TREE PLANTATIONS (HARVEST SECURITY) BILL
Debate resumed from 25 May.
(Oxley) [9.30]: I have great pleasure in speaking to the Tree Plantations (Harvest Security) Bill. At the outset I congratulate the shadow minister for land and water conservation, the honourable member for Ballina, on introducing this important bill. The bill was introduced in a similar form by the former Minister for Conservation and Land Management, the Hon. George Souris. Both the timber industry and conservationists recognise the need for more plantations. In May last year former Premier Fahey announced a $6 million boost to the State Forests hardwood planting program under joint venture arrangements with farmers, land-holders and investors - leading to a fourfold increase in the total plantation area.
We should appreciate the value of the timber industry to New South Wales and Australia. The number of people directly employed in the Australian timber industry is 75,000 and the annual turnover of the industry is $10 billion, or 6 per cent of total manufacturing. The honourable member for Newcastle would know the Kendall area very well, having come from there. The timber industry is very important to such areas. Australia annually exports forest products worth $700 million but paper and sawn wood imports cost $2,200 million a year. Therefore it is in our interests to grow more timber and to have more value adding with pulp mills in Australia and in New South Wales in particular. The United Nations forecasts that world demand for forest products will rise by more than 40 per cent to 5,000 million cubic metres per annum by the year 2010.
Australia has 44 million hectares of forest, 5.6 times the per capita level of the world forest area average. Australia's rate of timber removal is only 0.5 cubic metres per hectare and the world average is 1.4 cubic metres per hectare, 2.5 times the Australian rate. The Resource Assessment Commission has stated that there is ample scope for expansion of the industry without compromising environmental values or controls. Despite the former Government's commitment to developing additional timber resources for the future, eucalypt plantations are a long-term solution to a problem which is pressing now. Unfortunately, the industry is in a state of flux. There are problems at present with compartments being locked up by governments. There are indications that forest areas will be designated as wilderness areas, which would be a disaster for the timber industry. Without clear tree plantation legislation the biggest obstacle to future investment is the insecurity surrounding log supply.
It is hoped that the environmental impact statement process will provide guarantees and security. Clear and concise legislation at both Federal and State levels is essential - legislation that is not ambiguous but workable. Clear resource legislation is necessary so that any government, now or in the future, will be locked into iron-clad guarantees and would have to think twice about reneging on agreements concerning resource allocation. This legislation will provide much-needed certainty in timber production to encourage landowners to invest long term in plantation timber. There has been investment in the timber industry and much more is possible if such legislation is provided. Unless we can guarantee continuity of supply and a sustainable forestry industry, management will collapse and the economy will fail.
What did you do in seven years?
In seven years we looked after the industry. In just a few months Labor has just about wrecked security and confidence in the industry. I have invited the Minister for Land and Water Conservation to visit my electorate to see what is happening first-hand. We know he is on a learning curve. I trust that in future the Minister will give the same support to the industry that previous Ministers have given. If the Minister does not deliver and fails the test Opposition members will have to expose his
weaknesses. The Minister should visit my electorate to see the damage that has been caused by Labor forestry policies.
If the timber industry collapses the social fabric of the north coast and other parts of New South Wales will be destroyed. This will affect not just those directly involved in logging and sales; the flow-on effect will be enormous. People will be affected in associated areas such as fuel supply, tyre repair, heavy engineering and transport. Even schoolteachers and bank employees will be affected. When a small community loses several of its working people with school-age children small country schools can lose a schoolteacher. This has a devastating flow-on effect to the local economy. The Government has a responsibility to ensure that small communities survive. Local timber industries need continuous expansion. The timber industry is clean and harvests a renewable resource. It is solar powered. We need such industries. The industry is sustainable.
You made it unsustainable.
We did not. The Wran Government took away the centre of the industry when it introduced the rainforest legislation, but we will not argue about that. At the time the Government said that many jobs would be created in eco-tourism. That did not happen. The same claim was made in relation to sandmining. Labor has been putting workers on the unemployment scrap heap. The coalition is the true friend of the workers in New South Wales.
Order! The honourable member for Oxley will return to the subject matter of the bill.
Mr Deputy-Speaker, I was just referring in passing to an interjection which touched on a matter close to my heart. I feel for the workers and their kids and I had to react to the interjection. Any reduction in the timber resource would be catastrophic and detrimental to employment opportunities and the financial framework of the north coast and the mid-north coast. This should not be countenanced in any way. The Minister for Land and Water Conservation would know that most operators are moving towards value adding, which has great potential for providing employment opportunities. Kempsey Timbers Proprietary Limited is a fine example of value adding to the product. Adding further value to Australia's timber must not detract from current resources. Any move to develop plantation timber must provide product additional to, not less than, the currently available resource.
Under this legislation, only plantations established legally under planning laws will be accredited and, therefore, eligible to benefit from the harvest security. The bill provides for the protection of the environment by requiring accreditation for tree plantations, and stipulates that harvesting operations will be carried out in accordance with strict tree plantation harvesting codes. We must provide the confidence to invest; it is vital that that occur. Once again I congratulate the shadow minister, the honourable member for Ballina, on bringing forward this vital legislation. I ask all honourable members, especially those on the Government side who have been unwilling to help the timber industry and its workers, to support this legislation and to ensure that it is gazetted and implemented in the next few weeks to give that boost of confidence back to country New South Wales and the timber industry.
(Granville - Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [9.40]: The Government opposes the bill before the House. Good intentions are simply not sufficient. The fact that this Government has placed on the public record its commitment to the development of plantation forestry does not mean that we will support this measure, and we will not. We support the ends but we cannot support the means proposed by the Opposition in this bill. We oppose the bill because we do not believe that it will be effective in its stated aim of encouraging plantation development and it may have unintended consequences, including the clearing of native forest or the conversion of native forest into plantations.
I looked in vain for acknowledgment from the honourable member for Ballina of the origins of his second reading speech, which bore a remarkable resemblance to the one delivered last October by the former Minister for Land and Water Conservation, the honourable member for Upper Hunter. I suppose it is unrealistic to expect fresh thinking from an Opposition that is still dazed by its defeat on 25 March. The honourable member for Coffs Harbour is exactly right: we cannot expect much from the Opposition! It certainly has no new initiatives or creativity. The Government recognises the need to create a more favourable legislative and economic climate for plantation establishment. It will do so by bringing forward a Government plantation harvest security bill. That bill will be properly prepared, it will be informed by the views of key stakeholders, it will address the whole planning cycle, and it will contain robust measures to ensure that it does not lead to the destruction of natural forests. The former Government could have avoided the strident opposition from some environmental groups to the earlier version of this bill by working with environmental groups and other interested parties.
Working with stakeholders is not the Opposition's forte - neither now nor when it was in government. This bill has not been the subject of proper consultation with interested parties, including conservationists, the timber industry, farmers and potential investors. The honourable member for Ballina, in his haste to bring this recycled bill before the House, failed critically to reassess and review the bill introduced last year by the former Government. In particular, he failed to take account of the constructive criticism of the previous Government's bill made by the Labor Party, Independents, environmental groups and others when it was introduced - criticisms that would have been translated into substantial amendments if the bill had been
debated at the time. A fundamental weakness of this bill is its failure to recognise that the whole planning cycle should be addressed if we are effectively to remove the impediments to plantation development. For example, there are no uniform planning laws controlling plantations that apply in all local government areas.
Some councils require a development application for plantation establishment; other councils do not. Some councils discriminate against tree growers compared with other primary producers. People who want to plant trees require development applications, but people who plant pasture or wheat or other traditional rural crops do not. Our legislative proposals will address and reverse these disincentives to planting trees. We will also deal with the period between the establishment and the harvesting of plantations to ensure that there are fewer impediments to the proper management and maintenance of plantations over their entire life cycle. Labor's package of plantation encouragement measures will go beyond harvest and address end users. I reiterate that we are determined to create an environment in which markets for plantation wood are encouraged to develop. We will build on the greatly improved cooperation that now exists between the State and Federal governments. In particular, we will press for improved investment in taxation incentives for plantation ventures, which have been disadvantaged in the past because they are such long-term investments.
