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Address to the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania Annual Dinner: Hobart: 18 June 2004.

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Last updated: 22 June 2004

Forest Industries Association of Tasmania Annual Dinner

Wrest Point Casino, Hobart - 18 June 2004

Well thanks very much for that very generous introduction and welcome and good evening ladies and gentlemen.

It's a real pleasure for me to again be with the forest industry in Tasmania and I'm indeed honoured that I've been invited to be with you tonight.

Ladies and gentlemen I do want to recognise just some of the luminaries in the Tasmanian forest industry who are with us tonight. Of course that description clearly relates to the Chairman and President of the Forest Industry Association of Tasmania, John Gay, and John thank you very much for having me with you.

I want to recognise Glenn Britton, a member of a fourth or fifth generation industry family in Tasmania. And of course the Clennetts family are here. Owen Muscat from the Country Sawmillers Association who's also on the TCA National Board. And the people who keep the industry moving like Evan Rolly, Terry Edwards and Kate Carnell and any number of other people all very, very important and playing a significant role in the forestry Industry in Tasmania.

Ladies and gentlemen I am conscious that on a night like tonight very often the rest of the audience don't like politicians acknowledging other politicians. But tonight I'm going to repeat what your MC has already done and acknowledge a lot of my political colleagues, some friends, some not so friendly in the political sense to me, but I think it's important to acknowledge them because it does demonstrate the seniority and the breath of support for this industry.

And of course I particularly want to acknowledge the Premier of Tasmania, the Hon Paul Lennon, a great friend of the industry, Senator Paul Calvert, the President of the Senate, a very well known Tasmanian and another great friend of the industry, and Senator Eric Abetz, Tasmanian to the core and Special Minister of State. I think Rob Valentine from the Hobart City Council, the Lord Mayor was to be with us. The Hon Bryan Green, your local State Minister for Infrastructure, Energy and Resources, and a guy who I've come to know pretty well in a lot of different meetings we have relating to forestry and other matters. Will Hodgman from a political family in Tasmania, very well known, representing Rene Hidding the Leader of the Tasmanian Opposition. Sid Sidebottom, the Member for Braddon, a great guy. Dick Adams a good friend of mine - I don't quite understand his politics but not a bad guy all round, Paul Harris MLC and Allison Ritchie. And a number of Mayors with us tonight Peter Wilson, Don Hazell and Nick Cracknell.

So ladies and gentlemen I think it is important for the industry to understand just what support it has across the whole spectrum of political life in our country.

It is, as I say, always a great pleasure for me to be here with the forest industry in Tasmania. In my 2 ½ years as the Federal Forestry Minister, I visited most of Tasmania and met with a lot of people who champion this State.

And I'm always so very impressed with the long-term commitment shown by companies and individuals working in the Tasmanian forest sector - a sector that employs one in ten Tasmanians and contributes about $1 billion directly each year to your State economy.

I am delighted to hear of the bumper year the housing and sawlog industry has had. I have to say as a national Government we take some credit for that.

Our booming, yet carefully managed, economy just didn't happen by chance. It has taken a lot of hard work and it's taken many difficult decisions, but the results are there and I'm delighted to see that the forestry sector has benefited from our economic management.

I am very proud of the Howard Government's on-going support for the Regional Forest Agreement here in Tasmania and of the fact that the RFA has contributed to the indisputable fact that 40% of Tasmania is locked away in reserves that will forever protect the unique natural wilderness of this State and some of Australia's very special trees.

I am also proud that the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement, which was signed by a Liberal Prime Minister with a Liberal Premier, is still in force and is still as strong as ever today strongly supported by both the Labor Premier of this State and the Liberal Leader.

The Howard Government's commitment to the RFA process can be no more clearly demonstrated than by our action in ensuring that the first Bill to pass through the Senate in this term of Government was the Regional Forest Agreement Bill.

And I well remember that very joyous night and I know there were a number of you at it, when that Bill finally overcame the Greens filibuster to become law. And what a great night that was that night.

Ladies and gentlemen the National Government's support for the Regional Forest Agreement continues.

We honour both the clauses of the Agreement and the provisions of that Act of the Federal Parliament. That's the Federal Government's position.

I don't need to remind any of you but the Labor Government in this State is totally supportive of and committed to the Regional Forest Agreement, as is the Liberal Party in this State.

Nor do I need to remind you that when the RFA Act passed through the Federal Parliament it had the support of the Labor Opposition - then led by Simon Crean, a former Primary Industries Minister and a union official with a history of commitment to jobs for his union members. I guess in that way, he was very much like your current Premier, Paul Lennon, who is dedicated to the forest industry not just because it's right for Tasmania, but because it provides

jobs for workers.

