Senate debates

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Australian Bushfires

4:34 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A letter has been received from Senator Siewert.

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The need for the Morrison government to take leadership to protect and restore Australia's fire-damaged landscapes by investing in reforestation, protecting native forests by ending logging (including damaging, so-called 'salvage' logging), and by urgently funding wildlife and habitat recovery.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I ask the Clerks to set the clocks accordingly.

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

I rise to speak to this matter of public importance with a sense of urgency and determination because this parliament has a significant task in front of it. The bushfires that have ripped through our East Coast have been devastating, and we have to respond quickly and comprehensively. Business as usual is not okay.

Since colonisation, Australia has been stripped of so much of its original vegetation. The landscape is now different, but there's still so much that we can learn from our First Peoples and their ongoing custodianship. We need to listen to them as we recover and restore these landscapes.

The task ahead requires real leadership in the national interest, not in the interests of a few greedy industries that are in the pockets of the major parties. Communities, land and nature must come first. Our native forests and the birds, the animals and the other wildlife that live in them have taken a huge hit with these fires. The exact scale of the destruction won't be known for some time, but we know it has been massive. For example, in my home state of Victoria, in the region of East Gippsland, 80 per cent of the forest has been burnt, and this is the part of the state that is more than two-thirds forested. If we're going to maximise the recovery and the revegetation of these forests, we need to make sure that we are not causing even more damage.

It's astounding that the native forest logging industry is proposing to go into these fire damaged forests to loot them and to log them. It's even more astounding that the federal and state governments are potentially going to agree. This is being dressed up as somehow making the best of this bad situation, or somehow making country roads safer. Let's be clear: after a fire, more logging and land clearing will make a bad situation worse. The safety task is separate. Of course we need to make sure that happens, but that's a very different proposal to getting in and looting them, with almost all of the wood coming out then going off to be turned into woodchips and exported overseas. We need to leave these trees where they are to maximise regeneration and regrowth, and to give wildlife a fighting chance to have some shelter and food. From koalas to quolls, from fish to the forest birds that live in these forests, they are going to have another hit on their wellbeing and, indeed, potentially their very survival if the loggers are allowed in.

The Morrison government have to take a lead here. It's the government's responsibility to act in the national interest when it comes to our threatened plant and wildlife species. This isn't just a matter for the states. The federal government oversees forest management and logging through the regional forest agreements. They have a critical role to play when it comes to management of our native forests and protecting our precious animals and birds. You must say no to this looting, this so-called salvage logging, and make sure that restoration and recovery are put first. Business as usual is not appropriate. We have to change our practices fast, and not just repeat past mistakes. Logging makes our forests more fire prone. Logging and land clearing destroy precious carbon sinks, which are a frontline defence to the climate crisis. The government needs to get its head out of the sand and listen to the science. It must end the logging of our precious native forests because that logging is actually setting us up for more devastating fires, droughts and heatwaves.

There are actions we need to take right now, and I call on the Prime Minister, the environment minister and the ministers responsible for agriculture, for mining and for forestry—Senator Duniam!—to wake up and listen to communities, listen to scientists, listen to wildlife carers and listen to First Nations people. You can no longer be setting policy for the industries and the interests of the last century. If you do that, you are sentencing our water, our wildlife, our forests and our regional communities to more fire, more floods and more destruction. There's a group of expert ecologists and researchers representing seven major universities who put out a report in January via the Threatened Species Recovery Hub laying out their blueprint for the conservation response to this summer's devastating fires. We must listen to the science, and I call upon the government to listen to the science.

This blueprint gives excellent guidance. It says we must act during the catastrophe to minimise biodiversity losses by including key biodiversity sites as assets that need protecting and using fire control mechanisms that have the least detrimental impacts on biodiversity. We must rescue injured wildlife and ensure short-term provision of food and water. We then need a rapid assessment of biodiversity loss. We have to prioritise species, sites and actions for response and make sure that recovery is properly managed. We then have to identify and respond to compounding threats, including drought and heatwaves. These are likely to continue and to be more extreme in the climate emergency that we're facing. We need to locate and protect refuge areas where unburnt patches are providing shelter and food for species. They say that communication is key. We need information exchange among responsible agencies and between them and the broader community. We also need coordination of resources between relevant agencies and NGOs. They need support to be targeting their work more effectively and strategically. And we need monitoring and research so that we can more precisely quantify and publicly report on the extent of the loss, the effectiveness of management responses, the pace and extent of recovery, and the ecological transitions and environment changes after the fires.