We will also urge our colleagues in Canberra to support forestry financially, especially farm forestry programs that have a commercial and environmental benefit for the community. There are already some encouraging signs that the Commonwealth will give some solid funding support in this area. We also want the Federal Government to remove all impediments to the export of timber grown in bona fide plantations, and we expect it to assist the development of industries that are based on our expanding plantation resource. Effective legislation to provide for plantation harvest security must fit into and be compatible with a total forestry policy program. This Government rejects ad hoc decision making on forestry. The seven years of the previous Government were characterised by adhockery in relation to forestry. The previous Government had no policy, no plan and no strategy - just old-fashioned adhockery and sectoral politics in rural New South Wales.
At the end of the day, that produced a crisis in the timber industry because the issues were not confronted. No leadership was provided; it was simply adhockery. The previous Government had no plan. The Opposition is responsible for the present crisis in the timber industry because when it left government the resource was being overharvested by 30 per cent - that is, 30 per cent beyond the sustainable yield. The Opposition stands condemned for its action or, more correctly, its inaction in forestry during its seven long, painful years of government. This issue has divided the communities of Opposition members. Those communities are bleeding over this issue. What did the previous Government do? It simply fed the fear and uncertainty. Opposition members fed on the whole issue in their electorates for their short-term political gains, and they stand condemned for it. When we bring forward appropriate legislation to provide for a workable system of harvest security for new and existing plantations it will have appropriate safeguards. It will also be part of our comprehensive program for forestry reform.
Our legislation will address all impediments to plantation development and avoid any provision that might encourage the clearing of native forest to establish plantations, which is one of the key flaws in this bill. The Government's bill, when it is introduced, will include a rigorous definition of plantation to ensure that native forest is not classified as a plantation. There are a number of ways that this can be achieved. We will consider including a schedule of existing plantation areas within State forests so that there can be no suspicion that other areas could be classified as plantations to avoid planning or fauna protection laws. This bill offers insufficient protection for private native forests. This deficiency, together with other holes in the bill, demonstrates the necessity to address plantation harvest security within a total forestry package. By allowing plantations to escape the more onerous legislative regime applying to native forests, the present bill creates an incentive for land-holders to clear natural forest and to replace it with planted trees.
That is wasteful and potentially disastrous for nature conservation. The stipulation in the bill that accreditation will not be given to plantations established on freshly cleared land is unworkable because it is simply unenforceable. In many cases it will be impossible to prove when particular parcels of land were cleared, and we cannot expect government agencies to keep under surveillance every hectare of private property. The Government's bill will be linked to positive measures to protect the nature conservation value of the millions of hectares of native forest that exist on private lands. We recognise the need to increase incentives for private land-holders to manage their native forest wisely for both sustainable timber production and nature conservation value.
As part of our total forestry strategy we will be developing proposals to conserve both the timber resource and the nature conservation values in private forests. Our legislation will be in the context of a properly thought out plantation strategy for New South Wales which is something that the Opposition is not capable of having any thoughts on and certainly did not do in its seven years of government. The strategy will integrate planning processes, the private and public plantation sectors and, most significantly, will make sure that plantation production dovetails with the production from native forests. It will also include meaningful public consultation so that we are able to build strong community support for plantation development, rather than dividing the community.
This Government is committed to bringing about an expansion of plantation forestry. It is a cornerstone of Labor's forestry policy that we published before the election. It was welcomed as a visionary document, a forward-looking approach to an area of Government policy that has been bedevilled by endless community conflict, and by inaction from the previous Government. We have made a firm commitment to accelerate the rate of plantation establishments in this State. Through State Forests we will invest in an accelerated plantation establishment program but we will not rely entirely on the public sector and, therefore, ultimately the taxpayer. We will create a legislative and economic environment in which the private sector will help drive plantation growth.
The Government is unimpressed with the administrative arrangements proposed in the bill. We cannot be confident that under the proposed administrative model government agencies will be able to accredit plantations, supervise the operations of the legislation, ensure that codes of harvesting practice are complied with, and take appropriate action against operators who break the law. I underline the point that the Government opposes the bill not because it rejects the ends, which are laudable, but because it cannot support the means chosen by the honourable member for Ballina. It is simply a recycled version of what was put up when the Opposition was in Government. There is no point in the Government proposing amendments to this bill because it is fundamentally flawed and unsatisfactory.
The necessary groundwork has not been done. There is no coherent and comprehensive strategy behind the Opposition's measure. Why would one expect that? There was no cohesion or strategy behind its forest policy in the entire seven years it was in government. There has been no adequate consultation with stakeholders. The widely identified defects of the earlier bill have not been addressed or rectified. It is not merely a retread of a previous bill; it is simply the same old, worn-out bill. The Government opposes the bill because the stated objective of the bill is too important to be allowed to rest with such a rabble and its legislative base is unsatisfactory.
(Monaro) [9.55]: It is disappointing not only for those on this side of the House who for the past seven years -
Not as disappointing as you.
Well listen, superbrat, if you want to learn something about this, pin your ears back and have a good listen, because you are about to be given a lesson. It is something you should be taught.
Order! The honourable member for Monaro will address the Minister by his correct title.
The people on this side of the House have sustained the forestry industry for the past seven years whereas members of the former Opposition did every confounded thing they could to close the industry down. They attacked the forest industry in the courts, they attacked it in the streets, and they attacked it in the forests in every way they could. The Minister is the most irresponsible Minister for Land and Water Conservation who has ever held the position. He will preside over the closure of the hardwood industry in the south-east forests. He knows it and he does not have the guts to do anything because he was a former union member. He was in cahoots with Gavin Hillier who has about as much guts as the Minister.
We know where you are coming from, young fellow, do not worry about that. The timber industry will tell the Minister about its position, there is no risk about that. He simply does not understand what the timber industry is all about. Let me educate the Minister a little and tell him what it is all about. The forest policy advisory committee, established by the former Minister, the present Deputy Leader of the National Party, went through a consultative process with all the stakeholders that the Minister mentioned and consulted with each and every one of them: the Forest Protection Society -
The Minister can have a bit of a cackle. I was just about to give him the names of the rest of the stakeholders. All the members who were on the forest policy advisory committee had input, including the green groups from the north coast. They were all there and they were thoroughly consulted on this issue. This legislation is the product of that consultation. This is the agreement that was reached. The Minister, then in Opposition, was going to support that bill, with a few amendments. I would like to know what has changed in the meantime.
The Government has changed.
What has changed the Minister? The legislation is the same. I suggest the green groups have got the Minister by the short and curlies. That is the problem members on the Government side have. That is where the problem is. Those green groups have got the Government. They had it over a barrel at the last election, and this is the pay-off. The Government is proposing to reject this bill in the first instance, and then to introduce legislation which will be so inhibiting that there will be no private sector investment in this plantation resource which we so desperately need. The former Government implemented a plantation process which would have provided and set in place a sustainable industry for generations ahead. The Minister knows that. If the Minister had been to Coffs Harbour and to Cathcart he would know about it.
It is still going on. The former Government funded that process and the Minister should know that. But the gross ignorance which he has displayed in the speech he just made is beyond comprehension. I am not the only person who will advise him. State Forests will give him the same message, the people from the south-east forests and the north-east forests
will give the same message, and they will tip him out on his ear. He will be the second Minister to go. We will watch the Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries go first. He was the last one to come out of the briefcase and he will be the first to go. The Minister for Land and Water Conservation will be next. The timber industry will spit him out on the ground. There is no risk about that.
The Minister made mention of the clearing of native forests. This demonstrates the Minister's ignorance in relation to plantations: native forests have been cleared for pine plantations for generations. If eucalypt and hardwood plantations are established on the north coast and south coast, there is no doubt that after a period of time they will take on all the characteristics of an old-growth forest. The only way we can guarantee harvesting rights for the investors is to allow this piece of legislation to go through. The Minister will deny them that opportunity. He is fiddling while Rome burns because the opportunity is there for the Minister and the Government to agree with the legislation and let the investment proceed. We have investors ready to invest in the hardwood forests, but they will not invest while the Government is in office.
