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Tuesday, 30 May 1972
Page: 3228

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - This Bill relates to agreements between the Commonwealth and the States in connection with softwood forestry. The Bill consists of 4 clauses, which are concerned with the execution of the agreement, and a schedule, which is the agreement between the Commonwealth and the States. The main purpose of the Bill is to make provision for expansion of softwood plantings in Australia in accordance, one can assume, with arrangements which have already been agreed to by the States and the Commonwealth. The Opposition does not oppose the Bill, but it does intend to move an amendment. I move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof:

Whilst not opposing the provisions of the Bill, this House deplores the Government's failure to prepare and publish, in consultation with the States, n national plan for -

(a)   the full use and development of Australia's forest resources; and

(b)   the conservation of existing hardwood forests and associated flora and fauna in relation to softwood plantings.

The first point I want to make is with respect to the agreement itself. Normally one would expect that some indication would be given that the States had agreed to the conditions laid down in the agreement. Usually this is an agreement which has been signed formally by the Prime Minister, or somebody acting on his behalf, and by the Premier or Premiers of the State or States concerned, or their representatives. One can only assume in the first instance that this agreement is in fact the final agreement. The only assumption we can make if we are to debate this Bill intelligently is that the respective Parliaments will give full backing to the Ministers represented on the Australian Forestry Council to enter into the agreement contained in the Schedule to this Bill.

The other point I want to make is with regard to the timing. This Bill makes provision for a second 5-year programme, to commence from 1st July 1971 - almost 12 months ago - and to be effective until 1976. This is somewhat similar to the Act of 1967, which made provision for the first 5-year agreement to commence from 1st July 1966. One puzzling aspect of this is that in his second-reading speech when introducing the first plan, the Minister stated that there would be a review of this scheme, obviously, to make provision for any further arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States. What I want to know is this: Why did it take so long before the Parliament was informed of the second agreement? Why was not the review finalised before the expiry of the first agreement? Why was not the second 5-year plan brought into this Parliament before the commencing date - in other words, before 1st July 1971? Why has it been brought in later? One must assume that a lot of arrangements are being made between the Commonwealth and the States unknown to this Parliament. After all, who up to this point of time has authorised the expenditure that has taken place in the past 12 months with respect to this programme?

Members of the Australian Labor Party are not opposing the Bill. We are simply raising certain key objections with respect to the measure, particularly on how it is worked out in practice. Usually, before money is made available for any development project, the proposal has to run the gauntlet of this Parliament; it has to be debated and subjected to any criticisms or amendments that may be thought necessary. It took almost 12 months from the expiry of the first 5-year plan for this Bill to hit Parliament. This seems to be the type of arrangement in which the Government is becoming more and more involved. It is waiting till the death-knock before making decisions. We have the same problem arising now with the beef roads programmes. There have been 2 of those programmes and it is high time another decision was taken with respect to their continuation or otherwise. Already men, with their machines, are facing uncertainty in respect of their movements and employment because no public decision has been taken on the continuity of that development project.

We see the same thing with water resources. Although we have a Si 00m programme to develop water resources, it is almost 2 years since a decision was taken with respect to further projects. Surely that is not the way to run a government: a government should run smoothly and decisions should be taken. Here is an example. A Bill is introduced in the Parliament in May 1972 to make provision for an agreement that started on 1st July 1971. As 1 asked before, what has happened in the intervening period? Who has authorised the finance between the Commonwealth and the States? What would happen if the Parliament threw out this agreement? All these objections are relevant, and I have raised them because I think this is not the way to run a government properly. A decision should be taken before the expiration of an agreement, and not 12 months later.

The objects of the Bill are quite common and acceptable as development criteria. They are, firstly, to expand a project - in this case softwood plantings - in an attempt to decrease our dependence on other countries for imports of the relevant timber products. The second criterion is the development one - to bring about development of a resource that will provide balanced development and decentralisation. These are the twin criteria adopted in almost every federal development project; either the earning of export income or the substitution of our own products for imports, and the encouragement of development and decentralisation. As I will show, reafforestation is in fact one of the most intensive forms of rural development. This might surprise many people, but statistics disclose that the average employment in reafforestation projects is approximately one person to 40 to 50 acres. There are not many primary industries apart from market gardening and similar types of horticulture - that can match that figure. Apart from being an intensive rural industry, reafforestation is making an important contribution to development and decentralisation; it is building up the population in rural areas.

