Senate debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Ending Native Forest Logging Bill 2023; Second Reading

11:29 am

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill now be read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted

I table an explanatory memorandum and seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated into Hansard.

The speech read as follows—

The Ending Native Forest Logging Bill 2023 seeks to end the destructive logging of Australia's incredibly valuable native forests. It repeals the Act which enables logging, and which has provided an exemption from our environmental protections for far too long.

The Commonwealth Government has a fundamental responsibility to protect our environment. That's reflected in international commitments that the Australian government has made on the international stage, and that have been enacted through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Despite those requirements in legislation, there is a loophole that entire truckloads of logs are being driven through. That loophole is contained in the Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002.

For far too long, these regional forest agreements, or RFAs, established between the federal and state governments, have exempted native forest logging from the environmental protections we have in place. These agreements cover significant parts of Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia, and New South Wales.

RFAs were allegedly intended to protect complex ecosystems, and ensure threatened species were protected, as well as provide sustainable timber supply, and protect jobs. In their 2020 report, Creating Jobs, Protecting Forests? The Wilderness Society concluded that RFAs have failed on every front.

A crucial issue is that forests form part of the traditional lands of First Nations peoples around Australia. They are crucial habitat for their totem species. When governments heedlessly damage native forests through destructive logging, we are threatening generations of First People's heritage.

In addition, native forests form a critical habitat for precious wildlife, many of which are threatened or endangered. Sadly, as well as the climate crisis, Australia is facing a biodiversity crisis. More than 1,800 plant and animal species, and ecological communities, are at risk of extinction. No other country has seen more mammals go extinct in the last two hundred years than Australia. The koala, Swift Parrot, and Tasmanian devil are just some of the species at risk because of loss of their forest habitat, including from logging. I want to particularly mention the Greater Glider and Wollert/ Leadbeater's Possum, both of which have been threatened by logging in my home state of Victoria. Every time we clearfell an area of mature intact forest we are destroying the homes of these endangered species.

Forests also have incredible benefits for our water supply. In Melbourne, we are lucky enough to have some of the highest quality drinking water in the world. A key reason for this is the beautiful Mountain Ash forests of Victoria's Highlands. It is through these trees' roots, branches, soil and surrounding ecosystems that Melbourne's largest water supply catchment is filtered naturally.

Any disturbance to these forests has detrimental impacts on the unmatched quality of the city's water supply. Without this forest, our water would require intensive, man-made filtering. Logging also impacts on the quantity of water available. A young regrowth forest soaks up considerably more water than a mature forest, reducing streamflows and availability of water for human use. Despite how significant Victoria's Mountain Ash forests are, a report by the ABC last December exposed the widespread illegal logging of hundreds of hectares of Mountain Ash forests by the Victorian Government-owned logging agency, VicForests.

In their report, the ABC found documents that suggested the Office of the Conservation Regulator, the body tasked with enforcing state logging law and monitoring VicForests, was alerted to the agency's illegal activity but failed to "properly investigate". Even after admission by VicForests in 2019 that they have been illegally logging protected areas, the regulator found the allegations of widespread illegal logging "could not be substantiated."

As well as being essential for wildlife, and their benefits for water, our native forests have massive carbon benefits. We know from research by environmental scientists that native forest logging results in increased carbon pollution, at a time when we need to be doing everything we can to combat the climate crisis. Research has found that logging of Tasmania's native forests emits almost five tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, including both short and long term emissions. In NSW that figure is almost four tonnes per year; and in Victoria it is more than three tonnes per year. It is unbelievable that in the midst of a climate crisis, we are subsidising environmental destruction that is worsening the climate crisis. It must end now.

Logging and destruction of our forests also increases our fire risk. Despite the hysteria and attempts to deflect from the climate crisis by the Murdoch media, there is clear evidence that logging increases the risks we face. An expert review by Griffith University found that "Logging can make native forests more flammable and lead to greater fire severity for decades, while 'mechanical thinning' can also increase fire risk." That review found that "Native forest logging increases the severity at which forests burn, beginning roughly 10 years after logging and continuing at elevated levels for another 30+ years … The likelihood of "crown burn" (when the forest canopy is burned) is about 10% in old growth forest versus 70% in forest logged 15 years ago." This is a disastrous situation in the context of increasing fire risk to forests due to global heating.

We also know that when we preserve and protect our forests, there are benefits across our communities, including through tourism and recreation. A key part of Australia's appeal on the international tourism market is our reputation as a place where visitors can visit and be inspired by unique ecosystems and see incredible wildlife unlike anywhere else in the world. Logging native forests is not only destroying precious forest, but undermining future jobs that could last for lifetimes. Ecotourism is a growing sector, and we know that jobs in tourism can be an important sustainable way to support regional communities, and can help people connect with nature, and understand how precious our forests are.

The federal Labor party, since taking government, has comprehensively failed to address this multi-faceted crisis. There are vague statements about the need to protect our precious forests; but there is no action. The federal government has failed to act when the courts found that the Victorian government was failing to uphold its commitments under the Regional Forest Agreements. Government should act, but it has failed to.

Native forest logging has had its day. It is destroying our environment. This bill would end the destruction. It would close the RFA loophole, so that the limited environmental protections we have in place would genuinely apply to forests, offering some level of protection that's greater than what we face now.

We can act, we can create change and protect our forests.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.


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