Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 16 August 1972
Page: 80

Senator COTTON (New South WalesMinister for Civil Aviation) - We are dealing with the Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill, as has been mentioned by other speakers, and in the process of the debate we have had a consideration of many items and of 2 amendments, one proposed by the Australian Labor Party and one proposed by the Australian Democratic Labor Party. As I understand the situation from the debate as it has progressed, each Party has given its blessing to the amendment proposed by the other Party. I think I should say at the outset that for a variety of reasons which will be developed the Government does not feel that it would be proper or wise to accept either amendment. If we look at this matter fairly objectively we must first of ali say to ourselves that fundamentally forestry is a State matter, that it has been a

State matter for as long as this country has been involved in forestry, and that a great body of expertise has been built up in Australia in the State forest services.

The interest of the Commonwealth from the beginning has been quite minor in that it was limited to the Territories of the Commonwealth. It had its interest in the Australian Capital Territory, it made some attempt to influence development in the Territory of Papua New Guinea and it has had fairly limited resources in the Northern Territory. The Commonwealth was persuaded by the States as an early manifestation of its activity to provide the Canberra Forestry School. This was not a University course but a forestry school. It was to involve a combination of State students who had completed their first 2 years in their State universities and who were to spend the remaining 2 years in the Canberra School of Forestry. As the Australian National University developed, the Canberra Forestry School became part of the Department of Forestry in the Australian National University. But the Commonwealth interest in the total afforestation programme of the sovereign States was really limited to that until the first forestry agreement became a fact of life as part of a general consideration of forestry and part of the whole Australian forestry programme. I shall endeavour in the limited time available to enlarge on that programme. lt has been quite evident from the debate that the Senate has on all sides a great interest in forestry. It has shown a concern which I say with respect to many speakers in the debate is not shared by the same depth of knowledge. But that does not matter. The debate has been most interesting and has been useful because it has expressed fundamentally a concern by the Senate for the forestry problem and programme of Australia. As the Senate is an institution of the National Parliament one would expect that it would adopt an attitude like this where it has concern for a long term national issue and programme, which is what this is all about. To that extent I have been happy to listen to the debate and have welcomed it. However, to do what is proposed in the 2 amendments, if one accepts the Senate as being to any degree a States House, is to interfere in the affairs of the States by direction and pro- cess of demand, lt would be regarded by the States as an unwarranted interference in their affairs and, indeed, in their sovereignty. From that point of view I do not think the amendments are wise.

We must bear in mind also that one of the great exercises in co-operative federalism in respect of this matter has been the Australian Forestry Council. It has been a remarkable arrangement of the Commonwealth and the States joined together to examine the programme, to think about all the issues, to plan progress, to work towards a state of self sufficiency and generally to work as a Commonwealth and States in conjunction. The Commonwealth Council and its standing committee have had remarkable success. The Council takes the normal form of a 2-tier consultative co-operative federalist organisation with a first tier of political heads, being the Commonwealth and State Ministers, and a second tier of departmental heads and advisers from the Commonwealth and the States. It has worked very well. I happen to know a little about it. I was involved in its early years when it began its work, just as I was involved in the early years of the Commonwealth's first assistance for afforestation.

The Commonwealth has been active in the Australian Forestry Council with the constituent States which make up the Council. The Commonwealth takes an active part through its interest in the Australian Capital Territory, the education programme of the Australian National University, the Territory of Papua New Guinea and through the Department of the Interior timber and forestry programme in the Northern Territory. As the debate has gone on we have heard many observations about the sudden need to consider the environmental and ecological problems of Australia. We have been asked to assume - 1 do not think fairly or properly - that the reservoir of all knowledge and interest in this matter is in the Commonwealth and particularly in the Senate. In no way do I detract from the genuine intent, goodwill and earnestness of the people involved, but as I have listened to the debate I have been reminded that the forerunner in Australia of conservation as I know it in the sense of political interest was William McKell, a former Premier of

New South Wales who was later GovernorGeneral of Australia.

Senator Mulvihill - A great Australian.