Then, in the light of these fires and in the light of climate change, we may need to reconsider our long-established conservation objectives. Long-term management actions must be planned for as well as the short-term responses. Then we need to implement and properly resource those actions. They say that the links with social and economic responses need to be inbuilt and that we need to ensure that a 'caring for carers' strategy is in place, because this is a tough task for those individuals committed to wildlife recovery. Any reviews and inquiries need to keep the values and losses for nature in their sights. Finally, we need to prepare for future catastrophes and use lessons from this disaster to inform our response to possible events of this scale that may happen again.

So, Prime Minister, now is the time to listen and act. Listen to the science. Listen to the wildlife carers, the farmers, the fire chiefs and the scientists. Prime Minister, you've set up an expert panel to work with your Threatened Species Commissioner. You must implement real actions out of this, not just use it as greenwash. The task is big, but it is vital, and it is absolutely vital that the government rise to that task.

4:42 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to start by saying wood is good. It is actually a good resource. It's a wonderful material that is renewable. When trees are cut down and used to build things like the beautiful desks in this chamber and the framing of the buildings we work and live in, the trees are replanted. We don't leave deserts out there.

What we've just heard is one of the most ridiculous approaches to forest science, or so-called approaches to forest science, that I've ever heard. The Australian Greens are forest science deniers. They selectively quote from reports. One of the quotes that Senator Rice provided to the chamber a little earlier on was that forestry operations cause bushfires and increase the risk of bushfires. This is patently untrue.

The forest industry, I might add, supports 52,000 jobs in regional communities, like those in the state of Tasmania. It is worth $24 billion to the economy, including native forest harvesting, and I think it's madness that the Victorian state Labor government is planning to exit native forest harvesting when there is a market for it. I might add that we as a country are world leaders when it comes to managing our forest estates, both plantation and native. You know what? When we close down certain parts of our forest industry, the markets that want to buy our product go elsewhere to look for it, and they go to places where they don't manage the forests well, where they don't care about wildlife, where they burn the forests after they've gone through and where they don't care about jobs and the locals. We do. That's the difference, and that's what these policies that the Australian Greens bandy about would end up resulting in: worse environmental outcomes and worse economic outcomes.

I think we all need to acknowledge how devastating these bushfires have been for our nation and, as part of that, acknowledge the impact that the fires have had on the forest industry. No-one disputes the impact that they've had on the environment. I agree with Senator Rice. We do need to work together to protect our environment. The forest industry agrees, because if we trash our environment, if we trash our brand, no-one will want to buy our product. The Greens love going on overseas missions to tell the world we don't do it well, fibbing to the rest of the world about what we actually do here. It is an industry that we should be proud of. It is an industry that I stand proudly with.

To the point about salvage harvesting, Senator Rice referred to it as 'looting the forests'. The proposal by the Australian Greens to end salvage harvesting would mean that we would leave all these burnt trees on the forest floor. What happens when timber starts to rot? Oh, I think it starts to emit carbon. Salvage harvesting also manages fuel in the forest floor for the next big bushfire. So this idea of managing our forests to prevent these cataclysmic events that threaten life, threaten property, threaten the environment—you've got no plan, Australian Greens, to deal with these things. It's all emotive argument; it's not based on science. You have your head in the sand, Senator Rice.

Senator Rice interjecting

The Australian Greens need to read the signs. I'd also invite the Australian Greens to come with me tomorrow. There are some timber contractors coming to Parliament House to meet with me to talk about things like salvage operations. I would like you to come and join them in my office tomorrow afternoon, and I would like you to explain to them why it is you think they should not be able to access this resource in a way that is environmentally sound, will protect these forests into the future and will prevent these fires from occurring to the same scale.

We hear all of this rhetoric around things like why fuel reduction burns and other measures like that shouldn't occur. The lock-it-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach is the wrong approach.

Senator Rice interjecting

Exactly. I think Senator Rice agrees with me on that. We need to manage all of our forest estates. We need to make sure that we don't have what they call 'delinquent neighbours' with weeds and pests out of control and all the fuel-load building up the way that it is. We need to make sure that we are managing all of our forest estates, whatever the tenure, to ensure that we prevent these sorts of events from occurring in the future.