Because of this agreement the States have been able to increase the area of government softwood plantings from approximately 528,000 acres in 1966 to approximately 793,000 acres in 1971. The total planting programme for this second 5- year plan is approximately 273,000 acres, which is a little higher than what was achieved in the first 5-year period, despite the fact that the rate of planting per annum will be lower than the acreage actually planted in the last year of the first 5-year programme. The area to be financed by a Comomonwealth contribution will be approximately 125,000 acres. During the last 50 years there has been increasing concern about the slow rate of growth of Australia's timber resources and development, particularly in the types of timber which we are forced to import. Under the Constitution forestry is a State matter except in the Territories, including the Australian Capital Territory, lt would seem that for many years it did not rate as an important industry. Nationally it soon became clear to the Treasury and people concerned with the preparation of budgets that we had here an industry which we must develop otherwise this nation would be faced with substantial imports of timber. We had resources in terms of labour, land and capital. It was a question of the application of those resources to achieve the desired results over time.

The Opposition's principal objection in the amendment is that there is not enough time or effort being given to some of the problems which may not be of great importance to the developers. I refer to the problems of conservation - the effect of reafforestation programmes on the environment, the ecology, the flora and fauna and associated matters. Although I am quite certain that nobody in the Opposition believes that foresters are not conservation minded - we believe that they are and we know that it is a basic part of their training - we believe that not enough emphasis is being given to forest management in Australia, particularly in relation to our hardwood forests. Also, to what degree will the increased plantings of softwoods encroach on commercial hardwoods. These are points which my colleague, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) and my Tasmanian colleagues will draw out in more detail.

There have been a number of overseas conferences in this field. I suppose that no arm of applied science has produced more literature than forestry has produced. One is amazed at the amount of literature in Australia and overseas regarding forest resources and their development. World forestry congress under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organisation are frequently attended by Australians, and studies prepared by FAO in consultation with other countries have been made to the degree that reasonable estimates can be made of the levels of supply and demand with respect to particular forest products up to, say, the year 2000. The evidence assembled in the FAO studies points up the rapid rate at which the industrial wood sector is growing. In the 10 years to 1961 the quantity of wood used for industrial purposes grew by about 25 per cent. It is estimated that up to 1975 the quantity used will grow by 45 per cent. So there seems no doubt that there will be a substantial increase in consumption of these products. The structure of wood consumption is rapidly changing, with demand shifting from unprocessed to processed wood products and, among the latter, from solid to reconstituted wood products such as particle board and paper. According to FAO, this steady shift in the pattern of requirements means that different dimensions, different qualities and different wood properties will become important in the future.

Another point is that geographical distribution of demand and of growth in demand is causing important changes in the pattern of supply. The studies have found that about 70 per cent of the additional industrial wood which will be required in the immediate future will be needed in the advanced, high income countries. In many of these high income countries the volume of industrial wood used is growing faster than it did during the first half of this century. In some of these leading wood consuming regions domestic wood supply is no longer keeping pace with this expanding and changing demand in terms of either quantities or types of wood. The change in the type of wood product demanded is evident in Australia as well as in overseas countries. This has been brought out by the various annual reports of the Forestry and Timber Bureau and the various reports of Australian delegates to overseas conferences, and it is in keeping with the changing technology throughout the world.

In the light of information from overseas and in Australia forecasting the deficiencies and the surpluses in various areas of the world, it would seem that certain general conclusions can be reached based on the best evidence available. Many studies have been made by the Forestry Council and by world authorities with respect to the world supply and demand of softwood products in relation to hardwood products. Forecasts have been made as to the probable movements of these products in world trade. One interesting point is that the Forestry Council has estimated that Australia will require a softwood resource of about 3 million acres of plantations by the year 2000. lt is estimated that such a resource, together with improved production from the native forests, would be likely to make Australia reasonably self sufficient as to the total requirements for wood for the Australian population expected at that time. Of course, one can argue about the estimates because the increased rate of migration could change materially from the projections that have been made.

Similarly, technology could change. There have been various moves - for example, in my own area of north Queensland - to establish the manufacture of paper from the by-products of sugar cane. I imagine that this type of technology will increase in the future, particularly if the price of softwoods increases on world markets through any major deficiency. As foreshadowed in the 1967 Act, a review of the 5-year programme was undertaken. The Economics Branch of the Forestry and Timber Bureau, in collaboration with the Treasury, undertook a benefit-cost analysis of the Australian States' softwood afforestation programmes, and the Joint Consultative Council on Forest Industries - that is the Australian and New Zealand body - prepared a report relating to supply and demand and other factors up to the year 2010, which was published. So with all the evidence available to the Government and to the expert authorities there is a strong case for a continuation of this programme of plantings.