But unfortunately, I have to express some anxiety about the actions of the Federal Opposition in Canberra.

I am anxious that the current Leader of the Federal Opposition appears to be playing fast and loose with the forest industry, without much concern for the industry itself and the workers employed in it. He's doing that when it comes to appealing to voters in marginal urban electorates on the mainland.

I can understand your frustration when your futures, your families, your livelihoods are the playthings of the latte set in Melbourne and Sydney.

Tasmania should not be disadvantaged to appease the consumer conscience of uninformed, wealthy urban communities.

It seems to be the position of some of those in our major urban populations - misinformed as they are - that they would rather import wood products from other countries, where forestry practices may not be sustainable, than support our forest industry and our sustainably managed forests.

I keep getting signals that the Federal Labor Opposition won't sacrifice workers jobs in the Tasmanian economy to gain favour with the Greens political party.

But the Federal Opposition Leader is developing a bit of a reputation for saying one thing to one audience he is trying to impress and a different thing to when it comes to being held accountable on his website.

So, who knows what he might do if, a few days before the Federal Election, his pollsters tell him that he's within a hair's breath of becoming Prime Minister and all he needs is a few additional Green second preferences.

I would expect that your industry could rely on a united, voluble and serious campaign by the union movement as a whole, if that sort of treachery was ever embarked upon.

I have already acknowledged tonight several members of the Federal Opposition from this State and not for one moment do I question their commitment to the Tasmanian forest industry. I know those who are with you tonight are great supporters of the industry and I know that they will remain true to that.

But this is a very serious matter. It's your future at stake and we do need to ensure that the bipartisan support for the forest industries continues.

Ladies and gentlemen I now want to turn to the Resource Planning and Development Commission's Inquiry on the Progress with the Implementation of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement.

I think it is possibly the worst kept secret around, but of the 30 recommendations by the RPDC, there is no issue between the Tasmanian and Australian Governments with 25 of them. The remaining 5 recommendations are subject to discussions between the two Governments.

Even where the Commonwealth believes that the RPDC could have gone a little further on a recommendation or two, there is nothing in our position that will seriously impact upon the industry, the Tasmanian economy or workers jobs.

I hope to be able to formally release the Commonwealth's response to the five year review of the RFA in the very near future and at the same time, to table a joint implementation strategy between the Australian and Tasmanian Governments which Bryan Green and I are currently working on.

There will always be areas where we believe that the forest administration and management throughout Australia could be done better.

We will be making our views known to all the relevant forest managers in the various States, including Tasmania, but bearing in mind that forestry management is the constitutional responsibility of the States it will be up to the States to work with us in what I believe will be very appropriate suggestions to help ensure that an even more sustainable and progressive forest industry ensures for the future.

Ladies and gentlemen the future of our forest and wood products industry depends on the ability of governments, communities and the industry to work together to attract more investments to use our increasing fibre resource, to value-add and provide the products consumers want and to address our trade deficit in forest and wood products. We need to be able to work together to consolidate and develop markets; and we need to work together to maximise and promote the benefits the industry provides to all Australians.

To do this we need an innovative and dynamic approach to forest management to ensure Australia continues to lead the world in sustainable management practices, research and development.

The Australian Government has initiated a number of investment strategies for further investment in the forest industry across all of the States and it is planned that later in this year or early next year, Tasmania will host a meeting of the stakeholders from all of the major commercial forest areas around Australia to develop the framework for a new Vision for the industry.

This meeting will build upon a series of Regional Forest Investment Workshops being undertaken across mainland Australia and it's identifying actions necessary to fully develop the full range of benefits the Australian forest estate can provide.

The things we want to look at in those seminars are the establishment, or the exploitation one might say of the latest technology, we want to look at security of resources, downstream processing, and environmentally friendly pulp and paper mills to stop us having to import much of our paper products from overseas.

On that note, I see the Tasmanian Government has completed its review of the Environmental Guidelines for New Bleached Eucalypt Kraft Pulp Mills. I'm very much looking forward to the conclusions of that review.

Ladies and gentlemen the Australian Government has played its part in encouraging investment that ensures the necessary resource is available for the future.

Our support for the Regional Forest Agreements is mirrored in the support for the plantation industry with the amendments to the taxation legislation that saw the re-introduction of the 12 month pre-payment rule.

And the Prime Minister's Energy Statement delivered earlier this week will mean big savings for those in the forest industry using petrol or diesel in the off-road part of their forestry operations.