The forest industry in Australia is a proud industry. It's one that, generally speaking, enjoys bipartisan support between Labor and the coalition parties, particularly at the federal level. It's something that I look forward to growing as an industry. We've got a commitment to plant an extra billion trees, going to the point in the Greens MPI letter. I look forward to growing the industry, and I hope the Greens start listening to forest science instead of denying it. (Time expired)

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Rice, I will point out that, in the main, you were actually listened to in silence. I would ask you to maintain order in the chamber.

4:47 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

Australians are rightly devastated by the loss of life and property that they've witnessed over the past few months as a result of the bushfire crisis around the nation. More than a billion animals have perished in the fires and our nation has been subjected to a wide range of catastrophic impact. Our koala and other animal populations in many areas have been absolutely decimated. It's heartbreaking, I think many of us would agree, to cast your eyes over the images of our fire ravished landscapes that, prior to these bushfires, were stunning rainforest and bushland. Many senators have seen it firsthand around their own state, as I have.

Labor called on the government to convene a meeting of state and territory environment ministers and commence a national ecological audit. Such an audit, Labor believes, is absolutely critical to identifying the losses, delivering meaningful recovery and guarding against further extinctions. I note, for example, in that context, that 50 per cent or thereabouts of the Stirling Range—the Stirling Range National Park in Western Australia is a globally recognised biodiversity hotspot—was burnt by fire last November. That was even before summer had formally started. I firmly believe that the government is not acting with enough urgency in addressing this issue. Importantly, restoring animal populations and the ecosystem in fire affected areas will take careful management and commitment from government.

I'm probably not about to start taking advice on environmental management from the Greens political party, but I will say that the Morrison government has been extremely slow to act on the ecological crisis that our environment faces in the wake of this devastation, just as the government has been slow to act on all fronts during the bushfire crisis. Obfuscation of responsibility to the states in this regard is simply not good enough. This is a national emergency, a national disaster, and it requires a national response. The government has provided additional funding for wildlife recovery, and Labor welcomed that at the time. However, that announcement runs exactly counter to the government's record in the environmental space. We've seen funding cut to the environment department by some 40 per cent. Adding insult to injury, they've waited vast amounts of time between the announcements and the actual expenditure of these funds. The Morrison government failed to implement recovery plans for threatened species, with estimates that fewer than 40 per cent have a national recovery plan. And our government is, frankly, clueless about whether existing plans are even being implemented. So how can we trust the government to say they want to get active in the recovery of threatened species in the context of the bushfire if they can't even address whether they are upholding their responsibilities to the existing plans for threatened species that are in place? We know that in 2018 the government also cut the biosecurity and conservation division of the environment department by nearly a third.

The government can and should act immediately and decisively, mobilising more Australian land and species management specialists to intervene in this ecological crisis. On that note, like many senators here—certainly those of us in the Labor Party—we have a lot of contact with our local grassroots land management organisations, where volunteers and scientific experts and ecologists come together to do land and habitat restoration. Have I heard about any kind of call-out to those networks from the Commonwealth government to, for example, boost NRM funding in the context of the bushfires? No. No, I haven't heard that at all.

This motion by the Greens also highlights many rural and regional areas where strong forestry industries have also been impacted by the fires. Many of these communities rely heavily on forestry as a source of income, employment and economic development. Communities are now working out how they're going to rebuild and how they will be relying, frankly, on support from state and federal governments because their forestry jobs simply don't exist. We need real assessments to be undertaken of the full extent of this damage to both native and plantation forests. With proper assessments, communities and industry will be able to work together to rebuild. I'd like to call on the Greens to also consider, when putting forward such motions, the thousands of forestry workers across the country who will be grappling with a significant amount of uncertainty and anxiety about the immediate future of their work, not to mention dealing with the loss of property and the environment around them. I call on the Greens to show better judgement when it comes to making insensitive political statements, as we've returned to parliament at the beginning of this year.

