Senate debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Regulations and Determinations

Industry Research and Development (Forestry Recovery Development Fund Program) Instrument 2020; Disallowance

6:33 pm

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

As I was saying yesterday, this fund will be subsidising ongoing destructive native forest logging. It is clearly recognised as being destructive by the Federal Court, by the government conservation regulator in Victoria, by the amazing scientists who have put in decades of research on these forests, by First Nations people and by the communities who are living with seeing their precious forests being devastated and who are putting their bodies on the line to protect these forests. There are brave, incredible community groups like Environment East Gippsland, the South East Forest Alliance, Friends of Leadbeater's Possum, the Knitting Nannas of Toolangi and Forest Conservation Victoria. This is what this fund would be doing.

I'm really pleased that this debate has continued across to today, because just this afternoon I received some answers from some questions on notice that I asked at estimates in October. I asked: what proportion of the forest reserves system was burnt in last summer's fires? The answer for the worst fire-hit areas was really sobering. In East Gippsland, 71 per cent of the forest reserves were burnt. In south-east New South Wales, 70 per cent of the forest reserves were burnt. In north-eastern Victoria, it was 67 per cent. And yet these are the very forest areas that this fund would be subsidising the further logging of—the forests where over two-thirds of the reserves were burnt, where there were massive deaths of precious wildlife and where every single bit of unlogged and unburnt forests that remains is incredibly precious. We would be spending $40 million of taxpayer funding to subsidise the ongoing logging of these incredibly precious bits of forest. This logging has got to stop rather than be propped up by further subsidies, and the regional forest agreements that allow this logging must be scrapped.

I want to finish by noting that not only are our forests and wildlife that live in them in a desperate situation, not only have we got logging laws that are resulting in our wildlife hurtling towards extinction, not only do we have this slush fund that we're considering today that would prop up and subsidise native forest logging, but yesterday we saw Senator McKenzie's bill that would make things even worse. Her bill would mean pretty much open slather to native forest logging. Her bill would completely exempt logging from our national environment laws in order to overrule the Federal Court decision that found that logging in Victoria that impacted on critically endangered Leadbeater's possums and threatened greater gliders was illegal. When you find something that's illegal—they have been breaking the law—what do you do? According to Senator McKenzie, you change the law. You don't fix it in order to protect the animals; no, you change the law.

Senator McKenzie's bill would be a licence for extinction and should be renamed the 'killing animals bill'. Instead of propping up a failing industry, we should be doing everything we can to protect our precious forests, to acknowledge that we've now got almost 90 per cent of the logging industry in plantations, to celebrate the plantation based industry, to shift the remaining 10 per cent as quickly as possible out of our native forests, to protect our precious forests, and to see them valued for their beauty, for recreation and tourism, for wildlife, for water and for carbon. If we really care about our forests and care about how important they are to us, to all Australians and, in fact, globally, we can start caring about them and show that care by disallowing this fund today.

6:38 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The hypocrisy is actually mind-boggling here tonight—absolutely! This is actually what the Greens are arguing for: we have one of the most ultimately renewable industries in our sustainable Australian forestry industries, employing over 200,000 Australians right across the country, contributing $24 billion to our economy, a renewable and sustainable, well-managed, world-class industry, and they want to stop it. You know why they want to stop it? Because the foresters in our regional communities do not vote for them, because they want to ensure that foresters and their families have no future.

This illogical disallowance motion only reinforces what rural and regional Australia already knows: the Greens are anti-agriculture, anti-farming, anti-forestry and also anti-fishing—aren't you? Oh, yes! Let us not actually harvest the bounty of the sea in a sustainably managed way! It isn't about raping and pillaging; it is about using science and data to set up a regime where we manage these resources appropriately for the benefit not only of the people who work in these industries but of the regional communities that support them and, indeed, of the world.

The hypocrisy is mind-boggling, again, because the Greens are in here arguing to shut down our sustainable forestry industry every chance they get. Where will we get our timber products from? Will we get them from other countries that do not have the environmental regulation that our industries are rightfully governed by? To get up in this place, time and time again, and assume that either party of government is not really interested in ensuring good environmental outcomes through our forestry industry is an absolute misrepresentation of the truth. Do you know what happens if you don't use the highly regulated Australian timber products? Where do we get them from? It's a bit like saying, 'Don't eat beef, because it's bad for the environment.' Where do you think people will get their protein sources from? Will they get them from other countries, where rainforests are being denigrated and orangutans are threatened species, where there are land-clearing laws to ensure that they grow protein through beef farming, when here, in our country, we do it in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner? Instead of knocking Australians and their hard work and knocking these industries and communities, the Greens should be standing up and saying, 'Thank God I live in Australia, and I'm very proud of our forestry industry.'