While the Government has an alliance with the green groups there is no chance of investment. The forest policy advisory committee debated and agonised for hours with the green groups, all of whom agreed that this legislation could proceed and the former Opposition was going to back it. The most ridiculous claim of all is that some short-term political gain is to be made out of this by members of the Opposition. That is absolute nonsense. All members from this side of the House who represent forest areas in New South Wales increased their vote at the last election. We have the support of the timber industry. But let me tell the House what happened to Labor Party candidates in country areas: they got turfed out on their ears, along with John Hatton.
Let me tell honourable members what will happen at the next State election. People involved with the forest industry have been so destroyed by the Government that they will come out fighting and members on the Government side will damn well know about it. Mark my words, they will not forget. Jim Snow in the Federal seat of Eden-Monaro better hang on to his hat too. If the Government continues with the program it has in place to wreck and destroy the timber industry Jim Snow will go out on his ear. It will not be his fault, he is a good bloke and a good mate of mine. It will be the Government's fault. The Minister and Gavin Hillier will be responsible if he is turfed out on his ear. The people in the forest industry do not trust either of them.
There are good economic reasons why this bill should be passed. There should not be any delay. We should not have to sit about for another 12 to 18 months or two years while the Government goes through a consultation process with the people whom the Opposition has already consulted on this matter. The Government is going to reinvent the wheel! We will all sit about and in the meantime we will lose 12 to 18 months or two years of plantation time. The investors will find something else to do. The galahs on the Government side who sit on the fence harping and whingeing about this ought to realise that during the seven years we were in government we sustained the forest industry and kept it alive. We did this despite all their attempts to destroy the forest industry by rejecting the Chaelundi regulation, and by introducing the endangered fauna legislation and the South East Forests Protection Bill.
There was a litany of attempts by the Labor Party in opposition to wreck and destroy the forest industry. But this is the pièce de résistance - rejecting this bill that would allow for the expansion of native forest plantations and the encouragement of investor confidence in New South Wales. The Government's stance on this bill will cost it dearly. How long does it expect to continue the consultative process - that same process that the former coalition Government went through for 18 months? The Minister should give us the benefit of his experience and knowledge on this subject, if he has any, and tell us how long he expects the debate on plantations to continue. We do not have the time. We need to get on with this now. I invite the Minister to come down to my electorate -
You are not the Government.
We are not the Government. We realise that: we can count. We know we are in Opposition, there is no risk about that, but it is not quite as painful as I expected it would be because it gives me the opportunity to expose a few things about honourable members opposite that those in the forest industry need to know. Until there was a change of government, the industry did not realise how little the Labor Party knows about this subject. Each time honourable members opposite go down to the south-east forests they demonstrate a little more ignorance about the whole subject, but they will learn the hard way. The Opposition is prepared to wait. If we are to spend four years on these benches, we will have plenty of time to educate the people of New South Wales about exactly what they can expect from the Government.
The Government has deceived the people of New South Wales at every opportunity by introducing new taxes and breaking promises - a litany of deception. In the electorate of Monaro there is a desperate need to maintain the program of hardwood plantations. The program established by the former Minister, the Deputy Leader of the National Party, for the Cathcart area provides employment opportunities for the people around Bombala and Eden. Under the former coalition Government plans were being put in place for the development of Twofold Bay as an export centre for hardwoods and value-added product. But, unfortunately, because of the attitude of honourable members opposite there is now little chance of encouraging the sort of private sector investment required to get it up and running.
You wait and see.
We will wait and see. We can wait. We will wait a long time for the Labor Government to do anything. This Minister has presided over the most agonising period -
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Rogan):
Order! Members will cease interjecting, and the honourable member for Monaro will direct his remarks through the Chair.
I understand your ruling is that I should direct all my remarks through the Chair?
Order! The Chair is cognisant of the right of a member speaking to respond to interjection. However, I have directed members to cease interjecting and that the honourable member for Monaro direct his remarks through the Chair.
Thank you, Mr Acting-Speaker. I will remember that in question time this afternoon, and I will feel happy to raise the same subject during question time. I was relaying through the Chair to honourable members opposite that the level of investment needed to sustain a hardwood industry in the south-east forests will only be achieved if this bill and similar bills to provide incentives for investment in the hardwood industry are passed. The inhibiting attitude of honourable members opposite, particularly the Minister for Land and Water Conservation, is such that the confidence previously enjoyed by the industry in my electorate has started to subside to a point where there is greater anxiety than ever before. This Minister has presided over the greatest term of anguish and anxiety over the south-east forests of all time. In Opposition the Labor Party did whatever it could to frustrate and strangle the industry. But in Government the Minister is set on thrusting the final knife into the spine of the timber industry. He will be happy only when the industry is crippled.
There are also environmental needs to consider when discussing plantations. These needs are well known and were well enunciated by various environmental agencies from the north coast in submissions to the forest policy advisory committee. I point out to the Minister for Land and Water Conservation that private land-holders are keen to encourage private tree plantations. In this regard I have received inquiries through my office from people who are keen to ensure that land previously used for grazing is converted to plantations. They simply want some legislative guarantee that their investments will be protected. This legislation would have given them that guarantee. Unfortunately, the Minister for Land and Water Conservation has seen fit, for political reasons, to reject the legislation, thus placing on the backburner one of the most important strategies put in place for the future of the forest industry by the previous Government.
I ask honourable members opposite to rethink this matter. They have time to take it back to caucus for consideration. The Government has the opportunity to give an 18-month leap ahead for the hardwood plantation industry. The ball is in the Government's court. The honourable member for Ballina has provided the Government with the opportunity; all it needs to do is take up the ball and run with it. I plead with honourable members opposite to give the legislation serious thought, otherwise they will simply reinvent the wheel and fall in with the cast of the extreme end of the green movement. Unfortunately, the green movement has a firm grip on the Government at the moment.
I know what the proposals are from the green movement because the same issues were raised by the movement with the forest policy advisory committee. After lengthy debate it was agreed that if there were to be any sustainable plantation industry in this country certain concessions would have to be made by the green movement. The Government should go back to the green movement and discuss the matter again, reassess the situation and let this bill go through. It is vital that the legislation now pursued by the honourable member for Ballina be allowed to proceed so that the timber industry can be sustainable for generations to come.
(Newcastle) [10.06]: The Government opposes the bill, but it does so because it accepts the responsibility of Government to bring in policy that will lead to a sustainable timber industry, for both hardwood sawlogs and plantations. The problems the bill purports to address need a better solution than that proposed by the honourable member for Ballina. The Government is acting responsibly. The Government will consult and it will ensure that its consultation is effective and broad ranging. It will ensure that investors in this State and in this country have full confidence that they are dealing with a Government that knows it wants jobs, investment, and a sustainable timber industry. The Government recognises the need to create a more favourable investment climate for plantation development. If it is to increase substantially the State's rate of plantation establishment, it must ensure that there are financial incentives for land-holders and investors and it must remove those disincentives that serve no useful purpose.
It is widely accepted that planning and environment protection laws that exist to protect the conservation values of native forests should not apply to genuine timber plantations. The Government recognises that current legislation, such as the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, the National Parks and Wildlife Act and the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act, should discriminate between natural forests and plantations. There has to be certainty. The Government is aware of that and it will ensure that clear distinction is made in any legislation so that there is certainty for investors. Investors must be able to invest with the security of knowing that if they go through the correct procedures in the establishment of the plantations they will be able to log those plantations at the appropriate time without inhibition.
As the previous Government demonstrated, it is not difficult to devise legislation that removes plantations from the ambit of various environmental protection laws. The greater challenge - the challenge that this Government accepts - is to devise a legislative package that guarantees the continued protection of public native forests, does not encourage wholesale clearing of private lands, and ensures that plantation establishment and harvesting are properly controlled. The bill introduced by the previous Government last October was quite properly criticised because it inadequately defined "tree plantations". The honourable member for Monaro said that there was a consultative process. There was, and I was involved in it. At that time concern was expressed about the definitions of "tree plantation" and "cleared land". There was a well-founded fear that the lack of clarity could lead to difficulties with respect to native timber forests. The bill the Government will introduce will overcome this definition problem by being more legally and scientifically precise and by providing a schedule of existing public plantations.
