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Wednesday, 11 October 1972
Page: 1427

Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) - The Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill was a Bill of major national importance when it was before the House of Representatives and the Senate some weeks ago. At that stage the Committee dealt very fully with the Bill. It reviewed the agreements by the States and the Commonwealth to a continuing programme of financial assistance to the States for the establishment of forestry for an ensuing 5 years. The agreement was a continuing one that had existed for some years previously. One could well predict that no matter what the political complexion of the government in power was, this type of agreement was of national importance. It was of great importance to the growth of a product such as timber used for the production of cellulose, the supply of which, in our future, will be of major importance not only to ourselves but to other nations. In this great country, with its great expansive areas which can be laid down to forestry, the Bill was of national importance.

It was interesting that the Committee should amend the Bill and that the Senate should return it to the House of Representatives. Those honourable senators who voted against the amendment have felt quite strongly that the action taken by the Australian Labor Party and the Democratic Labor Party was, to an extent, irresponsible. I think this statement is well emphasised by the fact that the Bill has now been returned to us, which indicates that there is an acceptance that those things which were debated in the Committee and contained in the amendment were certainly unnecessary. At the time I said that representatives of a States House should not suggest that there was not the competence in the States to ensure, when studies were being made of areas which were to be established by the contribution of Commonwealth money, and certainly by the overwhelming work of the State governments that there would be a concentration on those things that were suggested. I recall that the Democratic Labor Party moved the amendment, which was supported by the ALP. That amendment attempted to set out certain things and provided that the Bill be amended by adding the words 'The State shall ensure that planting during each year is carried out efficiently and in conformity with sound forestry, environmental and financial practices'. I do not suggest that my State ot Victoria with its great background of forestry work does not have the competence or the wisdom to do just those things. It has dealt with many millions of dollars over the period of plantings in that State. Perhaps other honourable senators have less confidence in their States.

Senator McLaren - That is what Senator Byrne thought about Queensland.

Senator WEBSTER - The interruption that I hear from behind me indicates that at least some members of the Australian Labor Party did not consider that their party in the States which they represent had enough competence to attend to the propositions which they put. I make the point that it is quite evident that every State has been in the forefront of concern for forestry, its efficiency and its environmental aspects in past years. And they certainly will be doing likewise in the future. The Senate suggested to the House of Representatives a further amendment which stated:

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 that the Council after considering the report of the said study has approved the particular clearing.

We were suggesting to the Australian Forestry Council - a body consisting of the highest forestry authorities in the State and Federal spheres - that it needed to be attentive to some matters which the Senate suggested were of importance. There is no doubt that environmental practice, so far as it relates to forestry, is of concern to everybody. I am certain that Victoria has been very conscious of environmental problems within the State. Not only has it had an obligation to consider its water catchment areas, but also forests have been planted to purify the water and to prevent soil erosion. One by-product which comes forward is the protection of animals when natural parks are created.

Well before this Bill ever came to the Senate there was some suggestion that the continued planting of pinus insignis or pinus radiata had the effect of discouraging bird life and creating little growth under the concentration of trees. It is quite obvious that that type of tree allows for little growth underneath. It can be said that unless there are rows of fire breaks throughout the area flora and fauna may not live there. But those fire break areas, which are constantly cultivated, provide the most lush feeding areas for all sorts of animals. Honourable senators who have had some connection with the planting of forests, the general improvement of areas and the provision of fire breaks which are now an essential part of development, have indicated that the planting of pinus areas in the whole State has encouraged bird and animal life. I am quite confident that the Government of my own State is aware of the very important environmental aspects which this Senate had the presumption to suggest should be provided for in the Bill before the allocation of money was made.

The Senate amendment has been returned from the House of Representatives and it has disagreed with the amendment. The House of Representatives has suggested that the Senate should reconsider the amendment which had been made and it desires the concurrence of the Senate in the amendment made by the House of Representatives. All that it has done has been to say that the States will do what they have been doing traditionally for many years. The amendment states: and shall ensure that environmental factors relating to the planting have been considered.

I think it is quite appropriate that the Senate, having discussed at length the benefits which the Commonwealth as a whole is gaining, should now accept this Bill and the amendment proposed by the House of Representatives.

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