South East Forests Protection Bill

About this Item
SpeakersMoore Ms Clover
BusinessBill, First Reading, Second Reading


Bill introduced and read a first time.
Second Reading

Ms MOORE (Bligh) [9.23]: I move:
      That this bill be now read a second time.

In October 1969 woodchipping began in the southeast forests. It marked one of the worst environmental decisions ever made by a State government. Though the woodchip industry was given the blessing of the then Liberal Government, it has since been supported by Labor governments, and most recently by the 1990 Hawke-Greiner decision on the forests. Though the establishment of the woodchip industry may be applauded by some, over the past 20 years its environmental and economic implications have been the subject of increasing criticism. The woodchip industry has been typified by deceitful propaganda about its environmental impacts, with the cosy support of government and forestry bureaucrats. It has been a massive experiment on the old growth forests of the southeast. Time after time recommendations of independent conservation authorities have been ignored in favour of the rapacious greed of the woodchip industry. For example, in 1975 the management plan for the southeast hardwood, pulpwood and sawlog management area specified a minimum width of 40 metres either side of watercourses in which logging would not take place. In 1982 this stream filter was reduced dramatically in order to increase log supplies. And in 1991 the Resource Assessment Commission reported that the Forestry Commission was now considering logging in these adequate filter strips because of the unsustainability of the sawlog industry.

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What is even more disgraceful is that when the woodchip industry began, the Liberal Government of the day had the report of the scientific committee on much needed national parks in the southeast. The committee recommendations included an 89,000-hectare park from Mount Wog Wog to the Victorian border and Egan Peaks reserve of 12,500 hectares. However, only steep, rocky areas were declared, with all the available forest being given to the woodchippers. In the ensuing years the great Wallagaraugh wilderness was decimated by clear felling and construction of logging roads. In 1980 Dr Harry Recher of the Australian Museum reported to the Forestry Commission that the then national parks and nature reserves were inadequate for the long-term survival of the region's wildlife. The tableland areas such as Coolangubra and Tantawangalo did not receive the protection they deserved, and they are now targeted for woodchipping by the Forestry Commission. However, after 20 years we are now in a position to act. And act we must, as a matter of urgency. The last significant areas of old growth forests and wilderness will be woodchipped in the next few years.

The South East Forests Protection Bill seizes the opportunity and is driven by the absolute necessity to preserve the forests for their intrinsic environmental values and for future generations. The bill seeks to protect approximately 104,000 hectares of State forests and 7,000 hectares of other Crown land. It would create the major parks of Coolangubra, Tantawangalo and Egan Peaks. Significant additions will be made to existing inadequate parks. The necessity of protecting these areas is supported by the results of the extensive inquiry into forests and timber by the Resource Assessment Commission. The inquiry found:
      It is not feasible to log old-growth forests, as defined by the Inquiry, and yet retain their full complement of old growth attributes and values. Logging of old-growth forest potentially violates the precautionary principle of sustainable development in that an irreplaceable resource is being destroyed: although the ecological attributes of old growth may be regenerated in the long term (a century or more) the values associated with the pristine attributes cannot be replaced.

The inquiry identified as a first option "a rapid cessation of all logging operations within these forests". The RAC called for the protection of wilderness areas as such areas were becoming increasingly rare. The Australian Museum, in its study of the southeast, echoed these calls to protect the forests. It must be remembered that only 10 per cent of Australia's remaining eucalypt forests are old growth. There has been a drastic reduction of what existed prior to European settlement. And there is little wilderness left: less than 5 per cent of New South Wales State forests can be classified as wilderness. More than 40 endangered species of animals are found in the southeast forests and every day woodchipping occurs in the proposed parks the closer those animals are pushed to extinction. The forests also contain 40 plant species which are rare and threatened at the national level and have 13 locally endemic species. The southeast forests encompass a significant group of wild and scenic rivers, particularly in the escarpment and tableland country. The Nadgee, Brogo, Yowaka, Tantawangalo and Jingo are just a few. It is highly likely that the bulk of the forests covered by the bill would qualify for World Heritage listing.