There are a few grey areas where there is genuine argument about the origins of certain forests. The Government will take advice on those areas which may have special nature conservation values and may need to be managed as native forests rather than as plantations. Unlike the Opposition, the Government will consult beforehand with environmental groups, land-holder representatives, investors and industry. It can be argued that it is the establishment rather than the harvesting of plantations that has the potentially greater environmental impact. On private land in particular, plantation establishment is often preceded by extensive clearing of native flora. This may involve significant ground disturbance. Proper measures should be taken to conserve soil that is exposed to erosion by clearing, burning and deep ripping. This bill does not deal with the establishment phase. That phase must come under the scrutiny of government and must be contained in legislation if the industry is to be viable and secure.
I am not arguing that there are no circumstances in which vegetation should be cleared to establish tree plantations. In many cases the plantation will have far more value to the community than the weeds it replaces or the land that has been left in an uneconomic state. The Government is aware of the real danger that valuable native forest may be converted into tree plantations. The total forest estate should be added to; natural forest should not be converted into tree farms. Plantation establishment offers both commercial and environmental benefits for landowners, particularly when trees can be integrated with existing land uses in shelter belts, windbreaks and agroforestry plantings. Farmers are now better informed about the environmental and commercial benefits of conserving their existing tree cover and enhancing it with woodlots. It should be acknowledged that there has been a tremendous improvement in the attitude of the farming community in relation to the importance of stabilising slopes, protecting water quality and using tree plantations.
The Government's forthcoming legislation will ensure that proper legislative controls apply to plantation establishment, to logging and to the ongoing management of plantations, including the application of fertilisers, herbicides and other chemicals. In the discussions last year that inadequacy was referred to by many people, not only green groups - as claimed by honourable members opposite - but also people with a genuine concern in relation to the establishment of sustainable plantations. The bill before the House addresses only the environmental impacts of logging. It fails to address the impacts associated with establishment and management. Therefore, the bill fails to do what the Opposition says it does - to safeguard harvest rights. If the harvest rights are to be safeguarded, sufficient legislation should be put in place to address establishment and management issues so that there is certainty in the industry. There should be no intervening process that could take away the security of harvest rights. There are several approaches to conserving native forests on private land. The Government will explore all such approaches prior to introducing a bill in this House. When the Government brings forward appropriate measures to address this issue, it will adopt a multipronged strategy.
When will that be? Tell us.
It will not be the seven years the previous Government took, yet developed no adequate policies. The Government will seek to increase the awareness of land-holders in relation to both the natural and economic values of their natural forests. One reason private forests are cleared of valuable forest is that the timber is undervalued. Poor prices for wood from private forests mean that there is little incentive to manage those forests on a sustainable basis. The Government's total forestry policy will ensure that prices of timber from public forests reflect the true value of this limited resource. Price benefits will flow on to private forest owners. Land-holders also lack access to professional forest management skills so that they can properly assess the management alternatives. The Government is investigating ways in which to allow private forest owners to gain access to the professional skills of foresters. The Government wants to see both public forests and private forests managed on an ecologically sustainable basis. In the long term, well managed native forests have the potential to make a greater contribution to meeting the State's timber needs without compromising their conservation values. There is no doubt that during the seven years of the previous Government the sustainable, long-term values of our forest resources were slashed. As the Minister for Land and Water Conservation said, the previous Government's overcutting was 30 per cent higher than the sustainable yield in many forests.
In plantation development the Government will take the lead by boosting State Forests' hardwood and softwood planting programs. As the Minister for Land and Water Conservation has said, the Government will take appropriate measures to ensure that the private sector follows the Government's lead.
The Government will do so by addressing every aspect of the legislation and economic climate that influences the rate of plantation establishment - including environmental controls; the cost of inputs, including government services; access to technical services; factors inhibiting industrial development; taxation of tree growers and investors; and restrictions on exports.
This comprehensive approach to plantations will be placed in the context of the Government's total forest policy for the State so that there is proper integration between the contributions of native forests and plantation forests to timber production. The Government rejects the ad hoc approach of the Opposition in relation to plantations, to forestry and to government administration generally. The Government is unimpressed by the lack of rigorous thinking behind this bill. It is just a quick fix. The bill will not provide certainty, as is claimed by the honourable member for Ballina. Like most quick fixes, the bill will not work very well or for very long. When the bill breaks down, it may cause problems that are worse than those it seeks to solve.
This Government will do better. It will introduce a bill that encourages plantation development, without also encouraging the clearing of native forests. The Government's bill will not be restricted to harvest; it will address the whole planning cycle of plantations - establishment, management and harvesting. Certainty will come to the industry. The Government opposes the bill. It will not solve the problems inhibiting plantation development. In the near future, after a consultative process, the Government will introduce a measure that will succeed where the bill before the House is bound to fail. For the reasons outlined - this bill is a short-term quick fix - the Opposition will oppose the bill.
(Bega) [10.21]: I am pleased to support the bill introduced by the honourable member for Ballina, the Tree Plantations (Harvest Security) Bill. However, I am extremely disappointed that the Government intends to reject the bill. Such rejection, on top of the cumulative effect of years of regulations and restrictions placed on the hardwood timber industry, will send a further negative message to the industry in New South Wales. I am also deeply disappointed that the Minister for Land and Water Conservation has not established guidelines and security of tenure for an industry that surely he should have some interest in. A continuing run of Ministers with environmental responsibilities under the present Labor Government seem to have but a single intent: to continually smother any profitable investment or industry. Those Ministers will be left wondering when our present standard of living drops once we begin importing timber and other products that we can no longer afford to produce economically in this country.
The Government, lacking experience of the timber industry, continues to parade academics who make opinionated forays on an industry they have little practical knowledge of. Many Ministers have never visited the timber areas they are regulating. Ministers should first visit those areas to see for themselves how the industry operates. They should note in particular the effect on that industry of restrictive regulations imposed during the past four years of a hung Parliament. They should take note also of the difficulties such restrictions have caused to operators who have been trying to keep their businesses going. Members who come from timber country are deeply aware of the effects of regulation on and its implications for the industry. However, as a member of several committees I have become aware that many Ministers and members have no practical understanding of how difficult it is for the timber industry to operate under the present restrictions.
Rejection of the bill sends the message from the Government that the claimed benefits of hardwood plantations are fallacious. The Government wants the timber industry to get out of native forests and turn to tree plantations, but intends to close it down. Australia already imports $2 billion worth of timber annually. If the timber industry in New South Wales is unable to produce enough timber to satisfy demand through well-regulated and environmentally sound operations, surely the problems of harvesting will be exported to another country that does not severely hamper its timber industries with strict environmentally based regulations. The Government, if it is truly concerned about world ecology and the environment, should attempt to assist us to be self-sufficient and to supply our own needs through good management. To that end the Government should be giving a direction to those interested in establishing tree plantations.
However, land suitable for tree plantations is limited. Tree plantations need a specific climate, rainfall, soil type and temperature to thrive, and cannot be grown willy-nilly. The bill encourages the planting of trees in plantations; its rejection by the Government gives a negative message to those interested in such investment. I have lived in the south-east forest country most of my life. I know the timber industry in that area backwards, as does the honourable member for Monaro. We know that land suitable for tree plantations that does not already have trees growing on it is scarce. Most land suitable for tree plantations is already cleared and used for grazing cattle and sheep. To be viable, a plantation would have to be more productive than grazing or other uses of cleared country are. Livestock would have to be moved off cleared land to allow trees to be planted.
The Government tells farmers they can have financial assistance to prepare their land for tree planting. But farmers want to be secure in the knowledge that come harvest time 20 or more years hence their land will not be classified as critical habitat for endangered species that have emerged from nearby native forest. Farmers will choose not to plant trees if they are unsure about the future of their operations. If the Government is serious about stopping the harvesting of native forests it must offer farmers security in establishing hardwood plantations. Farmers can only conclude from the Government's
rejection of the bill that if they do invest in tree plantations they will have their fingers burnt. People on the land, including members of the House, invested in pine plantations, which were claimed to be a form of superannuation for their children's education. But the plantations were burnt out, were planted on unsuitable land, were badly managed or lacked a management structure. Farmers must have security of tenure if a hardwood tree plantation industry is ever to be established in this State.
