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The Regional Forest Agreement Bill.

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15 July, 1998


The first matter of business in todays extraordinary sitting of the House of Representatives is a little known, deceptively simple piece of legislation which, if pas sed, will remove the Commonwealth from any further legal responsibility for protecting about half of Australia's biodiversity for the next 20 years.


The Regional Forest Agreement Bill proposes to exempt all forestry operations in RFA areas from all existing and future Commonwealth environment laws. It also guarantees that the Commonwealth will compensate state governments (and the logging industry) should the Commonwealth consider it necessary in the future to conserve more forest in order to protect Australia's natural heritage.


The bill lies to the Australian public about the level of protection afforded by Regional Forest Agreements (RFA's).


It is blatantly false to claim that any RFA signed to date has achieved conservation certainty. Such grandiose claims would no doubt be shot down in flames by most of the scientific community. As we feared, the conservation goals of the National Forest Policy Statement have been much rorted and distorted. Apart from any 'imposed' shortcomings in the RFA conservation assessments and decisions, there are generic problems with the RFA processes from a scientific perspective. In all cases assessments started from a poor knowledge base and were conducted over very short time frames. These factors alone make it impossible to deny the ongoing risk to forest flora and fauna from logging native forests and especially from continuing to destroy roughly half of our remaining irreplaceable 'old' forests.


It is unreasonable for governments to encourage woodchipping of our ancient forests without requiring the logging industry to accept the inherent conservation uncertainties and to bear a commensurate level of risk.


No RFA to date has even attempted to encourage industry down a conflict free, ecologically sustainable growth path. Predictably, this legislation offers 'resource security' to industry without requiring any commitment from industry to do anything. Instead industry is alarmingly free to do whatever it wants - from accessing however much forest it wants, to shedding jobs and shutting down processing plants if it suits their bottom line.


The radical overhaul of forest industry and practices being called for in 1994/95 has been dissipated into an expensive tinkering around the edges exercise which has completely failed the Australian community. Australians might be surprised to learn that the RFA processes have not resulted in one on the ground change to forest management practices.


It is a joke for the Commonwealth government to claim that 'ecologically sustainable' forest management has been achieved when scientists are still unsure how to achieve it (let alone whether it is possible to achieve) when the native forest logging industry is driven by the need to reduce costs and maximise volumes in order to compete with more efficient plantation timber.


Great differences are emerging between the various state RFA processes. The debacle over the RFA in Western Australia is a case in point. W.A. has the distinction of operating the most rorted RFA process in Australia. There are only two states (NSW and QLD) where there is some prospect of broad community support for RFA outcomes (although even in these states the Commonwealth is making the achievement of satisfactory outcomes difficult). It is inappropriate, to even contemplate Federal RFA legislation before all the RFA’s have been completed and a full and independent assessment made of whether they each satisfy the goals outlined in the NFPS and are in line with community aspirations.


The reason Australia's forests have been the focus of so much attention from the conservation movement over the last 25 years, is that they are home to approximately 50% of Australia's remaining biodiversity. Australians realised too late what would have been required to prevent the extinction wave through our arid and semi arid mammals. We will not have a similar excuse for our forest biodiversity, which all evidence indicates is at increasing and alarming risk. It is morally unacceptable in any circumstances for the Commonwealth to waive its statutory responsibilities for protecting our forest biodiversity and heritage.




The Wilderness Society Inc (ARBN 007 508 349)

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