Senator COTTON - 1 quite agree. He is a friend of mine and a man I admire. McKell went to America and saw the work of the Tennesee Valley Authority, which is well described by David Lilienthal in the book 'A Region Begins to Live'. There he saw the denudation of the years of neglect of the soil, forestry and water problems of that great region. The concept that was regenerated with the Tennesee Valley Authority, the concept of power, water and soil, the multiple use of the region and the multiple discipline, so impressed itself upon McKell that he came back and founded the first department of conservation in this country. That Department of Soil Conservation, Forestry and Water Conservation and Use, with offshoot arrangements into the power generation field, was the forerunner. We should remember this. So I do not think we have the right to assume that we, as a Commonwealth group of people, have suddenly discovered environmental problems or conservation and ecological management, or multiple use disciplines, or that they have been arrived at in later years by a sudden flash of genius in the Commonwealth Parliament. That is not so and we should not assume it to be so.

As a group of people in this Commonwealth Parliament we have a great interest in this matter. We should be acting in the sense of partners, as we have done in the Forestry Council and in the work that the Commonwealth has done to support the forestry programme. Accordingly, that among a great many others would be one of my suggestions why neither of these amendments is proper or wise in the context of operating a federal system sensibly and wisely where the great knowledge and understanding tends to reside in the States. Assume that the people in the Senate, with all their concern, genuineness and interest in this matter, translated themselves to the Minister for Forestry in a State. What would he be saying about his friends and colleagues in the Commonwealth Senate? This will happen to honourable senators if they carry these amendments. But be that as it may. I suggest that what they are talking about here is really a fairly substantial interference in affairs where really they do not need to interfere, where what they are seeking to do < is already being done, the activities of the Forestry Council taking care of their concern. The alarm that has been expressed is an unjustified alarm. Let us consider the Australian Forestry Council. These are its terms of reference:

To promote the welfare and development of Australian forestry.

To arrange a mutual exchange of information regarding production and utilisation of forest products.

To formulate and recommend a forestry policy for Australia with particular regard to forestry development necessary to meet national requirements for forest products, including the provision of finance for development.

To promote and co-ordinate research in forestry and forest products.

The deliberations of the Council, which meets twice a year as a standing committee and once a year as a council of ministers, are directed principally to the development and implementation of a national policy in forestry. That is what the members have done; it is what they do.

The softwood forestry programme flows directly from the work of the Australian Forestry Council. It examined Australia's present and future requirements for forest products and potential supplies. The Council considered that there was a need to increase Australia's production of forest products and the most important initial move that could be made towards overcoming Australia's long term deficiency, which is quite real and very serious in terms of money, would be to increase the rate of softwood planting. There are a lot of reasons for that. What we are really doing here is involving ourselves in a discussion which is properly the sort of thing that should be done in a seminar of a couple of days duration.

Other notable developments within the Council have been the consideration currently being given to the question of assisting States with the development of indigenous forests and the development and the endorsement of forestry and wood based industries development conference which wild be called 'forward', which will be scheduled for 1974, and for which material and papers are being prepared and ear nest scientific and examination work is now going on.. Perhaps those honouable senators who are interested in this matter might attend, with me, that foward' conference. Part of the concern will be the consideration of proposed policies which will ensure that Australia makes the best use of its capacities to grow wood and develop forest industries.

Senator Mulvihillis concerned, as I know he would be from earlier observations and talks that we have had both privately and here in the Senate, with the conservation of the existing hardwood, indigenous forests and associated flora and fauna in relation to softwood plantings. The most significant factor in relation to existing indigenous forests is that based on a prediction that 3 million acres of softwood forest exotic will have been planted by the year 2000, less than 1 per cent of indigenous forests will have to be cleared to make way for such a planting programme. So, although Senator Mulvihill is concerned - and he and I understand each other by saying that we appreciate what I have said - it is quite a minor factor in the total position.