The object of the bill is to remove impediments to the harvesting of trees planted for the purpose of producing timber or timber products so as to encourage the establishment of commercial tree plantations. The purpose of the bill therefore is to create a legal environment where people can invest with confidence. The first object is to provide a scheme for the accreditation of tree plantations. The bill provides not only that those who want to establish plantations will have to acquire accreditation, but also that operators of existing plantations can seek backdated accreditation, and thus acquire vital security for their future. The second object of the bill is to remove the need to obtain licences under the National Parks and Wildlife Act in connection with the carrying out of harvesting operations on accredited tree plantations. The third object is to remove the need for development consent under part 4 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, or for environmental assessment under part 5 of that Act, in relation to the carrying out of harvesting operations on accredited tree plantations.
The fourth object of the bill is to provide for the protection of the environment by requiring harvesting operations on accredited tree plantations to be carried out in accordance with tree plantation, environment protection, and harvesting codes. For example, if the land in question is a farm the owner can nominate a piece of land and have an access road through that land. He can grow his trees and manage and harvest them without being subject to all of the regulations and legal impediments that apply to the native forest. They need to know that years of work and investment in the project will not be totally wiped out. They need to know that they can plant now and harvest the trees in 40 years or whatever time they choose. They want absolute security that they will be able to undertake a harvesting operation without one or other government department saying they have broken the law or suggesting there is endangered species of flora or fauna on the land.
One wonders why the Government proposes to reject this bill and not amend it. If it is the Government's intention to introduce a bill that will provide security for hardwood plantations, I suggest that members of the Government should first have a look at how the operation works. It was frustrating to hear one Labor member after another, when in Opposition, speak about something they know absolutely nothing about. I have seen many agreements and many bills introduced into this House to basically quell a particular protest group that happened to be in the forest at the time. One could refer to innumerable agreements entered into in an effort to resolve conflict in the hardwood forest, for example the Greiner-Hawke agreement on the south-east forest. It was to be the be all and end all; the final solution to the debate on the south-east forest. That agreement created another 50,000 hectares of national park in the Bemboka area in exchange for resource security; but what happened? The 50,000 hectares was set aside for a national park but there was no resource security.
The Government had no intention of providing any security for the timber industry. Prior to the election the Government said it would hand over another 30,000 hectares of south-east forest to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Honourable members know that that was the old Unsworth plan again and would have automatically shut down the hardwood industry in the south-east, with consequent loss of jobs. Many timber workers and their wives and children, particularly in the Bombala-Eden area, would have suffered, the towns would have died and the timber industry would no longer exist. The Government has given that commitment but I hope honourable members opposite will give a little thought to the blue-collar workers whom they used to represent. It must be about 20 years since the Australian Labor Party gave them away. The Government should give a little thought to those people and have some feeling for their wives and families. I appeal to Government members to visit these areas and gain an understanding of - [Time expired
(Burrinjuck) [10.34]: I am honoured to support this legislation introduced by the honourable member for Ballina, the Tree Plantations (Harvest Security) Bill. One of the alarming things about the Government's opposition to this bill is that it is quite obvious to me and many others in this Parliament and outside that the current Government has learned absolutely nothing about the feelings and concerns of rural New South Wales, particularly of people associated with the timber industry. One of the reasons I was elected to Parliament in 1988 was the attitude of the then Unsworth Government to the timber industry; an attitude that saw the seat of Burrinjuck fall to the Liberal Party after 47 years of Labor representation by father and son.
That should have sent a strong message to the Australian Labor Party that it had to change its tack and its thinking on its dogmatic alliance with the mad environmental groups that seem to run the ALP on a monotonously regular basis. It should have sent a message to the ALP that there is a responsible attitude to the timber industry and to those involved in the timber industry, and, more importantly, to families who have been involved in the timber industry for the past 200 years. It is a sad indictment of the attitude of the Government on matters related to the timber industry and other agricultural pursuits in this State that its knowledge of rural New South Wales was eloquently described by the Minister for Agriculture yesterday when he said that ALP members have more knowledge from driving through rural New South Wales than have those of us who live there. I think that statement said it all.
Honourable members should remember that other States are outperforming New South Wales in hardwood plantation establishment. The national forest policy Statement, endorsed by New South Wales in 1992, commits all governments to encouraging tree plantations. The bill is part of a wider Opposition program to encourage tree plantation development. In May last year the former Premier announced an additional allocation to State Forests of $6 million for joint venture hardwood tree farming with land-holders and investors. There was a need to kick-start the plantation program by creating incentives and removing disincentives. It is essential to distinguish plantations from native forests; plantations should be treated as agriculture crops in planning and environmental terms.
The passage of this bill is only one of the prerequisites for a successful plantation program. The Opposition does not see it as a panacea, but as a vital step. There are both economic and environmental land care reasons for expanding hardwood tree plantations. Harvest, of course, will be subject to environmental harvesting codes developed by the Department of Conservation and Land Management. These codes will be consistent with other environmental laws. The bill provides that where plantations are established legally and have been accredited under this legislation, harvesting operations will not be subject to the environmental assessment or approval procedures of part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. Consent will not be required under part 4 of that Act, and plantation managers will be exempt from certain offences under the National Parks and Wildlife Service Act relating to the taking or killing of protected or endangered fauna.
The bill defines "plantation" and provides for a process of accreditation of plantations by CALM. Only accredited plantations will be eligible for the benefits conferred by the legislation. The bill applies to new and existing plantations and has no influence on native forest management. The national forest policy statement of 1992, which was endorsed by New South Wales and several other Australian governments, commits those governments to encourage plantation development by removing legislative and financial disincentives. How are we going to address the lack of hardwood resources in this country if we do not take a sensible approach to this type of development? Everyone sees the virtues of plantations, but plantation development will only occur if investors and land-holders have incentives to get involved. They will not invest their money or land if there are legislative or financial disincentives.
Trees take a long time to grow, compared with other fibre or food groups. This means that return on investment may not occur until trees are harvested in 10 or 15 years for pulpwood, or in 40 to 50 years for sawlogs and veneer logs. No-one will put money into such a long-term venture if they fear that planning and wildlife laws designed to protect and regulate activities in native forests will prevent timber harvesting in plantations. In commercial plantation development the major costs of land and establishment are up-front, and the pay-off is generally at final harvest. Once a plantation manager has paid for the land and to establish trees, he or she is faced with ongoing costs, such as pest and disease control and fire protection.
As with any other business venture, tree growing will succeed if it is well planned, if the manager understands the nature of the business and if there is a market for the product. If governments are serious about expanding their plantation estates, they must take the lead, commit resources and get involved. People will invest land and money only if they get the right signals from government. The former Government committed an additional $6 million to support joint ventures between State Forests, land-holders and investors, but the program will not succeed if doubts remain about the ability of tree plantation owners to harvest their crop. Of course, the ultimate goal is to expand the hardwood plantation estates from the current 26,000 hectares to 100,000 hectares. This would add substantially to the long-term wood production potential of New South Wales.
Surveys show that most suitable land is in private ownership: it is usually grazing land that is marginal for other agricultural uses, and sometimes tree planting will occur alongside grazing or farming. Planting part of their land with trees can have significant environmental benefits for land-holders. The more profitable eucalypt species require well-drained soils of moderate depth and fertility, with annual rainfall of at least 800 millimetres; and some faster growing species, such as mountain ash, alpine ash, shiny gum, flooded gum and blackbutt, require more than 100 millimetres of rainfall per year. That is another reason why it is important to address the issue that the honourable member for Ballina raised about tree plantations with a great deal of thought and care.
