Senate debates

Thursday, 25 February 2010


Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee; Reference

9:58 am

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | Hansard source

Senator Brown is correct when he says that this is a serious matter, although I have to reject the assertions that he makes about the motives of the opposition. He is quite free in his attribution of motive. It is a regular thing that he does in this place and it is the way that he plays his politics. But I have to say, on behalf of the opposition, I utterly reject the assertions that he ascribes to the opposition in this matter. Obviously he is quite free to make them. That is part of the process that occurs here. But this is a serious matter and the opposition’s view on this is that we ought to put the science before the politics.

The allegations that were raised in the Australian Story programs over the last two weeks are quite serious, but the science on that is quite new. It is not something that has been put in the public arena before and it has not been peer reviewed. Like the industry in Tasmania, I welcome the process that has been put in place through the Environment Protection Authority in Tasmania to conduct a proper review of the circumstances that are occurring in the George River, including doing some testing in other rivers around Tasmania so that they can have something to compare it to and so that some comparative testing can be done. I think that is more than appropriate. But, unlike Senator Bob Brown, I would like the Environment Protection Authority in Tasmania to be able to conduct its review, and the Director of Public Health in Tasmania has indicated his willingness to have an independent panel with people from outside Tasmania, outside Australia if necessary, to bring in the necessary skills and qualifications to properly assess this matter.

Let us get that done. Let us investigate the science. Let us investigate the allegations that are being made. I note that Senator Brown and Senator Milne are making accusations of genetic modification of the trees. We know that is not true. Those allegations are out there broadly in the media that the trees are being genetically modified. We know though, and the reality is, that it is a matter of selection of strong-growth trees from progeny that are brought through the breeding programs. This is a breeding program that has led to high-growth trees to bring high productivity to an industry that is an important one to Tasmania and an important one to the country.

There is already an enormous amount of hyperbole. Suppositions have been drawn from the results of the research which were put to air on Australian Story last week. Links have not been proven but allegations have been made, and I for one think that it is quite reasonable for the Senate to see what the science says. I think Senator Brown’s comments are quite correct. If gaps in the science are identified following that process, I think it is quite appropriate that the Senate, having done that, moves to investigate the issue.

But this is a very new allegation. It has not yet been peer reviewed. It has not been considered on a broader scale. You can go to almost any river in Tasmania and see colour and foam. They are a feature of the rivers in Tasmania. In fact the west coast of Tasmania is well known for the tea-coloured water in its rivers, the tannins that come from the natural countryside. There are scientists in Tasmania talking today about the fact that there will be natural chemicals in the waterways in Tasmania based on the run-off and leaching from the natural environment.

As Senator Brown correctly says, plantations are a change in the environment. But it is quite interesting to note that going back into the 1990s Senator Brown and the Greens were telling us that we should get out of native forests and move to plantations for our forestry. They have been saying that for a long time, that we should get out of native forests and into plantations for our forestry. Senator Milne said yesterday in this place that up to 80 per cent, she believed, of the George River catchment was planted in plantations. My understanding is that it is five per cent. So here we have another example of the hyperbole being brought into argument already by the Greens.

So I think that it is more than reasonable to get some verification of the science, and that independent assessment has been welcomed by the industry in Tasmania. They understand that if there is a problem there it needs to be managed and it needs to be dealt with. The Director of Public Health in Tasmania understands that if there is a problem there it needs to be considered and dealt with. We likewise understand, and we welcome that the Tasmanian government has, quite rightly, put in place this process that will bring in the best experts to consider the issues that are being raised.

Senator Brown says that this is an urgent issue and it needs to be dealt with straightaway. Why haven’t the Greens brought a motion into this place to deal with toxic run-off or alleged toxic issues in Rosebery in Tasmania? They are quite selective in the issues that they bring forward. There is equal community concern in that community about toxicity in the groundwater from the mining industry, yet nothing has been heard from the Greens about that. They have been telling us for 10 years that we should get out of native forests and into plantations for our forestry. In fact in November at estimates Senator Milne alleged that we could move all of our forestry needs to plantation timbers. She asked questions of the department about moving all of our forestry operations out of native forests and into plantations. That was the point she was making. Yet here they are saying that we should not have plantations and making allegations against plantations and their damage to human health.

There is a real inconsistency to the arguments that the Greens bring forward. Senator Brown asked questions about the Forest Stewardship Council at estimates back in February. Quite fairly, I think, he asked about funding for the Forest Stewardship Council certification system. The council will not certify anything but plantation forestry in Australia, basically because of the political process that is involved with that.


Vicki Stebbins
Posted on 26 Feb 2010 3:54 pm

A simple google search shows that the science has been there showing what these trees are for some time, and that plantation eucalyptus trees are 'genetically enhanced' they have no blossom (so no food for animals) and future plans are now to make the leaves more toxic in a bid to stop spraying for insects. Not much further and it's findable that Monsanto was the beginnings of Arborgen (who make most of these dead forests).