Senator Kane'samendment, to which I draw Senator Byrne's attention, is directed towards environmental matters which I touched on earlier. In this connection it is relevant that the Australian Forestly Council has discussed at length the necessity to consider the effect on the environment of forest management practices. Forest services, as such, both State and Commonwealth, have demonstrated their ability to manage areas on a multiple use basis. They have shown that the provision of raw material for industry is not incompatible with the conservation of flora and fauna and in addition to the action taken by other responsible government agencies, forestry services are continually adding to the areas which they set aside for specific use other than providing raw material.

During the process of this debate we have made inquiries of State forest services and they have revealed that areas to be planted under the second 5-year programme will in the main be the extensions of plantation areas previously established by the forest services and they will not include major development in new areas that might appropriately be the subject of prior environmental impact studies. The services, State and Commonwealth, have taken into account the relevant land use considerations and in the acquisition of land - and this is so provided - the forest services have as far as possible tried to use land previously cleared for agricultural purposes and reverted or land that is able to be bought from agriculture which is the case in South Australian areas.

The problem one has here is that we are dealing with an immense subject of great interest and to some extent complexity. It is not that this matter cannot be totally comprehended. The problem is one of time. Therefore 1 have to move fairly quickly through some of the observations made by some of my colleagues. If I do not deal with all of the matters raised I hope that honourable senators will accept my assurance that it is not that I really do not want to answer their questions but that some restrictions have been placed upon me and I cannot cover the points in the time at my disposal.

Senator Mulvihilltalked about pile on marginal and submarginal country. The problem is that it is uneconomic in most cases and the operation is a economic disaster. If one is to appropriate money to achieve a satisfactory softwood planting programme one must have regard to the economies of the land available. A lot of this land is submarginal in the sense that one would be thinking of it as perhaps not necessarily much good: For instance, there are areas which may include reverted dairy farms in high rainfall country. If one thought of that as submarginal, it would not be my opinion. It could be highly suitable country. However, I just put that point to honourable senator's. Senator Mulvihill discussed the question of the Boyd Plateau. I just want to say, not to him, but to others who have seen fit to make observations on this matter, that I personally resent very much some of the things they had to say. They have been based upon total misinformation and, lack of understanding of the facts, and to some extent they have been close to defamation of character. I have resisted attempts to do anything about this because life is short and other things are there to be done.

Just in passing, I say that the Boyd Plateau is an area of native hardwood forest which was practically destroyed in earlier years by man himself who burnt the forest every year for the purpose of grazing. It was a fine, open park-like forest but gradually the process of being burnt every year for summer grazing produced a total destruction of what might be called good stand. It reverted substantially to wattles and low grade types. In the end its use as a forest was so low as to be almost a joke.

Senator Milliner - The Country Party again.

Senator COTTON - Not really; no, it was not. I think it was a Labor Party seat traditionally all those years, held by Mr Chifley whom I had opposed, and earlier manifestations of the same kind of philosophy. I know that country very well I have walked over it a great deal. I have done a lot of climbing there. A lot of my life has been involved there and therefore that is why I resent the imputations against the people who have been involved in this area. I have fought fires to protect this area in very difficult times with groups of my friends who had formed fire fighting brigades. I did not detect any of the ecologists helping us fight the fires. These were serious fires. The forest was destroyed in the first place by people who burnt it for summer grazing. Then the forest went through a very disastrous stage. Something very unusual happened to it. The same thing happened in the alpine forests from the north of New South Wales into the southern part of Victoria, There was an infestation of a huge insect called phasmid which denuded the forest 2 years in succession. It defoliated the trees. That forest is a great mass of dead standing trees that have been killed by the infestation of insects that were quite uncontrollable.

What is proposed to be done out there is to take a lot of useless forest - and it has proved to be so - and to plant it with the pine trees. This will have some defects in the eyes of some people, but in the community sense it will have some very substantial benefits. If one regards oneself as a person concerned with the environment, pollution of the air and all the ecological factors one should bear in mind that one of the great things that we want close to great concentrations of people is huge, dense forests. What we are seeking to do is to clear the carbon dioxide out of the air. A huge softwood forest close to the metropolitan complex of Sydney is one of the best things that we could have because this would absorb the carbon dioxide at a massive rate. That is just one item in passing.

