bill; and

. it is not possible for RFAs entered into prior to the commencement of the Bill to have "regard to" the proposed objects.

Senate Amendment Nos. 4 and 6

These Amendments require any RFA made or sought to be made after 1 March 1999 to successfully undergo public and parliamentary scrutiny prior to it being recognised as an RFA under the Bill.

The Amendments have a number of defects. In relation to the 1 March 1999 "cut-off", there is no objective basis on which such a differentiation can be justified. The only difference appears to be a political one, not one that goes to the substance of the agreement or to the process undertaken in its development.

In relation to the proposed provisions requiring public scrutiny:

. under existing Commonwealth legislation, the Commonwealth is already required to meet all its obligations before it agrees to enter into any RFA. Consequently, the Minister for the Environment is always closely involved in the RFA process; and

. given the extensive public consultation that has taken place in relation to all RFAs, there is no reason to suggest that notification of the Commonwealth[quot ]s intention to enter into an RFA or the publishing of a draft RFA will serve any purpose. This is particularly so as there is no provision in the proposed amendment for the signing of the RFA to be delayed in any way to enable further public input as a result of the notification by the Gazette.

In relation to the proposed provisions detailing the parliamentary scrutiny process:

. legal advice from the Office of General Council concludes that the inclusion of these proposed Amendments would contravene section 99 of the Constitution;

. in addition, the proposed Amendments would undermine and politicise the RFA process to the extent that it may be difficult to sign RFAs at all; and

. if there is a concern that RFA requirements are not being complied with, it is open to Parliament to amend or repeal the Bill. This requires both Houses to act, not just one House as proposed in the Amendments.

Senate Amendment No. 5

The Amendment proposes that the definition of "RFA or Regional Forest Agreement" include a requirement that the agreement provides for structural adjustment packages, including relocation and retraining for affected workers and their families. The House of Representatives does not accept the Amendment as there is no benchmark an RFA would have to meet to qualify as "providing for" such structural adjustment packages. Taking a line through RFAs entered into to date, there is no single approach taken to this issue. This is due to the fact that:

. the impact of an RFA on industry structure in each region is different, requiring different approaches to structural adjustment (for example, there is no structural adjustment package for Tasmania, although there is a package related to industry development initiatives); and

in States with multiple RFAs (Victoria and New South Wales), structural adjustment packages are constructed on a State-wide basis, so there is likely to be only passing reference to them in individual RFAs.

The proposed Amendment will only serve to create confusion.

Senate Amendment No. 7

The Amendment proposes that the Minister must cause to be established a comprehensive and publicly available national forest database to ensure that decision-making and management of timber are based on best available information. The House of Representatives does not accept the Amendment because it is too vague and will invite legal debate on what the terms "comprehensive", "national forest database" and "best available information" mean.

The Commonwealth already publicly provides a State of the Forest Report. Also the question of what is the appropriate level and scope of data for the forest and wood products sector is currently under consideration by all stakeholders through the Action Agenda process.

Senate Amendment No. 8

The Amendment proposes to qualify exemptions provided to RFA forestry operations under the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983. It does so by incorporating qualifications contained in certain RFA provisions contained in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999("the EPBC Act"). The House of Representatives does not accept that this proposed amendment is necessary, given:

. the RFA provisions in the EP&BC Act remove the application of new environmental assessment and approval requirements under that Act while an RFA is in force; and

. transitional and savings provisions contained in the Environmental Reform (Consequential Provisions) Act 1999provide for the continuation of relevant existing environmental legislation, which would otherwise be replaced by the EP&BC Act, for the purposes of developing and finalising RFAs for specified regions.

This is consistent with the Council of Australian Governments Agreement in 1997 in relation to forestry matters which requires that any arrangements entered into as part of an RFA are not affected by these new environmental processes. The proposed Amendment attempts to connect the two processes without any substantive reason for so doing.

Senate Amendment No. 9

The Amendment provides that nothing in the Act prevents the parties agreeing to amend an RFA provided they have consulted "interested stakeholders" about the amendment. The House of Representatives does not accept this Amendment on the following grounds:

. it is unnecessary as there is nothing in the Bill which could be construed as preventing the amendment of an RFA by the parties;

the Amendment does not constrain the parties to amending the RFA in accordance with the provisions contained in the RFA itself; and

. the requirement to first consult with "interested stakeholders" is vague and has the potential to be extremely wide, thereby making compliance with this term difficult.

Senate Amendment Nos. 10-13

The Amendments propose to alter the compensation clause in the Bill so that the Commonwealth is liable to pay any compensation "in relation to actual losses arising from the loss of legally exercisable rights" that it is required to pay to a State in accordance with compensation provisions of an RFA "for a breach, amendment or termination of an RFA". The House of Representatives opposes these Amendments on the grounds they:

. are confused;

. will likely have no effect as the liability to pay compensation continues to arise out of the terms of the RFA itself; and

. are unclear as to what the term "losses arising from the loss of legally exercisable rights" actually means.

Senate Amendment Nos. 14 and 15

The Amendments propose that:

. publication in the Gazetteof a notice about the commencement of an RFA should include the full text of the RFA; and

. publication in the Gazette of a notice about the commencement or cessation of an RFA also includes reference to an amendment to an existing RFA.

The House of Representatives does not accept these Amendments as sufficient details of each RFA are in the public domain, given

. copies of completed RFAs are provided on request to interested persons; and

. copies of completed RFAs are available on Internet websites.

On the motion of Mr Tuckey, the reasons were adopted.

Mr Tuckey moved—That in the message returning the Bill to the Senate, the Senate be requested to reconsider the Bill in respect of the amendment made by the House of Representatives to the Bill.

Question—put and passed.