Forestry workers and the forestry industry want a sustainable forestry sector. Labor supports the Regional Forestry Agreements, which ensure that Australia's native forests are managed sustainably. But what we've seen under the Morrison government is the failure to implement a long-term forestry plan, and, in the context of a disaster like this, we have to look at the intersecting sustainability of our natural environment and our forestry industries. Prior to the bushfires, the industry was calling for a plan to ensure that a billion new plantation trees were planted by 2030. The industry knows it needs a sustainable, long-term supply of timber and has been crying out for this government to implement a plan to that end. If this industry is to continue to provide jobs and economic benefits to remote and regional communities, this is a plan that the Morrison government must get behind. We need meaningful action and support for the forestry industry as a matter of urgency if Australia is to continue to have a sustainable forestry sector—or, frankly, under the current circumstances, a significant forestry sector at all, if our forestry is so vulnerable to bushfire disasters such as we've seen over the past few months. The government's been consistently slow to act over these last months, and we call on them to turn that around today. In addition, I'm calling on the Greens to be sympathetic to the workers in industries that have been targeted with no consideration given to the employment and income outcomes that are so important to them.

In concluding my remarks on this MPI, as we reflect on a real need for leadership to protect and restore Australia's fire damaged landscapes, we should, when talking about reforestation, native forests and logging, also be making sure that we take into account the needs of forestry workers when we look at our replantation and reforestation agenda. In addition, we certainly understand that the funding of wildlife and habitat recovery is urgent, and one of the things I think the government should be doing is resourcing the NRMs nationally, particularly those that have strong grassroots community networks.

4:57 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I oppose this motion of public importance. What an extraordinary motion it is. It is antihuman, as I will explain, because it relies on weather amnesia.

Has the Green movement not learned a thing from these devastating bushfires? The fuel load in devastated areas grew alarmingly over the last 20 years of political interference in forestry management by stakeholders who subscribe to green ideology just like this. Biosecurity and native vegetation legislation banned the removal of trees and branches because they are habitat for animals. How much habitat do these animals have now in the ash? Sustainable logging, specifically targeted by this motion, thins bush and maintains fire trails. Without that access, firefighters cannot get access to fires to put them out. We saw video of some of these miserable excuses for fire trails on social media, posted by frustrated firefighters—actually, by vulnerable and angry firefighters. Grazing in national parks has been banned to protect habitat, yet grazing in national parks reduces fuel loads. Residents have been banned from collecting firewood on the roadside and in national parks—activities that, again, reduce fuel loads. Residents were prevented from clearing far enough around their homes to protect their homes in a bushfire. To protect their homes! They can't do it. Their homes were lost. Lives were lost. Hazard reductions have been cut due to complaints from residents. Not in my backyard, they say. Fire brigades must now consider annoyance to residents when deciding on which days to burn. For years, local residents have been complaining about rising fuel loads and those warnings fell on deaf, green ears. Those fuel loads are the point of green forestry management. Greenies call it 'habitat'. Everyday Australians call it 'a disaster waiting to happen'.

It is a disaster that many, including One Nation, saw coming. Anyone with a history book should have seen these fires coming. Climate is cyclical, globally and in this country. The temperatures experienced this summer were not higher than previous cyclical highs in the 1880s and 1890s, nor the 1930s. In fact, in 1939 Australia experienced the Black Friday fires that took 71 lives. The ice dome core sample temperature reconstruction shows that in the last 1,000 years Australia has had 10 droughts that were worse than the drought we're currently experiencing—far worse. According to Paul Reid, an ecological criminologist and sustainability scientist at Monash University, 87 per cent of fires in Australia are caused by humans. This is about equal parts arson and neglect. Police reports confirm this. The difference this time was fuel loads.

To be clear, I'm not blaming the green movement for the number of fires that we had this summer; control of fuel loads does not reduce the number of bushfires. Proper forest management reduces the severity of bushfires. In demanding that the government put the bush back to the way it was before the fires, the Greens are creating the very conditions that caused these fires to burn hotter and longer than we have ever seen. Why? Why would we see these fires raging through hell, through fuel-laden forests, taking lives and taking homes, and then decide: 'Hey! Let's do that all over again!' The Greens have weather amnesia and fire amnesia, combined with fundamental ignorance or dishonesty in spreading weather amnesia among the community. This motion should not succeed. Greens' policies and behaviours are anti-environment and antihuman.