The Victorian Government is proceeding with nomination of the East Gippsland forest to the World Heritage List. Such values do not stop at the Victorian border but continue into the southeast forests of New South Wales. No doubt those opposed to the South East Forests Protection Bill will use the report of the Joint Scientific Committee to support their stand. However, that report is now discredited as the basis for deciding on a reserve system in the southeast. Various scientists - including Dr Hal Cogger of the Australian Museum, Dr Chris Margules of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Dr Hugh Possingham, of the Australian National Parks and
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Wildlife Service and wilderness expert, Peter Helman, have reviewed the study and have grave doubts about its usefulness. Their criticisms, which have never been answered, include the biological database being ignored in reserve proposals; the environmental domain analysis never being validated; research surveys commissioned by the JSC being seen to be biased; and the need for further surveys being emphasised by several scientific institutions. The JSC did not explain the rationale for delineating its indicative reserves and the report is impossible to understand in this regard.

Despite the recognition by the JSC of the importance of reserve design principles, the notional reserves had several glaring design problems, for example, large perimeter to area ratio, lack of contiguity and inclusion of large cleared areas. With such a design there is increased scope for weed invasion and problems with future management, et cetera. The notional reserves do not cater for movement of animals due to climatic fluctuations or for those with large ranges. Wilderness was not included as a term of reference. The bill utilises the latest independent research into forests to delineate new parks and reserves. The final word should go to a recently released study by the Earth Foundation on the World Heritage values of the southeast forests. It found that the forests could be earmarked for World Heritage and made special mention of the richness of the ecosystems. The southeast has as many plant species as the wet tropics in far north Queensland and a density of plant species equal to the Kakadu World Heritage area. The other part of the equation, and I am sure this is the part that will interest the honourable member for Monaro, is economics. What will happen to the timber industry if the new parks are declared?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Monaro to order.

Ms MOORE: The honourable member for Monaro should be interested enough to listen to the answers to the questions he has been asking by way of interjection. The answer is that the region will be better off with the new parks in association with a special employment and industry program. The hardwood timber industry faces a future of continuing decline in demand for both sawlogs and woodchips.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Monaro to order for the second time. I call the honourable member for Smithfield to order.

Ms MOORE: Employment in the hardwood timber industry throughout Australia has already declined by 1,000 employees a year for the past 20 years. About 90 per cent of the timber clear felled from the forests of the southeast is woodchipped for low value export. Within the next 10 years huge overseas eucalypt plantations in the Pacific Basin countries and South Africa will come on stream. Australia's current level of woodchip exports from native forests is only about 5 per cent of the projected pulpwood supply from overseas eucalypt plantations. Our share of the market has already declined significantly from 70 per cent of all hardwood chip imports to Japan a few years ago to 35 per cent now. Plantations usually supply pulpwood of better quality and more cheaply than do our native forests. Australian woodchip exports will inevitably decline further in the face of this competition. The hardwood sawlog industry is also in long-term decay. Softwood sawlogs from pine plantations are capturing an increasing market share. That share was 61 per cent in 1990 and is forecast to be 72 per cent by the year 2000. Competition from New Zealand softwood sawlogs is having a major effect on hardwood sales. Softwood sawlogs are easier to cut for many uses, including building, and are produced from plantations with large cost savings and economies of scale compared with native forests, such as those in the southeast.

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In addition, because of past overcutting the supply of hardwood sawlogs in the southeast is diminishing. The available old growth forests will be logged out by 2012. According to the Resource Assessment Commission the industry is, in fact, unsustainable. The result is a dismal future for the southeast hardwood timber industry. Recently the industry has proposed a kraft pulp mill as part of a rescue plan. However, the local timber industry is deluding itself, as detailed research by the Resource Assessment Commission shows that such a mill is unlikely to be economic and regional log supplies are too small. On the other hand, the South East Forests Protection Bill, in association with a special employment package, redirects workers and local economic activity into more sustainable activities, such as development of a large softwood industry based on the rapidly maturing local plantations and the growing tourism industry.