It is important to appreciate that plantation timber is a supplement and not a substitute for timber harvested from native forests. I cannot understand why Government members cannot get that into their thick skulls. Growing hardwood sawlogs as distinct from pulpwood takes a very long time - up to 80 years. Increasing our plantation estate in the longer term can ease the pressure on native forests, but we should not delude ourselves that by developing plantations now we can obviate the need to log native forests in the foreseeable future. I come from an area that has the largest pine forest plantation in Australia. Although pine plantations are regarded with distaste by some conservationists because they are exotic monocultures, the relatively small area of State forests that are planted with pines, less than 6 per cent, now produces about 40 per cent of all Crown timber. As one of the earlier speakers said, we import $2 billion worth of timber products from that environment.
If we do not go down the path of creating timber plantations, what will we do? Will we encourage the use of metal in building homes? That has greater
impact on the environment than any argument centred around the timber industry. Not only have owners of timber mills and tree harvesters responsibly presented their arguments but, more importantly, the many thousands of people who have lived within the timber industry for decades and who have centred their lifestyles around various timber towns throughout New South Wales have been involved. The proposed Act does not affect planning approval processes for establishing plantations. Those wishing to establish plantations will still need to satisfy the requirements of respective local councils, relevant planning instruments and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
Clause 7 makes clear that harvesting operations involve the cutting and removal of trees to produce timber or timber products. It does not include establishing a plantation, but does include making access roads to allow logging to occur. Harvesting codes must be adopted by regulation before they come into force, a regulatory impact statement must be prepared, there must be industry consultation, and the appropriate regulation must be advertised. The bill provides for the appointment of tree plantation inspectors to monitor compliance with harvesting codes by plantation owners. I cannot understand why the Australian Labor Party continues its dogmatic and philosophical push to destroy the timber industry. I think it was the honourable member for Monaro who pointed out, quite rightly, that in the last election all Opposition members in rural seats increased their majority. In the Burrinjuck electorate I have increased my majority at each election.
I assure the House that these sorts of actions by the Minister and the Government will ensure that I continue to increase my majority and remain the honourable member for Burrinjuck for a long time. If the Sheahan dynasty held the seat of Burrinjuck for 45 years, the Minister and his ilk will ensure that the coalition will represent the Burrinjuck electorate for the next five, six or 10 generations. The Government can select as many candidates as it likes and the Minister can visit the area and spread all the lies he wants, but the seat of Burrinjuck will remain in the hands of the coalition, as will the seats of Bega, Monaro and other rural seats. The Minister might make some lovely, warm and cuddly noises about caring for rural people, but he has absolutely no thought at all for their welfare. He never has and he never will; and his attitude to the Tree Plantations (Harvest Security) Bill is a classic illustration of his attitude.
The honourable member for Ballina had enormous vision and foresight, as did the former Government, for the requirements of this State when he said that we had to be serious about tree plantations if we are to continue to support our relevant timber industry, which contributes enormously to the economic performance of this State and this country. It is a sad indictment of the Australian Labor Party when, because of its narrow-minded attitude and lack of vision, it fails to see that purpose. As I said when I commenced speaking to the bill, I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak on one of the most important issues debated in the House during the eight years that I have been a member of Parliament. I remember a meeting that was held with the timber industry in the south-east that the honourable member for Monaro, the honourable member for Bega and, indeed, the Minister for Land and Water Conservation attended. Referring to the Minister, I said to somebody, "This young fellow knows absolutely nothing about what is happening in the timber industry." He is a creature of the extreme environmental movement; his attitude to the wilderness debate has reinforcing that view during the past five or six years, and he has not changed. [Time expired
(Clarence) [10.49]: While listening to the debate, I remembered that 11 years ago when I first stood in this Parliament and delivered my maiden speech, forestry was one of the issues I raised. That was a big issue in my electorate of Clarence, which is centred on Grafton, the largest hardwood timber town in Australia. It saddens me that 11 years later, when I am probably making my last speech in this House, depending on the whim of the Prime Minister, nothing has changed. The position has deteriorated.
You had seven years and you did nothing.
If the Minister would listen to me, perhaps he might learn something. He should learn to listen to people with experience. My great-uncle was a timber cutter and he first took me into the forest when I was 11 years of age and taught me how to harvest timber. He was a great conservationist - not a preservationist, a conservationist - and he taught me to protect the young trees growing around the tree that was to be felled, because those young trees represented the future. The bill introduced by the honourable member for Ballina addresses the plantation aspect of forestry. When I was Minister, from 1988 to 1990, I started the idea of forest plantations in New South Wales. Obviously plantations are not a panacea for, or the future of,the forestry industry, but they are certainly a valuable adjunct the State's timber supplies.
It saddens me that the debate is being used to divide and conquer. I am disappointed by the misinformation that is peddled in the community by sources such as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Sydney Morning Herald
. In schools, unfortunately, a balanced argument is not put forward. The huge division between the city and the country was clearly demonstrated in the election on 25 March. That division has come about because the true facts of the debate have not been put before the people. Images of clear felling are often seen in the press and on television - images often dredged up from 20 years ago, when things were happening of which I did not approve. Those images are not still there, but they are dredged up in the press and on television.
Today New South Wales has far more trees than in 1920. The Minister shakes his head, but he is a newcomer to this Parliament and if he wants to see photographs I will show them to him. In the early days of settlement on the north coast most families lived on 40 acres of land, some of which was not good agricultural land. They knew no better, so they cleared the land in an endeavour to exist, because in those days there was no dole. They lived on the land and reared fairly big families. They ran a few cows, chooks and pigs, grew some vegetables, and they existed. In the 1950s light industry came to Sydney, and many of families who could not make do on those properties packed up, left and moved to the city. I could take honourable members back to that land today. I could take them to old goldmining towns that have huge trees in the main streets. The trees on those properties have regrown, and there are now far more trees on the north coast than there were in 1920.
Good management is needed. Earlier in the debate the Minister claimed that the forestry industry had overcut the resource by 30 per cent. He failed to say that the area available to the forestry industry has been continually nibbled at and reduced. Gradualism, I suppose, is the great socialist theory. The edges of the resource areas have gradually been reduced, in many instances because of false information, as part of a process of trying to destroy one of the greatest decentralised industries in New South Wales: the timber industry. That is why people are so concerned about investing in plantations. After 30 or 40 years of waiting for a return they might learn that their plantation is inhabited by an endangered species and they cannot harvest the product.
The Australian Paper Manufacturers Limited plantations at Boambee, south of Coffs Harbour, are good examples. The trees in those plantations were planted by APM in the 1950s to be used in a pulp mill at Coffs Harbour. In 1986 the then Minister, Janice Crosio, bought those plantations for the State, and they became part of the State resource. But lo and behold, those plantations cannot be harvested today because they are supposedly koala habitat. That is the issue that the honourable member for Ballina has sought to overcome by this legislation. I am disappointed that the Government is not prepared to accept the bill. Those who want to grow plantations - and, I believe, the environmental movement - understand there must be some security. Humility is probably a fairly hard virtue for the Government to manifest, but surely it realises that the bill has merit, that it provides security and that it should be embraced.
As the former Minister, I endeavoured in many ways to try to improve the forest resource in New South Wales. I certainly tried to implement value-adding, which was so necessary in the industry. I was the first Minister to challenge Crown quotas. I believed that value was not being obtained from some of the most significant species in the forests. They were merely part of a Crown quota, and the timber was used for scaffolding, whereas it could have been put to much better use, and more value could have been obtained for the area. I certainly encourage plantations as adjuncts to the New South Wales forest resource. The Minister should charter a plane, preferably the State Forests plane, fly from Tweed Heads to Bega, and have a look at the landscape. He will see trees from one end of the coast to the other.
If the Minister thinks the Government can use plantations to supplant the hardwood forest industry, he should look at the bare land as he flies from Tweed Heads to Bega to ascertain what land is available. The land is not available, so he should not get it into his head that he can close down the hardwood industry and replace it with a plantation industry. That is not on, firstly because of the lack of available land and, secondly, because of the time it takes a tree to grow. The bill obviously tries to give the industry the confidence to invest. The Banana Growers Federation bought an area of land north of Lismore and cultivated plantations for case timber, because bananas were packed in timber cases at that time. Those plantations cannot now be harvested either, and that is the real danger. Honourable members know the Government does not care. Two days ago the Minister for the Environment spoke about wilderness areas. I suspect we will return to the original nominations for wilderness areas, and that there will be freehold title with more timber resource and grazing rights.