5:01 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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)

5:06 pm

Photo of Marielle SmithMarielle Smith (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this matter of public importance. I agree with a small part of what Senator Henderson said, in that I do think parts of this motion are insensitive to people going through something very, very difficult and an industry going through something very, very difficult. We know that these fires that have occurred across Australia—including in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia—and impacted many rural and regional areas that have very strong forestry industries. These communities are now working on how they will rebuild, and federal and state governments will have a critical role to play in ensuring that these communities are able to recover. The management of both native and plantation forests must be properly assessed over the coming weeks and months. That is an important job which must take place. In this context, the motion put forward is disappointing and insensitive at a time when many of these communities are dealing with the loss of their homes, their jobs and their environment.

We know that the forestry industry wants a sustainable and productive forestry sector. Forestry workers themselves have a vested interest in both native and plantation forests. Labor supports the regional forestry agreements which ensure that Australia's native forests are managed in a sustainable way and that the management of native forests maintains regional environmental, heritage and social values. However, the Senate must also note that the Morrison government has failed to properly implement a long-term forestry plan. The forestry industry needs supply of the timber resource and, before the fires, had wanted a plan which would ensure one billion new plantation trees were planted by 2030. This plan has obviously been impacted by the fires. We need to see the Morrison government provide meaningful action and support to this industry as a matter of urgency if we are to continue to have a sustainable forestry sector.

The other part of the motion, which deals with the impact of these fires on wildlife and habitat, is something I want to speak to also. The impact of these fires on our native wildlife, especially in my home state of South Australia, has been absolutely horrific. On Kangaroo Island, 300,000 hectares were burnt. That is 68 per cent of the entire island. I'm not sure how many senators in this chamber have been to Kangaroo Island or are familiar with it, but 68 per cent is basically from one end almost to the other. Penneshaw was okay, obviously, but the Flinders Chase National Park was almost completely destroyed. The visitor centre there is gone. A national park which was filled with native wildlife and fauna has been completely destroyed by these fires. We know that, of these species, the Ligurian honey beehives were one of the most impacted. We lost 6,000 of these beehives and 10,000 were damaged. We know that the impact on native wildlife, habitat and the national park was severe. And it was a similar story in the Adelaide Hills with the Cudlee Creek fire, which claimed 25,000 hectares. It also claimed vineyards and farms, but obviously had an impact on native wildlife in the Adelaide Hills as well.

Overall, we know that one billion animals have perished in this national disaster. Australians have been shocked by the images of these animals which they've seen—dead and injured wildlife, as well as farm stock. It's been absolutely heartbreaking. One of the things I had the opportunity to do in the aftermath of these fires was to deliver to one of the hospitals in Adelaide which was helping some of the koalas which had been impacted by the fires. It was absolutely heartbreaking: koalas with paws burnt white which had been forced out of their native habitat because it had burned. And that's not to mention all the koalas that we lost in those fires and the damage which has been done to the native koala population on Kangaroo Island. That's a population which is extremely important because it's one of the healthiest koala populations in Australia.

They're unique because they're one of the last remaining koala populations which are free of chlamydia, which is a disease prevalent across the mainland populations. It causes blindness, infertility and death. There is a lot of work and research being undertaken into koalas in the eastern states of Australia which have this disease and its impact on those populations. That's why the sustainability and survival of the koala population on Kangaroo Island is so important, because these are healthy koalas. They're healthy and they've been thriving. But reports now tell us that as few as 5,000 koalas remain on Kangaroo Island after these devastating bushfires. The Wildlife, Ecosystems and Habitat Bushfire Recovery Taskforce chairwoman has stated that, based on the destroyed vegetation, only 5,000 to 10,000 koalas are believed to have survived, compared with 50,000 to 60,000 before the December and January fires. So we're looking at just 10 per cent of that population of koalas left on Kangaroo Island—a population so important and central to our national koala population. It's very significant.

And that is not the only species which has been affected on Kangaroo Island. The worst affected animal is said to be the dunnart, an endangered, mouse-like marsupial which finds its home on Kangaroo Island. It's one of 49 species, including 47 plants and one spider, which are believed to have had at least 80 per cent of their species within the fire affected areas. Another icon of Kangaroo Island which is found solely on the island is the glossy black-cockatoo, and they're also said to have had their habitat ravaged in the bushfires. The Department for Environment and Water estimates that 75 per cent of South Australia's endangered glossy black-cockatoo population lived within the 210,000 hectares burnt in the recent bushfires. Before the fires on Kangaroo Island, the island was estimated to have 370 glossy black-cockatoos. Now, since the fires, we know that 59 per cent of all known glossy black-cockatoo feeding habitat, used by about 75 per cent of the population, has been burnt. And 74 per cent of all known nests, not to mention 93 artificial nest boxes, were within those fire affected areas on the island. That just gives the sense of the destruction on KI—how far it spread and how wide the impact was on these species.