There are 32,000 hectares of maturing softwood pine plantations in the Bombala area of southeast New South Wales. This major timber resource is rapidly reaching harvestable age. Sawlog availability will increase from 26,000 cubic metres at present to 100,000 cubic metres by 1998 and up to 350,000 cubic metres by 2010. There will also be significant amounts of pine pulp logs. The two latter sawlog yields will be two to six times bigger than the native forest sawlog yield from 200,000 hectares of forest in the southeast. Timber industry estimates show that, based on the pine resource, by the end of 1993 an additional 125 jobs should become available and by the end of 1998 more than 200 additional jobs should be generated. These new jobs would be available to timber workers displaced by expanded national parks in the southeast. One hundred of these jobs would be in harvesting and processing pine thinnings for woodchips. Urgent action is needed to expedite the overdue commercial thinning of this resource, and the special employment package includes a program to help achieve this. The other new jobs would be in expanded sawmilling and further processing operations ultimately requiring construction of a large new softwood sawmill capable of handling over 200,000 cubic metres of sawlogs.

The softwood industry is increasingly taking over the traditional markets - for example, building - of the hardwood mills, such as those in Bombala and Nimmitabel, and employees face a dismal future. A planned program of shifting to softwoods, transferring of jobs and creating new national parks will enhance the economic future of the region. In 1990-91 expenditure by tourists in the Bega region increased by 14.6 per cent to $180 million. The region is the third most popular tourist destination in New South Wales with 2,231,000 visitor nights in the 1990-91 period. Despite the recession, this was the fifth consecutive increase in tourist spending in the region. The tourist industry generates about 2.5 times the turnover and employment of the hardwood timber industry in the region. The tourist industry has major prospects for further growth, unlike the declining hardwood timber industry. However, there is a clear conflict between continued logging of high conservation value forests and tourism, particularly as forest based tourism develops.

Existing national parks are already heavily used with Ben Boyd National Park on the coast having over 200,000 visitors a year. The regional tourism strategy recognises the extensive unrealised tourist potential of the region's hinterland forests. But many of the most attractive potential areas lie within State forests and are due to be woodchipped. Creation of new national parks in the southeast will ensure their protection. Substantial increases in tourism can be expected in these new parks, as has occurred in southwest Tasmania and the wet tropics. The Formby report outlines a responsible program to assist displaced timber workers and to set the region in the direction of a more sustainable future. It is modelled on the successful Fraser Island package funded by the Queensland and Federal governments. Much of the bill ensures that the concerns of timber workers are addressed.

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Mr Cochran: On a point of order. I have come to the table to obtain a copy of the bill. There are no copies on the table. I ask that they be made available.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am advised by the Clerk that there is no need at this stage for copies of the bill to be on the table. Members have a week in which to examine the bill before participating in the debate.

Ms MOORE: Part 5 puts into place a gradual wind-down of logging over nine months so that work will not be brought to a sudden stop. The bill requires the New South Wales Forestry Commission to implement these measures. We are mindful of the nature of the commission, and every effort has been made in this legislation, including the provision of third party rights, to prevent the commission from deliberately creating unemployment for its own political ends. Clause 17 establishes a South East Regional Employment and Industry Adjustment Committee to finalise an adjustment package, including local road upgrading, soil conservation works, thinning of softwood plantations, local environmental improvements and formulation of relocation assistance, income supplements and new skills programs. Part 2 of the bill provides a process of dedication of the new parks and prevents compensation claims - bearing in mind the workers' assistance package - over what is in the first place public land. Part 3 requires the consent of the Director of National Parks and Wildlife during the period when the industry is phasing out of the proposed new parks. This is important to ensure that the environmental integrity of the land is retained. Part 4 allows the declaration of wilderness areas. The South East Forests Protection Bill not only establishes major new parks but also sets the framework for a better economic future for the southeast. I was extremely pleased to read that the Leader of the Opposition maintains a commitment to saving the southeast forests and has requested the assistance of the Prime Minister in funding the special employment package. I hope we can achieve an historic resolution to the long-running dispute over the southeast forests. If we can, future generations will thank us.

Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Griffiths.

[Notices of Motion]

Mr Whelan: On behalf of the honourable member for Campbelltown I advise that he is ready to proceed with notice of motion No.4.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I cannot accept that advice as such. As the honourable member for Campbelltown is not here, the notice of motion will be postponed automatically. I urge all honourable members to be in the Chamber at 9 o'clock in future to deal with their business. Private members' bills are the business of individual private members and of no one else.