I will not elaborate on this matter. There is much to be said. A lot of State forests will be left to parks. Parks are going to be quite adequately protected. People have expressed great concern and alarm - they have done so quite properly in the interests of what they believe in - but they have tended to ignore the facts and the probity of other people and to forget that other people have contributed towards the development of this country by doing things rather than stopping things being done. Let us look at the question - and I think it is probably useful to observe it here because Senator Douglas McClelland and Senator Mulvihill spoke about it and I think everyone has an interest. It is perfectly true that one of the best instruments of decentralisation in this country is a well managed pine forest if it can be put in an economic position. An economic position relies upon proximity to market and a type of land that will grow an efficient, competent and useful forest. One such type of forest, this is roughly the situation. One will employ 3 people per hundred acres of forest in the operation. That will give a capacity to have a really useful decentralisation through a span of years. So the observation about forestry's value in decentralisation is one that I naturally would support.

Senator Webster - What comment would you have about the proximity to market?

Senator COTTON - I think it is quite essential. I think the foresters amongst honourable senators would know that they have considerations called site qualities. They range from site quality 1 to site quality 6. Site quality 1 is the optimum land that will grow the highest concentration of wood to the acre and will be the closest to the market. Site quality 6 would have practically no economic value. Proximity to market is a matter of great consequence. This is one of the reasons why it is hard for one to have forests in some places where one may want to plant them. One ought perhaps to observe equally that when looking at softwood forestry one is looking at growing a crop which would be carried out on a long rotation basis. One would be growing cellulose in so many tons to the acre. This plantation would be managed and cared for. Naturally it is a mono-culture.

People have complained about this. But nobody else complains about monoculture in any other form of cropping. Nobody tries to have a grazing operation which is based upon other things and sensible considerations. Nobody tries to have a wheat crop that is mixed up with oats, barley and a collection of weeds such as Patterson's Curse. Monoculture is monoculture. One is trying to grow something optimumly for a human need. That is why we need to think about that as the ultimate position. We are trying to grow in a timber deficient country wood for the acre efficiently for the people of Australia to use - cheaply and as sensibly as we can. Those would be some of the observations that I would wish fairly to make to Senator Mulvihill. I could make others; he would understand that. I would like perhaps even to have time one day to talk to him about these matters.

Senator Websterdealt with the relationship between hardwood and softwood imports. I would like to take some little time on that matter. But I wish to say briefly to Senator Webster that I appreciate his remarks as I appreciated all the contributions that have been made. His observations bore very much to the point that we are looking at a world in which cellulose consumption is rising at a dramatic rate. That is what we are talking about when we discuss the growing of softwoods. We are talking about the growing of cellulose. Senator Webster talked bout the problem of financing forests. Senator Jessop dealt with this matter also. The problem of financing forests arises from the fact that forests have a 40-year life cycle. The difficulty is that the cash flow from a forest does not equal its outgoings until about year 33 in those 40 years. The financing of such an operation is difficult except for those with access to long term finance. It is a profitable exercise over a 40-year span. We can say that the forest will return approximately 6 per cent compound interest throught time on a 40-year rotation cycle. But we must bear in mind that no net cash flow surplus occurs until the 33rd year. The early years are hard years. They do not allow much money for management. They do not allow much money for the repayment of loans or interest. 1 think that we might look at Australia first of all as a forest deficient country having a prime need - and essential and substantial need - to put itself in the situation of growing at least its own wood requirements, lt could think very well later on about growing wood for export because the world will be deficient in wood as the years pass. I recall that it has been said that the future of the world will belong to the forest countries - that is, those that have forest resources - because forests, under good management, provide wood and food, clothing and shelter. I would argue that the Australian forestry programme which is designed to achieve self-sufficiency against consumption is extremely wise and sensible. Beyond that, when our industry is well established, some future generation might think about whether we have the land that could be used to grow timber to provide an export surplus. The point about growing close to the economic sense of use is where Senator Webster came in and that is where, perhaps. I would wish to leave. 1 have some notes here that may be useful as to the total import bill this country would meet in future generations if it had not taken up the planting programme. This has been a debate of interest to many of us and my officers and 1 have gathered a great deal of material. Such a wide range of interest was expressed by honourable senators that we were seeking to cover all the many points that were raised. Imagine that we had not had a Forestry Council in which the States and the Commonwealth joined to exercise cooperative federalism. Imagine that we had not set out to overcome our future timber deficiency. What then would our situation be at some point in the future? The cost of the estimated deficiency that we would have had if we had not set out to overcome this problem is this: If the current rate of planting only were maintained, the cumulative total import replacement cost by the year 2000 is estimated at not less than ยง4,040m at present day prices with the general tendency for world wood prices to escalate. This arises from the fact that no real benefit from the first agreement will be felt until the year J980: due to the increased consumption through pODulation increases and per capita consumption increases the annual import figure will increase inevitably. So, first of all, we are looking at a substantially useful action that has been taken by the States and the Commonwealth in the creation of the Australian Forestry Council. Through the Council we will set out to overcome the problem of Australia's deficiency in timber.

