Wednesday, 12 February 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I'd like to begin my contribution with a warning that in this parliament and in this Senate, at a time when so many people are still suffering so significantly from the bushfires, we, as parliamentarians, have to exercise enormous responsibility in what we say and in how we direct our political advocacy. I need to make it very clear that bushfire impacted communities are not interested in self-serving politicking, in toxic political pointscoring or in political one-upmanship. So I am disappointed by this MPI today. I have to say it is disgraceful, that at a time when the industry is hurting and on its knees as a result of these fires, the Greens are using this motion to push their anti-job agenda.
Let me just put a couple of things on the record. First of all, our government's response to this bushfire—these 'black summer' bushfires—has been unprecedented: a $2 billion National Bushfire Recovery Agency and massive investment in families and in emergency payments to small business, tourism, mental health, clean-up, infrastructure and, of course, for wildlife. So it's completely false that we haven't responded very quickly in relation to our concern for wildlife. There was a $50 million initial emergency response for wildlife and habitat recovery, and the minister has made it clear that more money will be committed. Our priorities are caring for and rehabilitating injured wildlife, so I was very disappointed by the remarks of Senator Pratt, who obviously has no idea of what is really going on. We are treating this very, very seriously, particularly in relation to the horrendous impact on Australian wildlife.
It is very disappointing—and I reiterate the comments of Senator Duniam—that the Greens are forest science deniers. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest or to support the premise that logging makes our forests more fire prone. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which advises the UNFCCC on climate matters, has stated unequivocally:
A sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.
So we're seeing the Greens on an ideological bent.
It's also disappointing that we haven't seen Labor or the Greens take issue in this debate with the shocking decision in Victoria by Premier Andrews to wipe out the native forest industry by 2030. It's particularly insensitive after East Gippsland has suffered the brunt of these fires. This decision will wipe out 4,700 jobs and hurt our economy to the tune of nearly $300 million. It shows a complete lack of respect for regional Victoria. It is a disastrous decision. Let me reiterate that native forestry is a sustainable industry. The average harvest area in Victoria over the past five years has been 0.04 per cent of the total publicly owned native forest in the state.
I call on the Victorian government to reverse this decision. The people of East Gippsland and north-east Victoria are hurting enough. We have seen Labor turn its back on coal workers and now we are seeing the same thing with our forestry workers. It is an absolute disgrace. To see Labor selling out regional workers in this way is absolutely untenable.
It's also disappointing that the Greens haven't recognised that protecting our fire-damaged landscapes means managing fuel reduction. We saw that with the 2009 royal commission into the Black Saturday bushfires. The royal commission made it very clear that a long-term program of prescribed burning, based on an annual rolling target of a minimum of five per percent of public land, was required. We have seen a shameful shortfall in terms of that recommendation by the royal commission. Last year, only 130,000 hectares of controlled burns occurred in Victoria, about one-third of what was recommended. So that is a real lack of respect for these important recommendations and a real misunderstanding of the contribution that fuel hazards play in— (Time expired)