It's devastatingly sad, and it's devastatingly sad to the people on the island, who know that these native species—the fauna on their island—are such a critical part of what makes that island unique and special, not just for the residents who live there but also for tourists and our tourism economy. I think that Kangaroo Island is one of the most remarkable places in the world. You can experience Australian wildlife and its native habitat, but, dreadfully, it has almost been wiped out by these fires. That's not to say there are no unaffected parts of the island; there are still great things to see, and I would urge people to still go to Kangaroo Island, to Penneshaw and other parts of the island, where they can still enjoy and look at this wildlife. But it does tell us that we need a serious plan to make sure that we're doing everything we can to protect the wildlife that is left and that we need to make sure we have appropriate plans in place to protect the wildlife into the future. I don't get the sense from this government that that has been one of their priorities, but I hope we see change on this. I get that sense because we've had reported cuts from this government to biodiversity and conservation within the environment department. That's not the sign of a government committed to protecting our native species and our native fauna.

We need this government to act now, decisively, by immediately mobilising more Australian scientists and land and species management specialists to intervene in what can only be called an ecological crisis. They must immediately explain to Australians how they will urgently act to preserve native species—not way down the track, but today. What are they doing today? What can be done now to protect these native animals? What can be done today?

This is an issue of huge importance to people in my home state of South Australia. We care about our native animals, we care about what it means to Kangaroo Island and we are desperate to see the government take meaningful action to protect this wildlife and to address this ecological crisis. It's important not just to those who love these animals and love what it means, who believe in ensuring faunal protection, but to our tourism, to our broader economic recovery and to the environment. I urge the government to take immediate action on this matter.

5:16 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

We've just heard the last Liberal senator and the last Labor senator to make contributions on this matter of public importance describe this motion as insensitive. You know what's insensitive? Hugging lumps of coal. That's what's insensitive. You know what's insensitive? Making slow, sweet political love to the fossil fuel sector in this country, as the Liberal and Labor parties both do. That's what's insensitive. The science is clear: emitting fossil fuels is one of the great drivers of climate change and climate change means we are going to face more fires and they are going to be more deadly and burn more fiercely. That is the fact of the matter.

These recent tragic fires that cost 33 lives, devastated so many communities and killed over a billion animals were still burning when the mendicant logging industry in this country and its shills in the union movement, in the form of the CFMMEU, were out trying to exploit these fires and suggest an increase in logging volumes in Australia. That is what is truly insensitive. The science about logging is clear: it not only destroys habitat for threatened and vulnerable plants and animals, it not only of itself is one of the great drivers of climate change and one of the great emitters of carbon, but it in fact makes forests more vulnerable to fire. Those are the scientific facts.

Curtin University forest and fire professor Philip Zylstra says:

Thinning trees would allow stronger winds access to fires burning beneath the trees. Also the more open a tree canopy is, the more able fire is to spread because the leaf litter will be drier from more light coming through and there will be a more dense shrub layer due to increased light for plants—that will make fires far more intense.

Professor David Lindenmayer, from the ANU, says:

Forests that have been logged and regenerated are significantly more likely to burn at higher severity.

New South Wales forest ecologist Mr Andrew Wong points out:

Logging removes most of the water from the landscape and replaces it with small dry kindling.

He says:

The map of the Border fire—

near Eden—

pretty much overlaps the same area that's been logged.

Make no mistake: logging forests makes them more fire susceptible, so people who support logging in this country support making our communities more vulnerable to the kinds of devastating fires that we have seen regularly.

But there is hope. There are people in this country who are standing up for a better way, and I thank the people who've been arrested in takayna/Tarkine in my home state of Tasmania in the last week—14 brave forest defenders who've stood up for the carbon in those forests, stood up for the threatened species—the beautiful animals and plants that make those forests home—stood up for the Aboriginal cultural heritage in that area and stood up against a mendicant logging industry that couldn't survive without the gross public subsidies that underpin its obscene profits. There is hope, but it will take the Labor and Liberal parties standing up against the big logging and fossil fuel corporates in this country. Tragically, we are still some way from that.