The recent meetings of the FAO Advisory Committee and others concerned with world forest resources, particularly on pulp and paper, have illustrated again the need for sound planning with respect to increased production of our timber products. The general conclusions reached at the conferences, such as those of the International Union of Forestry Research Organisations and the International Academy of Wood Science, through the FAO Advisory Committee, have shown that on a world wide basis the production potential of forests is hot greatly in excess of present utilisation rates and in certain areas such as Japan and Europe the wood deficit is increasing steadily. The FAO advisory committee on pulp and paper met in Rome in May 1971 when its secretariat presented its annual survey which reviews pulp and paper capacity production and consumption and provides forecasts for the years ahead. What this survey apparently shows in broad terms is that there could be a surplus of softwood timber products in North America by the year 2000 providing programmes are maintained or accelerated. One has to talk in time terms like this in regard to timber because this industry is not the same as, for example, the wheat industry in which production can be expanded in a matter of months. The year 2000 is the standard year used in these studies.

Although it is anticipated that there will be a surplus of softwood timber in North America all evidence suggest that there will be severe deficits in Europe. The literature that I have had supplied to me on this subject suggests that Russia could be a major deficit country in terms of timber products. Another major deficit country will be Japan/This, of course, is understandable. As we all know, Japan is extremely worried at the moment about where its timber products, whether they be used for construction or making paper, are to come from. These arguments have been put forward in respect of the development of the wood chip industry in Australia. New Zealand, providing that there is an acceleration of plantings, should have a surplus. We know that there will be a deficit in Australia. If we marry all of these supply and demand figures it could be argued, for example, that New Zealand could supply all of Australia's requirements. But let us remember that we have in Australia a resource from which we can produce timber just as cheaply and in some instances a lot more cheaply than other countries can. The law of comparative advantage is quite clear: When one has that advantage one should go ahead and use it. This, of course, is what this Bill is about.

Although it could be argued - and I know that my friend the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Davies) who comes from Tasmania will comment on this aspect - that perhaps the production of timber could slow down and we could increase our imports of timber from New Zealand. The view that I have always taken is that if we have a resource we should develop it providing that this can be done efficiently and economically. We can certainly do that. We want to expand the production of our softwoods. We want to do this to provide employment in all areas of Australia that are capable of growing more timber and developing timber resources. Therefore, although New Zealanders could argue that they could supply our requirements, the fact of the matter is that unless firm arrangements were entered into it is more than likely that New Zealand would be flat out meeting the requirements of Japan in the year 2000. However, the policy should be - and I have always subscribed to this - that if we have a resource which can be developed economically it should be developed. That of course, is what the Bill is doing.

From the figures it would seem that the Asian-Pacific region by 1975 will have a deficit of softwoods which could be of the order of $1 ,900m per annum. This deficit will apply principally to Japan. All evidence and figures from official reports suggest that there will be this deficit, with reservations in mind as to the unknowns of technology, the substitution of other materials for timber and so on. A basic criticism which the Opposition makes as regards the volume of planting is that iiic Parliament is entitled to know more about conservation matters in regard to this legislation. Those of us who have seen reafforestation and development along these lines know the effects that it can have on the environment, the ecology, the flora and the fauna. We have moved the amendment because we do not have sufficient evidence. There is nothing in this agreement, for example, which states the responsibilities of the States and the Commonwealth with respect to the environment. We want to know more about this. We want to know what are the qualifications with respect to plantings, for example, in terms of erosion and the encroachment, if any, that would take place on commercial hardwoods. These are questions which we want to raise. This is the reason why the amendment has been moved.

Obviously there are tangible benefits to be derived in terms of production and sales of timber from reafforestation. However, there are also a lot of other benefits to which the Parliament ought to have more access. One benefit relates to management. lt is well known that where planned afforestation policies have been put into effect great efforts are made in the control of fires. 1 think it is accepted that the incidence of fires has been minimised in areas where these policies have been introduced. I am not speaking here about areas under afforestation: I am speaking more in respect of our commercial and noncommercial hardwoods. Where patrols are carried to minimise the incidence of fires, particularly in association with afforestation, one also has better management. As one who lives in the north I might say that a lot of damage is done year in and year out by uncontrolled fires. Most of the land in north Queensland is in the hand of beef producers and firing is part and parcel of pasture management. Therefore, it is a question of trying to balance one versus the other. The owner of a property which has, for example, black spear grass, knows full well that he may have to burn in many seasons to reduce the dry matter and to get the greenpick peak. By doing this he often does damage to the flora and fauna of the area. Therefore it is a question of the balance between the management of hardwoods and the need to increase productivity in an area. I am well aware, of course, that the Forestry and Timber Bureau of the Department of National Development takes all of these matters into consideration in respect to its programmes. But we in the Parliament ought to know more about these matters. 1 have covered the main points that I wanted to make. The principal one is the need to increase the plantings in Australia in view of all the evidence available on the supply and demand position in the south east Pacific and throughout the world. We have the resources which we can develop efficiently and economically. We know that this is the case and that this should be done. As a matter of fact, in some areas development should be accelerated, provided that in the management of our hardwood forests sufficient emphasis is given always to conservation of flora and fauna and the environment. lt is a question of balance between these factors.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Order!The honourable member's time has expired. Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Davies - I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

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