The Australian Government, along with all of the States particularly Tasmania, have been great supporters of the Australian Forestry Standard, a soon to be internationally recognised standard through its association with the Programme for Environmental Forest Certification (PEFC) that is independently and professionally audited to ensure its integrity. And while I'm talking about the RFA and the independent professional audit that does ensure the integrity of the Australian Forestry Standard, I do want to congratulate both Gunns Limited and Forestry Tasmania for being amongst the first to be certified for that very important AFS standard. So congratulations to both Gunns and Forestry Tasmania.

It's also good to see John Gay and the Gunns people, Glen Britton and members of his family and also as I mentioned before the Clennetts Family, I'm told that those three families, those three companies are just three notable in Tasmania that have been in business in this State for over 100 years. And they must have been doing something right and I'm sure that they will all go on for the next 100 years because they are making a major and significant contribution to Tasmania and the Tasmanian economy. And it's great to recognise companies like those that have had such a longstanding commitment to the industry and who I know will be there for many, many years to come.

Ladies and gentlemen I think it is important to the Australian economy and indeed to the world's environment and ecology that we do continue to maintain a progressive and sustainable forest industry for Australia. And I am committed to doing that. Unfortunately that commitment that I have and I know many other politicians in this room have, that commitment is not shared in the Federal Parliament by those, who the ill informed might expect, would become from the strongest advocates for a sustainable industry.

Most environmentalists around Australia, and I think that includes all of us in this room, would want Australia to use wood and paper products that are sourced from the most environmentally friendly forests rather than being hacked from forests overseas in a way that should be of genuine concern to even the most radical green groups.

But that concern certainly in the Federal Parliament is not demonstrated by the Australian Greens Political Party. I, Eric Abetz and Paul Calvert have I must say the misfortune to have to sit in a parliamentary chamber in the National Parliament and listen to some of the left wing dogma that comes from the Greens political Party but we have to. I have to say that after listening to them in the Senate as I am forced to do, I am quite uncertain as to what the Greens policy is on the environment.

The Greens claim to be the great upholders of democracy and the institution of the Parliament, as well as the environmental watchdogs.

But in the past 2 ½ years that I have been in this particular job rarely have I heard the Greens expound within the Parliament of the nation much about the environment at all.

Certainly after 2 ½ years as the Minister for Forestry and Conservation, and as the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment in the Senate, I can only ever recall being asked one question at Question Time by the Greens about the environment.

They never turn up to Estimates Committees to question me or the room full of my bureaucrats about environmental or conservation policies.

I'm not sure if you are aware what the Estimates Committee process are, but it allows all Senators to come in, question me, question the Government bureaucrats on every detail, on every aspect of the various policies that we have.

But when the opportunity is available for the Greens Senators to question the Government on the environment they simply don't show. In fact it's the second time this year in the Estimates Committees where the Greens have had that opportunity and simply did not show up.

And then when their laziness and hypocrisy is exposed they lie about the reason for their absences.

But the real reason for I think their absence is quite clear. Away from the theatre and the television cameras they're not prepared to engage with myself or my bureaucrats in one-to-one debate on environmental policy. Simply because they have no genuine sensible policies that can stand any scrutiny. And I'm sure they can appreciate that in a one-to-one debate at Estimate Committees they would be shown up for the environmental frauds that they are.

However, I have to say that being of a generous nature as my Parliamentary colleagues will no doubt acknowledge, I'm always prepared to give people the benefit of the doubt.

So I thought that although I don't hear about the environmental policies of the Greens political Party in Parliament or in Estimates Committees, that I'd have a look elsewhere.

I must say I am indebted to my friend and colleague, the Member for Farrer, Mrs Sussan Ley, who alerted me to the fact that the Greens have a website which I understand is constantly updated.

So I felt quite sure that I would find on the Greens website what their real concerns were about the major environmental issues of the moment. I wanted to get their views on the weeds problem which is one of the greatest environmental concerns I believe Australia faces at the moment, it's not terribly sexy - the latte set in Melbourne and Sydney aren't too interested in it but it is there. I felt sure that these paragons of the environment would have a comment about that very serious issue and also about the plans which the Howard Government has to embark upon very significant protection for one of the world's great natural wonders, that is the Great Barrier Reef.

I was sure that going to the Greens website I would find a comment about the problems of the environmental flows in the Murray Darling Basin, or something about the protection of endangered flora and fauna. So I turned to their website.

Yesterday's leading issues on page one of their website included; the American treatment of Iraqi terrorists, world refugee day rally; a rally to bring home the troops, the slaughter of black Sudanese people and some comment about the relationship, and I can't quite follow this, between governments, NGOs and the corporate sector.