5:21 pm

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity this evening to speak on this matter of public importance. The bushfires which have affected so many Australians and so much of Australia have been a tragedy in so many ways. The loss of life, the loss of people's homes, the loss of wildlife and the damage to the environment are all devastating aspects of this bushfire season. This matter that we're discussing tonight, put forward by the Greens, includes some aspects which I think everyone in this chamber can agree on—not all of the aspects, and later on I will get to which elements we don't agree on, but some.

There is significant work to do in restoring fire damaged environments and helping the recovery of wildlife populations. That work has already commenced under the leadership of the Morrison coalition government. One of the early actions that the government has taken is to make a $50 million down payment for emergency responses to wildlife and habitat recovery. This money is to act on immediate urgent priorities: to care for and rehabilitate wildlife; secure viable populations of threatened species; control feral predators, other pest animals and weeds; and work with landowners to protect unburnt areas adjacent to bushfire damaged areas, which will be important habitats to allow native plants and animals to recover. The Threatened Species Commissioner is advising the federal government on further immediate actions and long-term wildlife protection and will work closely with the National Bushfire Recovery Coordinator. That is, of course, on top of the significant relief that we have provided for those people affected by bushfires as well. This summer's bushfire season has been a significant environmental challenge, and the initial funding committed by the Morrison coalition government is just the first step to allow urgent emergency recovery actions to be rolled out. More money will be required, and it will be forthcoming. The Morrison government is certainly showing leadership and will continue to do so in all aspects of bushfire recovery.

But what I do strongly disagree with in this matter of public importance that we are discussing here tonight is the Greens' attempt to shoehorn their antiforestry agenda—an agenda, sadly, shared by the Labor Party in my own state of Tasmania and in Victoria—into a matter about bushfire recovery. It is disgusting that, at a time when the forestry industry is hurting and on its knees as a result of these fires, the Greens are using them to push their antijob agenda. To be perfectly frank, in Tasmania and Victoria the Labor Party is just as bad.

Amongst the many thousands of career firefighters and volunteers who bravely fought bushfires and protected communities this summer are a number of forestry workers. In my own state of Tasmania, our Sustainable Timber Tasmania staff were fighting alongside the Tasmania Fire Service in the community of Fingal to ensure that that community was kept safe. Forestry workers have made a huge contribution and represent a highly skilled and experienced part of our bushfire resource. They understand native forests and how to fight bushfires, because they work in these forests day in and day out.

This matter of public importance also mentions reforestation. Who understands how to regrow and regenerate native forests better than our world-class forestry industry? One of the most common pieces of misinformation that is spread by the green movement in this country is to refer to the harvesting of timber in this country as 'deforestation' when they know very well that the trees that are harvested are replanted and the forest is regenerated. It's a regular occurrence, particularly in Tasmania, to have green protesters complaining of logging of pristine, old-growth native forest in coops that have actually been logged and regrown just 60 or 70 years ago.

As a government, we will of course continue to show leadership in helping our wildlife populations and our native forests recover from fire damage, but what we won't do, and what Labor shouldn't do either, is use these terrible bushfires as an excuse to attack our forestry sector and forestry workers, who contribute so much to our regional economies. These are shameful tactics by the Australian Greens to denigrate our forestry industry. I challenge the Labor Party, particularly in Victoria and Tasmania, to denounce them, just as I have tonight.

5:26 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The lowest form of dishonest politics is to deliberately spread what you know to be lies, misinformation and untruths during a time of crisis. This summer the first lie was that it was the greenies' fault that we saw these bushfires. It was conveniently peddled by the Murdoch press and their platform here in Australia. Very quickly, within a week, it was followed by arsonists being responsible for these fires. They were deliberate misinformation campaigns designed to deflect the blame from the government—yes, flee the chamber, Senator Chandler. You could learn something if you listened to this contribution.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd just ask that the senator withdraw that.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll withdraw it. Today doing the rounds on social media was Senator Fierravanti-Wells with a satellite photo of the country deliberately spreading a new form of misinformation: that 70 per cent of the fires were started by ecoterrorists. I'm sure it's going to go well on social media. We've gone from greenies to arsonists to ecoterrorists. Do you see the trend? Do you see the pattern? The lowest form of politics, dishonest politics, is to use a crisis for your own political ends. That's exactly what this government and the Murdoch press have done. I wonder whether Senator Fierravanti-Wells's whacky theory is going to be on Sky TV tonight. There's probably no doubt. No doubt it's already doing the rounds there. That is the Liberal Party: spreading lies and misinformation at a time when Australians want to see their politicians acting like adults, putting their political differences aside and coming together to find solutions to act, to make sure that we don't see more catastrophic fires, more devastation, more damage to communities and more sadness around our country. But that's what the IPCC scientists tell us.

