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Wednesday, 16 August 1972
Page: 86

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) - I intimated during my second reading speech that at the Committee stage I proposed to move an amendment to clause 9 of the Schedule annexed to the Bill. I take it to be, in effect, an amendment to clause 3 of the Bill which refers to the Schedule. I now move:

In the Schedule, leave out clause 9, insert the following clauses:

9.   - The State shall ensure that planting during each year is carried out efficiently and in conformity with sound forestry, environmental and financial practices. 9a. - The State shall ensure that natural forests shall not be cleared for planting softwoods unless the particular proposed clearing has beforehand been the subject of an environmental impact study made by an independent expert on behalf of the Australian Forestry Council and the Council after considering the report of the said study has approved the particular clearing'.

During my second reading speech 1 indicated the general basis on which we propounded the amendment. We are indebted to the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton) for the observations he made when closing the second reading debate in which he revealed his personal association with this industry, somethings of his own skill in connection with it and his interest in its welfare. When such knowledge is presented to this chamber - too briefly, unfortunately - we should all be grateful that the Minister was so well prepared and so well informed. 1 say that because I am not able to accept his observations as to the consequences of the proposed amendment, if it is written into the Bill, and the criticism be levelled against it.

The Minister said, firstly, that it would be in some sense a denial of co-operative federalism. What is apparent in this Bill is that the executive government of the Commonwealth and the executive governments of the States have conferred and have agreed to the writing of a new agreement to operate when the existing agreement terminates with the effluxion of time. That agreement is not yet concluded, and it is clear therefore that this is not a Bill for an Act which will confirm an agreement already entered into, ft is a Bill to which Ls annexed a schedule, a proposed agreement which though it may receive the joint assent of the participating parties is not yet a concluded agreement. I am not able to concede that it is purely within the province of the executive governments to conclude agreements of this character when they require legislative sanction whether on the part of the Commonwealth or on ,:ne part of the States, and merely to present a parliament, be it a provincial parliament or the Federal Parliament, with a fait accompli and require that parliament to give it legal authority and legislative operation. I cannot concede that in this case. Obviously an agreement of this character, because it has to receive legislative approval, will be an agreement made by the Parliaments of the Commonwealth and the States. The fact that we are presented with what is virtually a draft agreement, not concluded, and with these extremely interesting words, to which Senator Cavanagh indicated he proposed to refer later on, in clause 3 - 'the execution on behalf of the Commonwealth of an agreement between the Commonwealth and a State substantially in accordance with the form contained in the annexed Schedule' - obviously indicates that it is contemplated by the Bill that this would not necessarily be the final form of the agreement for either the Commonwealth or a State. Obviously the way is open for the Parliament in either case to express its own view and if it found it necessary or desirable to indicate in some way how the proposed agreement should be varied.

Senator Cavanagh - J would have thought it was the final agreement unless there was a substantial alteration.

Senator BYRNE - That may be the interpretation.

Senator Cavanagh - ls your amendment a substantial alteration?

Senator BYRNE - I am indebted to the honourable senator who proposed to make some observations on this. That may well be the interpretation to be placed on it. It would be quite improper, on my reading, to deny this legislature or one of the State legislatures the opportunity and the right to scrutinise the agreement and, if necessary, to find a reason to impose its own ideas and let it go back for further consideration. The Minister said, and I indicated this in my second reading speech, that if we carry this amendment and if the amendment is then carried in another place the proposed agreement will have to go back to the States for them to rethink it to see whether they are prepared to accept this approach by the National Parliament. The States would then say whether they are prepared to renegotiate on that basis or whether they adhere to their original proposition as contained in the Schedule. Then it would be a matter for renegotiation and further discussions to see whether some accord could be discovered along the lines that this chamber is now pro proposing should be the proper basis on which the agreement should be written. Therefore I do not think that this Parliament should be expected, and 1 would not be a party to it, to surrender its right to scrutinise this agreement merely because the executive Government has seen fit in these terms to negotiate it.

As the Minister said, there are men in this place skilled in this field who have brought their ideas to bear. Surely those ideas quite rightly can find some fruitful operation and the effect of their presentation can find expression in an amendment carried in this place. Since the time whe the 1967 agreement, the last agreement and the presently operating agreement, was concluded a completely new concept has emerged in the thinking of the whole world, including Australia, on the significance of environmental control. Surely that is a new concept the real importance of which is only now becoming apparent. It would seem that if that was not a concept embodied in the original agreement it is because it was not at that time considered to be of the importance that it is considered today to be. Therefore it would appear completely logical that we should write this new concept, if we have the opportunity, into the agreement to be concluded. That appears quite logica! and I would hope that the States would accept it in that way. This is not an attempt by the Commonwealth to impose its will on the States. I am unable to accept that as an interpretation of the action that my amendment proposes to take.

