Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


Tasmanian Forestry

9:05 pm

Photo of Lisa SinghLisa Singh (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to highlight the importance of what is currently being debated in the upper house of the Tasmanian parliament and of understanding what is under threat of being locked up in Tasmania. Actually, it is not 'what' but 'who'. It is not the forests. Tasmanian trees and Tasmanian forests are not locked up. They are protected, for the moment. It is the Tasmanian people who are being stripped of their free speech protections. It is they who will be locked up under conservative Premier Will Hodgman's draconian new criminal law—the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Bill—that will strip away the rights of Tasmanians to proclaim their opinions publicly.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister laid bare the sum total of conservative 'conservationist' governments' credentials when he bewailed that Australia has quite enough national parks and quite enough locked-up forests—too many locked-up forests, actually, particularly in Tasmania. The question I would rhetorically ask the Prime Minister is: from whom are those forests locked up or, to put it another way, from whom are those forests protected? Nothing is locked up; no-one is locked out. We are, instead, encouraged to visit these areas, to experience them and to enjoy them. The Tasmanian wilderness is already a tourism mecca. The United Nations World Heritage Committee agrees that it is an area of outstanding global environmental and cultural value. It is an area that deserves a modicum of protection from a very small number of corporations who would like to clear-fell it. This protection was a keystone of the Tasmanian forestry agreement, one of the great achievements of the previous federal and state Labor governments as well as the Tasmanian forestry industry and the conservation movement.

The beauty of the Tasmanian forestry agreement was its compromise. No one got what they wanted. Over four years key industry and environmental groups, through a process of give and take, worked out an agreement that would assist the Tasmanian forestry industries transition to a more sustainable long-term footing while providing significant conservation benefits.

Senator Colbeck interjecting

No group, Senator Colbeck, got everything they wanted, but every group got something. It defined the concept of a practical, pragmatic compromise. It was an agreement. Indeed, it was a peace agreement. It was a final agreement on wood supply and conservation, securing a minimum of 137,000 cubic metres per year of high-quality sawlogs and agreeing to protect an extra 504,000 hectares of native forests with important conservation values. It was an agreement between—

Senator Colbeck interjecting

Let us go through the list. It was an agreement, Senator Colbeck, between the Australian Conservation Foundation; the Australian Forest Contractors Association; the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union; Environment Tasmania; the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania; the National Association of Forestry; the Tasmanian Country Sawmillers Association; the Tasmanian Forest Contractors Association; Timber Communities Australia; and the Wilderness Society. Undeniably, certain fringe and intransigent industry and environment organisations were not supportive of the Tasmanian forest agreement. Those groups complained that the TFA was either a sell-out to the environmental lobby, by adding over half a million hectares of native forest into reserves, or a sell-out to the forestry industry, by allowing continued logging in native forests. But the signatories to this agreement, which I have listed, on the other hand, declared that they were prepared to move forward under a deal that provided certainty, supported jobs, preserved more areas with important conservation values and, most importantly, finished the bitter, never-ending war over Tasmania's forests. It is called the 'forest peace deal' for a very good reason. It brought peace. By 2013, the forest wars were over.

A Tasmanian forestry industry which derives resources from areas that contain high-value forests cannot prosper in the international market. In fact, the native forest sector in Tasmania has been in decline for the last 20 years. Prices for native forest wood products have been flat or falling, costs have been rising and both domestic and international competition has been increasing. Since 2008, the deterioration of the sector has accelerated because of the global financial crisis, increased woodchip production from South-East Asia, the high Australian dollar and declining Japanese paper demand. The old markets are gone and the traditional industry must change.

Despite this reality, on the basis of his empty, cruel promises in return for votes, Premier Will Hodgman is seeking to reignite the forest wars, for inane, political point-scoring reasons only, by ripping up the TFA and strangling the thousands of Tasmanian voices who want to object. Despite Will Hodgman's hollow bombast prior to 15 March that, were he to win the election, his first act would be to tear up the forest peace deal, this unprecedented agreement has not been torn up yet. The Tasmanian parliament's Legislative Council is currently debating its future and with it the future of Tasmania's forests and our forestry industry.

The conservative vision for the future of Tasmanian forests was made clear in Greg Hunt's feeble de-listing request that was rejected outright by the World Heritage Committee. In the words of former New South Wales environment minister and Attorney-General Bob Debus:

On the one hand they brazenly claim that the carefully conducted scientific assessments of the value of the forests are mistaken, and on the other they propose to introduce draconian new criminal laws to control forest protest.

And it is these draconian, poorly drafted laws that will mandatorily lock up Tasmanians. For the purposes of the ridiculously named Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Bill:

… a person is engaging in a protest activity if the person participates, other than as a bystander, in a demonstration, a parade, an event, or a collective activity—

about anything, anywhere that might be a workplace, or a public place, or on roads near what might be a workplace or a public place. Obviously this legislation is designed, if that is the right word—perhaps slapped-together is more apt—to stop anyone and everyone protesting about forestry or mining. In reality, Tasmanians will not be able to protest anywhere but in their homes or perhaps in their own gardens.

What is the Liberal Party in Tasmania about? What does it want? What is it really about, except corporate profit? It is completely spilt on the issue of personal freedom. Federally it claims to advocate free speech, democracy and individual freedom. Senator George Brandis and Prime Minister Tony Abbott wanted Australian speech to be so free that bigots could insult anyone they wanted, because they felt like it, because such bigotry would improve Australia's political and social discourse. And that solemn promises to the electorate could be freely made and broken just as quickly. But on the other hand Tasmanian Liberals seek not only to undermine Tasmanian's freedom of speech but freedom to associate and advocate ideas in a park, or on a road, or just about anywhere. (Time expired)