Senator Webster - Would you not need to put in a proviso to show that you are not taking into account what private enterprise has done? You are claiming all that for the Commonwealth-State agreement.

Senator COTTON - No. 1 am not doing that. The forestry programme is one which is designed for the private planting programme to be part of the total programme. The assessment has been made that in the year 2000 a combination of both those factors will achieve a result equal to what I have said.

Senator Webster - ft is not related all to the Commonwealth-State agreement. A good deal of private enterprise has gone on without Commonwealth help.

Senator COTTON - That is perfectly true, and I am not in any way quarrelling with the observations of the honourable senator. In fact, in an earlier period when 1 was involved in this I was one of the people who argued that there was a substantial case for what I called the market economy becoming involved in the softwood afforestation programme. As I sought to develop earlier, this was not easy other than for those companies or concerns which have access to large amounts of long term finance. That has been the delimiting factor. I am always happy to pursue work which leads towards individuals - farmers, companies or institutions - being more involved in the forestry programme than they are at present. But in no way would I wish to delimit what has been done by people or organisations such as Australian Paper Manufacturers Ltd which is one of the huge private forestry operations of Australia. Coming down quite well below that body, I would wish to pay tribute to the many farmers' in good forestry areas who are picking up the programme themselves by doing something with their own properties. All of these are programmes that one has sought to encourage when one has been part of this activity.

Senator DouglasMcClelland made a number of comments on past performances, what had been happening, and drew some conclusions which were not correct. But he also took some pains to stress that New South Wales had been badly treated. The quickest way that I can respond to that in the short time that I have left to me, if I have any time left at all, is to refer to the Schedule to the Bill. Honourable senators will see there that the total programme of forestry being financed by the Commonwealth in order to help the States shows that New South Wales is getting one-third. I do not think anybody really can make a complaint in that respect except of a most minor character.

I would wish, as I indicated earlier, to take a good deal more time. I will not do that, because the time that I need is hours, not minutes. Accordingly, I thank all honourable senators who have spoken for their contributions. I have told the Senate, I think, clearly why the Government does not feel that it is proper, wise or necessary to support either of the amendments - the one moved and the other foreshadowed for the Committee stages. I indicate now personally, without any sense of being other than offering a contribution, that if these amendments go through, I believe - and I underline again the word 'believe' - that it will be necessary for the Commonwealth and the States to come into consultation again to see whether the programme agreed upon is one which the States and the Commonwealth can continue to succeed in. That is in no way other than an observation. Knowing the temper of some of my colleagues and friends in State forestry services and the State Ministers responsible for forestry, I would think that there will be very considerable resentment that this has been set to one side for a series of observations and comments that they will believe are not necessary and which do them less than justice.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be added (Senator Mulvihill's amendment) be added.

Suggest corrections