May 23, 2005

Grievance debate: Forestry: Policy

GRIEVANCE DEBATE Forestry: Policy

23 May 2005

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (4.33 p.m.)—I rise today to discuss the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement announced by the federal and Tasmanian governments on Friday, 13 May 2005. This agreement is a vindication of the strong and active stance that federal Labor has taken on Tasmanian forests, both before and after the last election. The principles behind Labor’s approach are clear. They were advanced in the federal election campaign by Mark Latham and in the principles subsequently adopted unanimously by the ALP caucus meeting on 19 November 2004. They include:

• A sustainable forestry industry plan, developed in consultation with unions, industry and the Tasmanian Government and based on the use of plantation timber, selective use of native timber, value-adding, and downstream processing;

• No overall loss of jobs in the forestry industry; and

• Further protection of identified Tasmanian high-conservation-value old-growth forests, rainforests, and other ecosystems.

Rather than a high-volume, low-value industry, the best economic outcome, the best employment outcome and the best environmental outcome is a low-volume, high-value industry. Woodchips were always meant to be a by-product of the industry, not a driver of it. This agreement will see more protection for old-growth forests than currently exists. Affected sawmills will be engaged in industry restructuring to move them to alternative wood supply sources, allowing them to introduce better technology. This is the key to better paid, more highly skilled jobs and accords with Labor’s advocacy emphasising value adding in forest industries.

The vindication of federal Labor’s position is exemplified by the fact that the regional forest agreement could be renegotiated and varied. Value adding is the key to improved environmental, employment and economic outcomes. The alleged impediments to some of the changes advocated by federal Labor were obviously not impediments at all. In reality, this is not surprising. History is headed one way on these conservation issues.

The Gallop government took a principled stance to end the logging of old-growth forests. Its re-election confirms the merits of this approach, as do the actions of state Labor governments around the nation. The Beattie government legislated to end broad-scale clearing of remnant vegetation forever, and in December it announced a comprehensive plan to protect more than one million hectares of western hardwood native forests. The Bracks government has announced increased protection for the Otways in Victoria, and just three weeks ago the Carr government reserved 348,000 hectares of woodland in the Brigalow and Nandewar region of New South Wales. This includes protection of the very best of the western woodland forests, including the Pilliga, the Goonoo, the Bebo and Terry Hie Hie. This decision was accompanied by an $80 million job creation and industry development package which will create more jobs than those which will be lost. This did not attract great attention. It is just what modern Labor governments do: they establish significant conservation measures whilst always ensuring that communities are looked after.

Labor has always maintained the need to maintain jobs across the industry as part of any policy to save old-growth forests. The additional funding from the federal government for this agreement is an acknowledgement that the Prime Minister’s original funding commitment fell well short of the mark. The federal government has increased its commitment from $52 million to $157 million, which, when combined with $90 million from the Lennon government, makes up the $250 million package.

Labor, of course, promised $800 million to ensure that communities were looked after and employment maintained. The Howard government has now recognised its original funding was hopelessly inadequate. Whilst the level of funding is higher than election commitments, a detailed analysis of the agreement shows that many of John Howard’s election commitments have not been met. Whilst this has been largely ignored, as Aldous Huxley once said, ‘Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.’

The Howard government’s failure to deliver on what were modest commitments is a sad reflection on how fair dinkum they are when it comes to conservation. The $2.2 million advertising campaign, including full page ads in newspapers in capital cities, is just the latest example of the Howard government’s preparedness to promote spin over substance. The Howard government promised to protect 18,700 hectares in the Styx and the Florentine along the eastern boundary World Heritage area, but they have actually delivered 4,200 hectares of forest in the Styx, a new 336-hectare tall trees reserve in the Styx and a 113-hectare formal reserve near Waterfall Creek Road. This is 13,970 hectares short of what was promised.

The Howard government promised to protect 29,600 hectares of old-growth forest in the Eastern Tiers, the Tasman Peninsula, the north-east highlands and the central highlands; they have actually delivered 22,800 hectares. This is 7,200 hectares short of what was promised. The Howard government promised to end the use of 1080 poison on public and private land by no later than December this year. This agreement delivers this on public land, but permits ongoing use on private land beyond 2005, although there is a new commitment to research alternatives.

Other concerns have been expressed that none of the areas are to be included in a national park or recommended for World Heritage protection—not a single hectare. Whilst clear-felling of old-growth forests has been acknowledged as an inappropriate practice and will be phased down, concern has been expressed by some about forestry practices, including clump clear-felling. Worker safety must be ensured in all forest practices.

Particularly welcome is protection for the Tarkine and parts of the Styx. These are two areas I visited in November and January. I visited the Styx with Graham Green, a timber artisan, and Richard Davis, a master builder of wooden boats. These proud Tasmanians exhibited a passionate love for their natural environment. They did not want it locked up—the forest is the source of their livelihood. Like Kevin Perkins, who built the magnificent furniture in the Prime Minister’s office and the new panelling and pews in the rebuilt St Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta, they just argued for sustainable use.

A short walk into the tall trees of the Styx—with 80-metre tall Eucalyptus regnans, the tallest hardwood trees on earth, celery tops, which need to grow for 250 years before they are of use for one of Richard’s boats, and the spongy forest floor, in which the nutrients of thousands of years are stored—is an experience never to be forgotten. Having seen it for myself, I reiterated Labor’s commitment that they be protected. This was controversial to some. Today, though, it appears you cannot find anyone who thinks they should be logged.

The coupe which I visited was scheduled for logging but will now be saved. Just down the road I saw the devastation caused by clear-felling and burning. I have argued that clear-felling of old growth forests is environmental vandalism. Today, no-one—not a single person—is arguing that clear-felling is a preferred practice.

I do hope this agreement is the beginning of the end of conflict over Tasmanian forests. Given that the conservation movement has uniformly criticised the agreement as inadequate, it clearly will not end debate, but it is in my view a step in the right direction. Tasmania’s extraordinary natural environment must be promoted to the world and not be a source of discomfort. The agreement has recognised the commonsense solution of saving forests through value adding, but it has not yet taken these principles to their logical conclusion.

The Prime Minister has said:

… everybody would like to see old growth logging stopped, but that should not occur at the expense of the jobs of timber-workers.

I agree, but I wish the Prime Minister had been true to his word. This agreement shows reform can be achieved. It is perfectly understandable that workers, families and communities are concerned about their economic security. What is not legitimate is those people in positions of leadership being prepared to exploit peoples’ vulnerability to gain a political advantage, as the Howard government did during the last election campaign. The Howard government’s natural instinct is to promote fear and division, whether of asylum seekers, interest rates or job security. Fear is the foundation stone of the house that Howard built.

Here is what I believe. We in Labor have been right in our determination to save Tasmania’s high-conservation old-growth forests. Labor has been right in allocating substantial funds for employment creation and value adding to make sure communities are looked after and jobs are maintained, and Labor is right to argue for sustainable forestry practices. These issues have been controversial. Had Labor, both before the election and after, not shown the courage of its convictions, the Prime Minister would still be sitting on his hands, doing nothing. That has led to more protection for old-growth forests than currently exists, particularly in the Tarkine. They will be there for future generations to enjoy, long after today’s politicians have left this world.