Where are this State and this country going? Valuable industries are being destroyed because it is politically convenient to do so, and to enable the Premier to claim emotionally, "I have saved all our forests." Has he saved our forests at the cost of starving workers in the timber industry? That is where New South Wales is now heading. I am sure future generations will curse some of these decisions because sensible and reasonable management has not been implemented in these areas. As we had vast and valuable resources in the Northern Rivers area in 1987, I intended to allow the development of a modern technology pulp mill at Grafton. What did we get? At that time the Labor candidate for the Federal seat of Page was strutting around with all the radicals and saying, "We cannot have this pulp mill. My God, this is the end of the world", even though we proposed to use the best technology - which is still available today.
We used to burn 300,000 tonnes of waste timber from sawmills on the north coast, yet we import $2 billion worth of forest products into Australia every year. How stupid can we be? We are burning resources rather than using them. At that time the candidate for Page - the present Federal Labor Party member for Page - strutted around saying, "We cannot have this. The rivers will be poisoned. The air will be polluted. We will be able to detect the pollution 50 kilometres away. Every tree within 600-kilometres radius will be cut down." Of course, those statements were all lies. That pulp mill represented 1,500 jobs to the people on the north coast. The Federal Government has in place half a dozen Clayton's programs. Members of that Government say that people are employed, when they are employed by the Federal Government on these schemes only to keep them off the unemployment list.
Australia could have had a value-adding export industry in Grafton capable of generating $6 million in wages if it were not for the actions of the Australian Labor Party and the Federal member for Page, Harry Woods. He tramped around the place saying that we could not build a mill in Grafton. That is the ideology of Government members. It is very sad that we cannot get some balance in this debate. It is sad that people are not being told the facts about the forest industry. Forest industries in New South Wales are not raping our forests; the flora and the environment are not being destroyed; and not one animal species has been lost because of forestry activities - a furphy that is constantly being peddled. We have lost fauna in the western plains area, but I suspect that that was due to rabbits eating all the available food.
Debate on this matter has got completely out of hand. In some ways I am pleased that one of the last speeches I am making in this place is on a subject that is dear to my heart. I know a lot about the forestry industry; I grew up in that environment. I am disappointed that some balance has not been introduced into this debate. I support the bill because I believe farmers would be willing, given the security, to grow tree plantations. One of the things that is destroying the timber industry at present is a lack of confidence. If we are to be competitive - there is no doubt that the whole world is competitive - we have to have economies of scale and big investment. At present sawmill owners in my electorate are worrying about whether or not to invest $600,000 in machinery. That is a big investment. How can they invest that sort of money when they do not have any confidence? I ask members of this Government to look closely at the timber industry. They should not use it as a political football. It is a valuable industry and it employs many people in New South Wales. We have to manage this industry objectively otherwise we will all suffer in the end. That would be a great tragedy.
(The Hills) [11.04]: I am pleased to support the Tree Plantations (Harvest Security) Bill as I have a keen interest in environmental matters and a keen interest in Australia's economic future. This bill will really provide for both. It will provide resource security for one of our more important industries, and it will provide - and I am surprised the Minister for Land and Water Conservation did not recognise this - safeguards for old-growth forests and the diversity of species which flourish in those forests. I listened with a degree of amazement to the Minister's speech. I do not understand why the Minister opposes something that will provide security for plantations - something that is in direct accord with his own forestry policy.
The Minister for Land and Water Conservation and the honourable member for Moorebank, now Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, trumpeted this policy before the last election as a centrepiece of the Labor Party's platform. In fact, this forest policy was waved around as a peace flag. It was hailed as unique and as something that would guarantee security for the industry and for the environment - a win-win situation. The policy of the Minister for Land and Water Conservation is predicated on the idea that it will provide resource security for the forest industry; that it will provide an alternative to the logging of old-growth forests. The Minister said that this bill, which is well thought-out - and about which all the stakeholders have been consulted, despite what the Minister said - and which has been largely agreed to by most honourable members, is no good and should be rejected as being spurious and trivial.
When I listened to the Minister's speech I tried to work out why he was objecting to this bill. I heard other speakers in this debate say that the Minister objected to it because he did not come up with the idea; he did not dream it up. If members of this Government are to be given any credibility it is important for them to introduce a tree plantation harvest security bill. The previous Government had already drafted this bill and it was ready to proceed with it. The Minister's only objection to the bill was that there was no guarantee that previously forested lands would not be cleared to enable the planting of trees. I am astounded by that assertion. If that is the Minister's only concrete objection to the bill why is he not proposing an amendment to it? Let us get this legislation through so we can provide that security for an industry that is near and dear to the Minister's heart and to the hearts of all honourable members.
This tree plantation concept is based on ecologically sustainable development. For that reason it has been agreed to by all honourable members. The honourable member for Burrinjuck referred earlier to steel framing for houses. Recently, Ku-ring-gai Council issued a code of building practices which deducts points if builders use steel framing in houses as it is not environmentally sound. Ku-ring-gai Council is saying that timber framing is the way to go, yet the Minister, who is in charge of State Forests and is responsible for providing that resource, is saying, "We will not provide that resource. You will not have the timber." Perhaps the Premier wants to stop immigration to this city because timber will not be available to build houses. He might not want tent cities and shanty towns for new arrivals. I wish to quote from the Government's forestry policy to demonstrate what a hypocrite the Minister is. A section entitled "Plantations" on page 9 of that policy states:
A Carr Labor Government will establish a landmark timber plantation strategy under a corporatised State Forests by:
•implementing a hardwood plantation program with the objective of increasing State Forests target of 5000 hectares per year in 1997/98 to 10,000 hectares per year;
•the enhancement of the existing share farming program for hardwood plantation . . .
That is terrific. The ideas are bold, but what is the reality? How many hectares of plantations have been established in this State? The honourable member for Clarence would like to know the answer to that question. In 1993, only 145 hectares were planted, because of the drought. This year there has been a little more rain, so it is planned to plant
1,600 hectares. All up, that gives some 2,000 hectares of plantation. For the edification of the Minister I advise that the Cumberland research division of State Forests is in my electorate and I have had quite a bit to do with the division during my time as a member of this House. If the Minister discussed his ideas with the research division, he would find out that there is insufficient land available to State Forests to meet anything like his objectives - even for the 5,000 hectares that was the objective of the previous Government - without using private land under share farming schemes.
The real question is: how will the Minister realise his objectives unless he is prepared to have realistic sharefarming schemes, unless he is prepared to guarantee farmers resource security so that they have an economic return for their investment? No-one will invest in plantations without the guarantee of resource security. We are not talking about a short-term crop, such as barley, wheat or oats, that is sown and harvested in the same year. With this crop, we are talking about the planting of seedlings, the thinning of the crop after about 15 years if things have gone well, and a minimum 20-year rotation period for woodchip, 40 to 50 years for sawlogs and up to 120 years depending on the species planted. It is not possible to use pine or other softwood for all purposes.
If the Minister had a chat with the research division of his own department, he would understand that there are many purposes - lintels over windows and certain types of flooring, for example - for which softwood is entirely inappropriate. Hardwoods have to be grown, and to encourage the plantation of hardwoods resource security must be provided. The honourable member for Burrinjuck spoke about the national forest policy statement. A goal agreed to by all governments in Australia is the expansion of Australia's commercial plantations of softwoods and hardwoods so as to provide an additional, economically viable, reliable and high-quality wood resource for industry. The national forest policy statement points out that plantations can provide a wide range of commercial, environmental and aesthetic benefits to the community and that they will become increasingly important. The policy further states:
The Governments [Commonwealth and the State] have several objectives in relation to Australia's plantation resource: to increase commercial plantation development on cleared agricultural land and, where possible, to integrate plantation enterprises with other agricultural land uses -
so the development will be environmentally sensitive and economically sound -
to improve the productivity of existing plantation areas by means of improved technology, breeding of genetically improved stock, and selection of species; and to continue to encourage industrial growers, and where appropriate public forestry agencies, to expand their plantation base to satisfy specific requirements.
