Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 May 2020


Regional Forest Agreements; Consideration

4:59 pm

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

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise to take note of the Regional Forest Agreements deeds of variation in document 16, the agreements between the Commonwealth of Australia and Victoria—the Central Highlands, Gippsland, North East, West Victoria and East Gippsland. The deeds of variation in Regional Forest Agreements are bureaucratic words hiding a massive impact. When the people of Australia are asked their opinion about protecting our forests and wildlife, they have two overwhelming responses: first, they don't know our precious forests are being destroyed by logging; and second, if they do know, they want it to stop. Over 80 per cent of Australians, including two-thirds of Australians who live in regional areas, want to see our forests and our wildlife protected from the devastation of logging.

What do these deeds of variation to our logging laws, the Regional Forest Agreements, do? Do they reflect the wishes of the vast majority of Australians? Sadly, I think you know the answer—no. They continue the devastating logging in Victoria's magnificent forests for at least the next 10 years. That's 10 more years of wildlife being killed, 10 more years of streams being polluted, 10 more years of our carbon stores just going up in smoke, 10 more years of wonderful tourism and recreational opportunities being destroyed, and 10 more years, at least, of making our forests more fire-prone and less safe for communities that live nearby. We are told that these are so-called modernised laws, that wildlife protection is being given priority and that climate change is being taken into account. But if you read them, you will see that there are so many loopholes. But in fact they're not loopholes; they are giant bulldozed clearings that basically, sadly, our wildlife are falling through, as they have for the last 20 years.

There's no certainty of wildlife protection here. There are processes, there are words and there are promises to use reasonable endeavours that, at the end of the day, are absolutely hollow without political will to follow them through. If these agreements, these fine sounding words, are breached, what's the sanction? It is unclear even as to whether legal action can be taken to hold governments to account in these agreements. Meanwhile, we have species that are critically endangered and hurtling towards extinction like the Leadbeater's possum, which is still waiting for a recovery plan. We have greater gliders that have had almost a quarter of their habitat destroyed in last summer's fires. We have the crustaceans and fresh water lobsters that our environment minister was tutt-tutting about on radio this morning that he is unwilling to actually protect by stopping logging of their habitat. What is even worse, the government announced just yesterday that it is actually giving the timber industry $15 million to facilitate the pillaging of these forests, the so-called salvaged logging, the most destructive and damaging logging that can occur, that will set back the recovery of these forests for decades.

In these Regional Forest Agreements, we have the promise of a so-called major event review that could take place after the fires but we have no certainty that it will take place and no legal mechanisms to ensure it does. We don't need rolled-over logging laws, outdated logging laws; we need forest protection. We need wildlife protection from koalas to crayfish, from possums to potoroos, and we need all timber produced in Australia to come from plantations. We are currently at 88 per cent. Come on Australia, we can make it to the 100 per cent. That is what Australians want to see occur. They want to stop the outdated logging of our native forests that belongs in the last century.

COVID-19 has shown us that what we once thought was impossible is possible and that to protect our communities, we have to change the way we do things. We need to learn that lesson with our forests too. We need to learn through our climate that we literally need to breathe, that we need to stop logging our forests. We must stand up to the bully boys of the native forest timber industry and invest instead in environmental rehabilitation, in recreation and tourism, in managing our forests, in dealing with weeds and pest animals and reducing fire risks, instead of rolling over these outdated logging laws. Protecting our forests is the new direction that all Australians would applaud. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.