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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 69

Senator BROWN (4:51 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the documents.

The government is tabling the regional forest agreements for Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales. You will be aware, Mr Acting Deputy President, that these agreements were, in the main, signed back in the 1990s. I ask the government why on earth it is tabling them at least five years later. Notwithstanding the administrative reasons the government may come forward with, it is very important that this opportunity be taken to comment on events occurring in Tasmania as I speak.

On Friday, the Tasmanian Resource Management and Planning Tribunal found that the residents of South Sister, near St Marys, who are concerned about imminent logging of a coupe of natural forest upstream and uphill from them, had a prima facie case against that logging. The case that they put forward, which was backed by well-qualified experts, was that there was a potential for land slippage following logging; a potential for contamination of on-surface and below-ground water; and a very real potential—as a consequence of logging and fast-growing plantations afterwards—of loss of water supply to the local residents. We are talking here about potential contamination and loss of domestic water supply to residents in the immediate vicinity and in the town of St Marys downstream near the east coast of Tasmania. The prima facie case has been found by the tribunal, and the logging should not proceed until the matters raised have been worked out and the potential dangers and losses to the community have been found to not exist—or the logging should be permanently stopped.

The tribunal ruled that, because these residents could not raise the tens of thousands of dollars that were required to give an assurance to Forestry Tasmania, the logging should proceed and could proceed. Here we have the extraordinary situation where, on scientific grounds, a prima facie case against logging has been raised before the tribunal in Tasmania, but it failed because the residents are not rich. If ever there was an abrogation of duty of the authorities to ensure that everybody is equal before the law, this is it. I might add that the Tasmanian audit authority, the forest authority which has to audit the potential logging for environmental consequences and to make sure that these consequences will be minimised so that ecological sustainability will be in place, had not picked up the dangers of this logging which the experts before the tribunal were able to attest to. In other words, the forest review board failed in its duty to adequately examine the potential—despite months, if not years, of campaigning by local residents.

I have written today to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, to ask him to immediately use his good offices to intervene to see not only that justice is done but also that commonsense prevails. Whatever side we may be on in this issue, the fact is that a prima facie case has been found that there are very considerable risks of environmental detriments in the logging of this coupe proceeding. It is no great matter for Forestry Tasmania to divert this logging elsewhere for the next nine weeks until the tribunal has heard the full case and can make its ruling. So it should be no great matter for the minister for the environment, Senator Ian Campbell, to use his good offices to effect such a change. It would be bloody-minded, to say the least, for Forestry Tasmania, backed by Gunns Ltd, to move in on this small community and log this particular coupe—against the finding of the tribunal that there is a prima facie case that there would be environmental damage done by that action.

I want to say to the government that the whole of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement is under test in this case. There cannot be reasoned support for an agreement which is said to be for ecologically sustainable logging if a tribunal finds that there is a prima facie case that that is not going to happen, if the Commonwealth stands aside while the whole tenet of the regional forest agreement is breached, and if the logging proceeds before the tribunal comes up in June. I appeal to the minister—and I note the former Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Hill, is at the table—and this government to listen to what these ordinary residents, who include farmers and tourist operators, are saying: their businesses, their domestic water supply and their neighbourhood amenity are threatened by this logging activity. An independent tribunal, officially established under Tasmanian law, has found that they have a prima facie case.

It is incumbent on this government and this Prime Minister, who signed the regional forest agreement back in November 1997, to ensure that the promise of that agreement—a prime ministerial promise—is carried into effect. You cannot have that if this government washes its hands and stands aside and says, ‘We know there is a prima facie case for environmental damage and that economic harm to local residents has been established, but we will do nothing to uphold the abiding spirit, as stated by the Prime Minister, of the regional forest agreement that this would not and could not happen.’

On another matter related to the regional forest agreements, logging has doubled in rate and extent since the prime ministerial signature in 1997. This year, 150,000 log trucks will go to the woodchip mills of Tasmania and through there to the pulp mills and paper mills of Japan. I was in Japan recently and I can report back that in the main, except for people who have been to Tasmania and who are involved in this, the people of Japan have no idea of the logging, clear-felling, burning and poisoning regimes of Forestry Tasmania and Gunns Ltd in the island state of Tasmania, and they are horrified by what they see when they are shown what takes place.

This government should take a raincheck here; it should think again. The Prime Minister has promised to protect 176,000 hectares of Tasmania’s forests—in the main, public forests. He could show a good intent by putting just this one coupe at South Sister on the list of 176,000 hectares as yet undetermined. It will be at most a few hundred hectares. Premier Lennon from Tasmania came to Canberra last week to discuss with the Prime Minister the stalemate in negotiations as to which forests should be protected. (Time expired)