The statement has been agreed to by all governments, and the benefits to the environment and the timber industry will be substantial. The Premier's roundtable on the environment received a report on this issue in 1990, and outlined a range of benefits that would accrue to the environment, wood growers and users from eucalypt plantation sharefarming schemes. The downside to the proposal was the economics involved. It appears that the Minister has not taken this matter on board. The Minister talks about his desire to get farmers involved in plantations but he does not seem to realise that the economics are marginal at best. Land acquisition would cost about $1,600 per hectare and establishment costs would amount to a further $1,500 per hectare. The real rate of return would be perhaps 4 per cent to 5 per cent for the first plantation cycle of 20 years, perhaps with a small annuity payable by State Forests, as happens in some other States.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gaudry):
Order! If Opposition members wish to continue to conduct a conversation they should do so outside the Chamber.
A greater rate of return for both the Government and the landowner would be available in the next cycle. That is why resource security needs to be provided, to encourage a second plantation of trees. Because roads have been put in and basic infrastructure facilities have been provided the costs are lower for the second plantation, which is when the gains start. That is when one actually starts to make money out of one's investment. That is the reason for needing resource security and this legislation. I now turn to specific clauses of the bill, because I suspect that the Minister has not read it in any detail. The concept of accreditation has not been fully discussed. The accreditation scheme does not refer simply to large areas of land. A plantation could be hundreds of hectares or it could be just two trees in a backyard. Someone might plant two red cedar trees and bequeath them to his or her grandchildren, to enable the production of some fine furniture in the future.
Under clause 10 the trees could eventually be harvested, without being subject to a local government tree preservation order. That clause provides both resource security and harvest security. The Minister should have addressed this matter, which he could have done by way of amendment. The process of accreditation could be unduly complex, as the process of gazettal, for example, would appear to be rather complex for a two-tree plantation. Clause 8 provides that harvesting operations on an accredited tree plantation may take place without the need for environmental assessment or development consent. That position is the same for any other crop. I am surprised that the Minister did not raise that as an issue, because it is important. Clause 9 is the most contentious clause, for it exempts those carrying out harvesting operations from sections 98(2) and 99(1) of the National Parks and Wildlife Act, which relate to protected and endangered fauna. The caveat is that someone is exempted only if the harvesting operations are carried out in accordance with any code applying to the tree plantation.
There would be a number of draft codes prepared for the various classes of tree plantation to cover such matters as harvesting plantations, works ancillary to harvesting operations, soil erosion and sediment control, native animals and plants, Aboriginal relics and places, and post-harvest bushfire hazard reduction burning. The bill transfers the protection of the environment from an Act of Parliament to a code of practice. I should have liked a draft code to be included as a schedule to the bill, and I hope that will be provided when the Minister prepares his bill. Australia imports $2.4 billion of timber and exports only $800 million of timber. The clear deficit makes plain the need for resource security to maintain the timber industry and to preserve old-growth forests and the environmental base of many towns in electorates represented by honourable members on this side of the House. I support the bill.
(Tamworth) [11.19]: I intend to speak only briefly to this bill. I congratulate the honourable member for Ballina on highlighting this issue, an issue that all honourable members consider to be important. Legislation is critical if New South Wales is to move towards the growth of plantation timber. It would appear that the bill will not be passed through the House, which is regrettable. The Government could have amended the bill, which provides the basic framework from which to work. The intent of the honourable member for Ballina is to emphasise his real concern for an industry - and a potentially much greater industry - in plantation timber and the farming of a timber resource. I do not think he is trying to play politics on this issue. I have introduced a similar bill relating to the trial production of cannabis fibre. No-one will grow these products unless at the end of the day there is some certainty of a profitable return on investment.
Resource security is critical to investment in plantation timber. Nothing will happen if the need for transition from old-growth forests to plantation timber or other products such as cannabis fibre is debated without there being a framework within which the industry can grow, develop and profit with security of the investment dollar. The Minister recently spent some time on the Liverpool plains, south of Gunnedah, where he inspected a range of projects. Many people in that farming community are prepared to consider plantation timber or the farming of trees as a long-term profitable venture, which would ameliorate some of the problems caused by rising watertables and salinity. Legislation such as that introduced by the honourable member for Ballina needs to be locked up in a bipartisan approach. Fear that the rules will be changed must be dispelled. In the United States of America many people went into the plantation timber industry, doing what they considered to be the right thing because of endangered fauna and other legislation.
Shoot, shovel and shut up.
The honourable member for Coffs Harbour has reminded me of a problem that occurred in the United States. Some land-holders and plantation farmers developed a mentality of shoot, shovel and shut up. If they found endangered fauna, for example an odd-looking woodpecker, in the plantation, they removed the animals in order to maintain their resource security. It is a trap we could fall into. Some members of this Parliament - and I am not referring to the Minister for Land and Water Conservation - will deliberately play political games with the environmental agenda in relation to this type of legislation. Resource security is critical. The farming community and the broader community must be able to plant these types of forests and have the ability to reap the much-needed returns down the track.
I was pleased to hear the Minister say he believes some taxation incentives should be built into any future programs. If the community and the Government are serious about addressing this agenda, they have to take on board the feelings of the people who will probably grow these plantations. Those people are, in the majority, the farming community. I urge the Minister to consult widely with those who will be growing the product in order to give them assurances of resource security. I again congratulate the honourable member for Ballina. It seems his bill will not be successful, but in highlighting the problem he has gone some way to finding a solution to resource security.
(Coffs Harbour) [11.25]: I support the bill, which was previously introduced by the former Government. It has been reintroduced by the honourable member for Ballina, the shadow minister. Much debate has taken place in regard to forest industries. I am disappointed in the Minister for Land and Water Conservation. When he visited the north coast he consulted only the Greens, told representatives of the timber industry what he was going to do, told them to wait for a fortnight and that when the House adjourns, the Government's policy with regard to the future of State Forests in New South Wales will be released.
The Minister said this morning that the Government will not support the bill. He said also that he would have further consultation within the community. I ask the Minister to address the problem of whether he is going to consult with the community, which includes the industry, or whether he will simply listen to the extreme Greens in the forest debate. Many people in city areas believe the north coast and the south-east forests were clear-felled. That is absolute nonsense. Some of my colleagues have visited the Coffs Harbour electorate and told me they thought there were no trees there. They believed what was put forward by the extremists in the media. They are not looking at the issues on the north coast.
Plantation forests have been part and parcel of the timber industry on the north coast for generations. In Dorrigo the resource is severely restricted, but there are plantation timbers that have existed for a number of years. They will be harvested correctly when they are due to be harvested, in a couple of years. When the Minister visited Coffs Harbour recently he announced the purchase of further land for
plantations at the back of Dorrigo. That land was already the subject of negotiation for purchase by the previous Government. It has now been purchased by State Forests, and the Minister for Land and Water Conservation said he will oppose legislation which will give a guarantee to harvest plantation timber not only in forest plantations but on private land.
I had the misfortune - in some way - of serving on the forest policy advisory committee when this legislation was discussed. There was open and full discussion. Sid Walker, a Green activist, said he opposed plantation or harvesting of plantations. When I asked him why he opposed it he said it might result in one last tree being left in the last plantation, and one last koala. That is taking the precautionary principle to extreme. I urge the Minister to discount that sort of extremism, to look to the future of the industry and to acknowledge that private industry and governments need to be given incentives to ensure that if they are going to invest heavily in plantation timbers, they have a right to harvest. That right to harvest is something that must be preserved if investment is to go ahead.
If the Government cannot support the bill and is going to enter a long process of consultation and negotiation, and if legislation is not passed in this House, another 18 months or two years will pass before the industry gets off the ground, other than in some plantations managed by State Forests. The honourable member for Tamworth referred to concerns about salinity and the fact that people want more timber on their properties to turn them into a viable economic resource. That would benefit them in the long term and would also benefit the State and the timber industry. Timber plantations provide farmers with a valuable resource and with the opportunity to plant out and graze their properties. However, they need legislation to guarantee their right to harvest that resource in years to come. The native forest industry is under extreme pressure.
Pursuant to standing orders business interrupted.