There was also some comment on the boardroom decisions being taken by the ABC, although why the Greens would complain against the ABC organisation that gives them and their ultra left wing views totally disproportionate publicity, I fail to understand.

So having failed to find too much out about the Greens environmental policy from the home page of their website I clicked onto their "hot issues" page.

There I found that the hot issues of the day were public education, the war against Saddam Hussein's regime, the US Free Trade Agreement and there was I have to confess though one item entitled climate change. On reading the first paragraph of that article it seemed to suggest that the cause for all of our problems of the climate change was because of the "American invasion of Iraq".

Last week's leading issues on their website seemed to be about abolishing ATSIC, reform of the Senate - I'm sure the President would have read that very carefully, there was some comment there about gay marriages, prisoner abuse, the extradition of a couple of crooks from Hong Kong and Hicks' August trial.

Now ladies and gentlemen that's all fine in a democracy. Groups of politicians certainly are encouraged to have diverse views on a wide range of subjects.

But most voters don't vote for the Greens for their ultra left wing views. If they wanted those views to be converted into action in the National Parliament they'd vote for the Communist Party.

But most people vote for the Greens because they believe they are supportive of sustainable forestry, saving cuddly koalas, all important environmental issues.

It's not the left wing views of the Greens that I object to, but rather the fraudulent way in which they garner votes for their left wing social and political philosophies by masquerading behind the green image.

I'm not sure from the material that I've seen on the Greens website that any prospective voter concerned about the environment would get any great comfort from casting a vote for that political party.

However the voters would get a real buzz from the Greens website on-line poll.

And my, doesn't their little poll show a bit of sensitivity when old mates fall out.

Of the massive number of 392 people who responded to their on-line poll, only 28% in this Green poll thought that Peter Garrett's installation as the Labor candidate for Kingsford-Smith was a great thing for the Australia. 31% on this poll on the Greens website described it as a sell out, 11% said 'it would end in tears.' I must say by this time I was almost in tears myself! And ominously I might say for the Labor Party, 28% ticked the box that said 'Good luck - he'll need it'. All of which suggests to me that perhaps Mr Latham has made a monumental mistake in hoping to get Greens support for what Green supporters see as a great green sell out.

So it was all terribly interesting. If you have nothing to do and want a good laugh or want to divert some peoples attention to what the Greens are about when you're having a beer with them one day, get them to have a look at the Greens website and you'll see what frauds they are

when it comes to the environment.

But ladies and gentlemen before I leave the subject of political parties website, I should mention during my research on the Greens website, I happened to come across the home page of the Communist Party of Australia. Yes, it still does exist! And I wonder if you would be surprised if I told you that the riveting articles that appeared highlighted on the web page of the Communist Party of Australia had a very familiar ring about them. They were about the defeat of the US Free Trade Agreement, terrorism and the US wars of conquest, David Hicks' charging and the opposition to Australia's terrorism bills.

And would you believe, that one thing both websites have in common was a very intense attack on what they saw as the sell-out of Peter Garrett to the Labor Party.

So ladies and gentlemen an interesting night if you've got nothing better to do. Have a look at those websites and note the similarity.

But ladies and gentlemen tonight is a social night so enough of that sort of thing. We are of course fortunate to live in a democracy where we accept and support the right of individuals to their own view. But what we do have to do in Australia is to ensure that Australians know the true facts and are not hoodwinked by the deliberate dishonesty of the ultra left in our society and I might say a compliant media.

Ladies and gentlemen I know I can count on your support to expose the great lie in Australian politics.

You certainly have my total commitment to that goal.

Ladies and gentlemen I do thank you very much again for inviting me along to join you tonight. My very, very best wishes for a successful future for your industry and all of those many of you who make their living or who simply exist because of the forest industry in Tasmania whether you're directly involved or indirectly involved. So I wish you and all who rely upon it a very successful future for this industry.

Can I also express my very best wishes to the Forest Industry Association of Tasmania. The job of the Association is not an easy one but it is essential and I again congratulate the President and your very hard working CEO on all of the work that the organisation does and from the co-operative way it deals with our Government and I know the Tasmanian Government and I know the Tasmanian Opposition. You've got a great organisation and I do really appreciate the work it does and I congratulate them for it.

Finally ladies and gentlemen, can I encourage you all, although I know my encouragement is probably not needed, can I encourage you to be proud of your industry and on the contribution that your industry makes to our nation - in the past - at the present - and I know in the future.

Ladies and gentlemen again thank you for honouring me by allowing me to be with you on this very important night.