Senator Chandler, if she'd stayed in the chamber, would have heard in my contribution that the IPCC have recently said the most effective way to combat climate change, which we know is driving extreme weather events like drought and these fires, is to leave our forests alone. High-conservation forests, carbon-rich forests like the Tarkine in Tasmania, are some of the most carbon-rich forests on the planet. They are carbon rich because they are temperate rainforests. They're the ones the Tasmanian government, which she purports to represent in this place, are logging. They're the ones they're logging this week. Another four protesters were arrested today trying to defend some of the most magnificent rainforests on the planet from the greed and stupidity that has got us here in the first place.

Business as usual is no longer an option. We need a full independent inquiry into these fires that is taken out of politics and looked at with the resources and the powers that are needed to look into these fires and their causes, including forestation, deforestation, fuel reduction burns and hazard burns. The whole lot needs to be looked at properly. I am very confident that it is one of many things that need to be done in this country. It is not a silver bullet to preventing the kind of fires we have seen in Australia this summer. The most important thing we can do is act on climate change and make sure future generations don't suffer a worse fate.

5:30 pm

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you to Senator Whish-Wilson for telling us what the IPCC tells us, except that the good senator claims that they say we need to leave our forests alone. I would like to remind the Greens what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated when advising the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. They said:

… 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.

The Greens talk about logging and forestry as though we strip the landscape and don't replant. Our forestry industry in Australia is sustainable. It is a sustainable and honest industry that is highly regulated, well maintained and well managed.

It sounds like the Greens would rather us look at alternative materials. Let us not forget, timber is one of the most sustainable building materials available. Timber has a much smaller carbon footprint than any other building material. Imagine if, instead of using timber in construction, we were limited to only using steel. The carbon footprint! Imagine if, instead of using sustainable, well-managed forestry products harvested in Australia, we turned to importing from regions like the Amazon, where there is no regulation, where there is forest destruction and there is the carbon footprint from the transport. We would be exporting our problems, and that is what I get so fed up with in this place.

In rising to speak on this today, I am going to take the opportunity to highlight what a good industry our forestry industry is and the benefits it has. I will not shamelessly attack this industry, as we have seen from others, because, as the fires tore through the south coast of my state, New South Wales, this year and brought devastation to many communities, there was a group of people, purportedly environmentalists, who found joy and applauded when the Eden woodchip mill was in flames, when the largest employer in that town caught fire. If this group had their way, that mill would be completely destroyed, never to return, along with many jobs. So imagine that town, which was already suffering from the decline in tourism due to the bushfires and already suffering from the loss of homes and facilities and the loss of people from their communities in the regions, never having those mill jobs return. That would turn into the baker, the pub owner and everyone else put out of business, to the joy of this group on Facebook. Fortunately, that mill has been able to continue operations and will continue to be part of an industry that employs around 52,000 people across Australia and generates nearly $24 billion in annual income for our country.

Now, onto the issue of what is being referred to here as salvage logging, where there is a healthy environmental debate: at a time when we endeavour to ensure that the devastation that has just occurred does not occur again, is it not right for us to actually go out and allow for regeneration? We cannot completely dismiss a practice that may, in some cases, if handled appropriately, reduce future bushfire threat.

One point of this matter of interest that I'm glad has been raised is what we need to do to fund wildlife and habitat recovery, because that is what we in this government are doing. With an initial $50 million, we have directed this money for wildlife rehabilitation and recovery. It was one of the immediate priorities of the government and it includes identifying threatened species, controlling pests and weeds, and identifying unburnt areas where we can ensure the survival of native plants and animals. I am very proud to be part of a government that's recognised that need.

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has expired.