This is the Commonwealth, through the Parliament, expressing its view on what should be in an agreement in pursuance of which revenue is to be appropriated and money made available to the States. I cannot accept that as other than a proper exercise of co-operative federalism. I can find no validity whatever in the argument of the Minister that this is a denial of cooperative federalism and I do not think the States would regard it as such. If, for example, instead of our moving in this matter this agreement had come before the South Australian Parliament and it proposed a step such as my Party's amendment proposes, would we regard that as an attempt by South Australia to impose its will on this Parliament?

Senator Cotton - Yes.

Senator BYRNE - I would not interpret it in that way.

Senator Cotton - I would.

Senator BYRNE - I would not interpret it in that way at all. Surely a sovereign parliament is entitled to express its view, its opinion and to give it legislative form on a matter on which it is required cooperatively to legislate and in respect of which it is to provide funds. Surely that is not an imposition of the will of the Commonwealth on a State or vice versa. The Commonwealth may have had a fairly limited role in the field of forestry development, which has been exclusively within the province of the States. Nevertheless the provision of funds in this case is of Commonwealth interest and concern and flows from Commonwealth revenue and that gives us an entitlement to speak our mind in this matter. That is what we are now asking the Senate to do.

Senator Webster - Are you going to explain to us what you mean by this wording you have put forward?

Senator BYRNE - I was not aware that the wording was so obscure that it would require that.

Senator Webster - It is obscure to me.

Senator BYRNE - That would not necessarily prove the point, with due respect. Nevertheless, it may still be obscure. What we propose is that the environmental consequences of the operation of reafforestation shall be investigated. That is what we ask. We are not asking that the investigation be entrusted to an irresponsible body. The body to which it is to be entrusted is a body to which Senator Cotton has referred. He referred to its charter, its status and the effectiveness of its operation. Surely if that body is asked, as an additional function within its existing charter, or as an additional head of its directive, to take into account the environmental consequences and if the body has the status and competency stated by Senator Cotton surely there should be no concern in this place as to whether that body should be entrusted with this additional responsibility.

Senator Webster - Can you refer to an environmental study which would be equivalent to what you are seeking? What are you seeking?

Senator BYRNE - What do you mean by that question?

Senator Webster - What are you seeking by your words?

Senator BYRNE - We are seeking a study of the environmental impact of proposed development, redevelopment or reafforestation. Senator Webster may not have been here at the time, but earlier in the debate Senator Cotton raised that matter and we spoke of the ecological consequences. For example, if we are to replace an indigenous forest with an exotic forest there will be a disturbance of the native life - flora and fauna - within the eucalypt forest which may not be able to live within the pine forest. That is an illustration of the type of impact we feel such a disturbance might have, and it is the type of impact we are hoping this body will investigate. If on the balance of advantages the disturbance is so grave and so great that it would not warrant a proposed venture there should be serious consideration given to whether the project should proceed. That is the type of investigation which appears to me to be completely logical and wise and it is certainly in consonance with the new sensitivity of this nation in relation to environmental protection and the general conservation of flora and fauna and natural resources. Therefore I am somewhat at a loss to know why the Government should not be prepared to accept this amendment. We know that the consequence of it being accepted would be that the agreement would have to go back for reconsideration and perhaps renegotiation, but I do not know that the States would not quite readily be prepared to accept this proposition. After all, it would involve the conservation of State assets and ecology and way of natural life.

Senator Webster - Are you able to describe where there is any natural forest being cleared in Australia for the planting of softwoods?

Senator BYRNE - I do not have the list here; I have given it to Hansard. I have mentioned already where in fact that was taking place in New South Wales. I was briefed on that but I forget the names of the places. The Boyd Plateau is one I remember- and one to which Senator Cotton referred.

Senator Webster - Was that a burnt out forest?

Senator BYRNE - You heard how Senator Cotton described it. I imagine that those who would be familiar with it and who would be interested in the amendment that we propose may have had another description and another analysis of the reasons for its present condition and the possibility of its retrievability. I would imagine that there could well be another interpretation of the whole position, but that in fact is going on and it is something we should strive earnestly to avoid. 1 certainly think the State governments should try to avoid that situation arising. If they accept this proposition then I think it may well conserve their resources; I think it has all the elements of wisdom and prudence in it.

Senator Keeffe - How do you think Joh will take it? He will be most upset.

Senator BYRNE - Unfortunately, I cannot read the mind of the Premier of Queensland but I suppose that any impediment to the ordinary processes of government is not always welcome even though it may be wise. Nevertheless, perhaps after further consideration the Government may see the wisdom of this proposal. I would have little doubt that this would not in any sense impede a proper renegotiation of this agreement with this new principle embodied in it. It is only a new principle; that is all. All the agreement is saying is that when it is being renegotiated there is one new factor to be taken into account, and we think it should be taken into account. I think the Government should have no concern in that regard. If the Government rests on the basis that this is an imposition of Commonwealth will on the States, I think that is inaccurate. If it is believed that it is a denial of co-operative federalism, I think that is inaccurate. As a matter of fact, it appears to me that it is a prime example of co-operative federalism. It is one element in a series of contracts between a number of parties on the one side and the Commonwealth on the other.

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