PRIVATE NATIVE FORESTRY
Mr IAN COHEN
[9.53 p.m.]: There is a nasty Orwellian drama unfolding right in the heart of the Department of Environment and Climate Change. It is a story rich in doublespeak and duplicity that is as bold as it is appalling. I am referring to private native forestry. That last bastion of unregulated environmental vandalism, which some 10 years after all other major exploitative industries were regulated, finally came under some genuine, if glaringly inadequate, form of regulatory control just last year.
The responsibility for private native forestry moved to the Department of Environment and Climate Change after the Department of Natural Resources was disbanded in 2007, with a terrible record of environmental failure and incompetency. However, private native forestry staff from the Department of Natural Resources went into the Department of Environment and Climate Change and those who had spent years promoting private logging were now in charge of ecological regulation of logging on behalf of the environment Minister. But the leopard, as they say, does not change his spots and the evidence of that has been coming thick and fast ever since, from the numerous environmental failings of the code to the many flawed elements in its implementation.
Firstly, in February this year there was the stealthy introduction of a revised code of practice in the dead of night, without any consultation with the environment movement, which made major changes to suit timber industry interests without fixing the major environmental problems. The Department of Environment and Climate Change continues to routinely state, on behalf of the Minister no less, that all old-growth forest is protected by the code. However, this is patently and categorically untrue. Half of all mapped candidate old-growth forest is directly available for logging without any constraints or any assessment. Substantial areas of old growth forest are undoubtedly being logged with impunity as a result.
Open government is not safe either. Basic transparency was not too popular at the Department of Natural Resources, and nor is it a feature of its new incarnation. The North Coast Environment Council recently applied for 17 logging property vegetation plans under freedom of information laws. Identical clearing property vegetation plans are available for inspection by any member of the public at the offices of the relevant catchment management authority. But when they are logging property vegetation plans not only are they not available for public inspection, they are refused under the freedom of information laws. The Department of Environment and Climate Change has twice so far refused this request on entirely different grounds. The latest refusal claimed that business interests would be affected, and that there was not sufficient public interest in the matter to warrant the release.
One can only wonder why logging business interests are so superior to farming interests as to make a public document for the latter a confidential document for the former. One could become somewhat amazed that the Department of Environment would suggest that the public has no interest in the approval of 108,492 hectares of forest for logging in just 10 months, at a time when rapid global warming means that the community has a stronger stake than ever in the future of our fragile forests—at a time when evidence continues to stack up of the major impost on the public good of unsustainable logging resulting, as it does, in a net loss of carbon, invasions of weeds and feral animals, destruction of threatened species habitats, and major reductions in both water supply and quality.
Not content with having made such an unreasonable decision in relation to the freedom of information—and having made it twice, though for different reasons—the Department of Environment and Climate Change went on to defend it in the media, claiming that all of the relevant information was already available on its website—extraordinary and absolutely untrue! Logging property vegetation plans are not, and never have been, available on any website. The private native forests code of practice does not unequivocally protect high conservation value areas, the highest of the high value endangered ecological communities. It leaves a loophole to allow them to be logged under an ecological harvest plan approved by the Director General of the Department of Environment and Climate Change. Needless to say, the Department of Environment and Climate Change now seems poised to weave some Orwellian magic here as well. And this one tops the lot.
The Department of Environment and Climate Change intends to allow commercial logging in endangered ecological communities and call it "restoration forestry". Restoring forests by degrading and destroying them for commercial gain—brilliant! The department has definitely reached the pinnacle there with the high point of deceit, duplicity, and appalling environmental implications. Needless to say, all this points to the fact that the Minister has a major problem on her hands. She has a rogue element within her own department, with an appalling environmental record, and indisputable timber industry bias. Will they continue to have free rein, bringing down the reputation and environmental credibility of the whole department, or will measures be taken to end the doublespeak and bring some independence, transparency, and ecological expertise to bear on this very important issue?
I wish the new environment Minister well. Many see Minister Firth's role as the last fingernail grasp of environmental conscience in this Government, despite the will of the general public. Neville Wran's historic decision to stop rainforest logging on public lands had overwhelming public support. People would be horrified to know rainforest logging continues in private native forestry in this State today. It is now estimated that 35 per cent of logging in this State is on private land. People from areas in the far North Coast are considering taking action against this type of logging, a practice that is unsustainable on private land. I ask Minister Firth and the Government to take note of this issue in the near future; otherwise we are going to have another ecological disaster on our hands.