Yesterday, I had a few people here from the forest industry for my private senator's bill, which I'm glad the senator mentioned in her contribution. It seeks to amend the EPBC Act to remove the ambiguity and to ensure that the relationship and arrangement between Commonwealth and state governments for the last 20 years, through regional forestry agreements, is not able to be overridden by activist justices that just ignore the regulatory framework of any given state. I had foresters come from Eden, Gippsland—and a big shout-out to Heyfield and Bairnsdale, and the McNultys in Benalla, because they care about their children's future. I always hear, 'Why don't you care about your children's future?' I actually do care about my children's future. I am the daughter of—

Honourable Senator:

An honourable senator interjecting

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's funny you say that. I'll tell you what the background of my family is. My dad was a blue-singleted worker, a logger, in a little country town called Marysville. His first job was driving a Bedford truck up and down very, very dangerous roads in very, very difficult circumstances. I care about my children's future. I care about the futures of the communities I represent, and that means backing in a sustainable and renewable industry, such as the Australian forestry industry.

One of the things that the foresters talked to me about yesterday was how tough they'd done it in the bushfires. It was actually these forestry workers who risked life and limb actually fighting the fires. They knew the tracks better than some of the fire crews that had been brought in from city areas or other districts. They knew those forests like the backs of their hands. The forestry industry is not just about producing world-class fibre and timber products; it is also about managing our natural resource appropriately, making sure that we do have tracks throughout our forest areas and making sure they're upgraded so that, when we do have a bushfire event, we can access those more remote areas easily. It's the forestry industry that undertakes that task.

Post the bushfires, our government is very proud to help rebuild this industry and the regional communities that rely on it. We don't back away from supporting workers at all. We don't care if you're a worker in a small business. We don't discriminate against workers. We don't say that some workers are more deserving of support than others. We very proudly stand with the industries where there is hard manual labour, such as the forestry industry. Devastation was wrought particularly on the New South Wales and Victorian forestry industry, but the South Australian forestry industry was also hard hit by the bushfire. We stand by them to ensure they have the support they need to rebuild and to continue to employ people in this sustainable industry. We're doing this by providing $65 million in targeted support. The government has established the $40 million Forestry Recovery Development Fund Program. This provides grants of up to $5 million to support processors to address future wood supply shortages through innovation and product diversification.

One of the great timber product manufacturers that I got a chance to meet with yesterday was a company called ASH. They operate out of Heyfield. In terms of advance manufacturing, you could not get better than this particular company. The technology that they've implemented down in Heyfield means that they use every single part of a harvested tree, which is fantastic news because we don't want to waste this very precious resource; we want to be very diligent in how we use it. ASH's implementation of this superadvanced technology means that they are not only providing hundreds of jobs in the local community but producing a great product that Australians can use to make kitchens et cetera, rather than sourcing timber from overseas, which may not have been as sustainably produced as it is here in Australia.

We're providing $15 million for salvage log transport assistance to help Australia's sustainable forestry industries in their immediate recovery from bushfires. One of the greatest frustrations I heard from these foresters at the time of the bushfires was that state governments, particularly that of my home state of Victoria, were not allowing the forestry industry to salvage the logs that had been cut down as a result of a bushfire. They were to be left on the forest floor to potentially become undergrowth and fuel load for the next bushfire season, which is absolutely abominable. The foresters who came to see me yesterday were just in shock that city bureaucrats and Labor Party apparatchiks were making decisions about their communities, putting their communities at risk—

Senator Rice interjecting

Because they couldn't salvage the logs, Senator Rice, that had already gone through the bushfire and were a danger. We had people coming along with chainsaws to clear them so that it was safe to move through a community. Rather than letting this industry, which has been so devastated because the resource has burnt, to use those logs and do what they could with them to make sustainable products, decisions were made outside the community with no understanding of how we live and work out there. It just beggars belief and causes a whole lot of frustration, and it probably explains, Senator Rice, why your vote in places in Heyfield is as it is.

We're also providing $10 million for the Salvage Log Storage Fund, to establish storage facilities for fire affected salvage logs during the COVID-19 pandemic. So I say to state governments that halted the ability of the foresters to collect and use the salvage logs: we're providing the money for storage, we're also providing the money for transport, but we have to be allowed to get the things off the ground, right? You've got to allow them to get them off the ground. Jaclyn Symes, I hope you're listening tonight.

This support keeps mills operational and people employed and it ensures Australians can enjoy sustainably grown Australian wood products, rather than what the Greens would like, which is unsustainably produced timber products. That is what they actually would prefer was used by Australians who may not be able to afford the types of timber products that they can in the suburbs that they represent. But the average Australians in suburbs right across our capital cities are very proud of the richness of our timber product. I think they should be able to have their kitchens in it, build their houses with it and have some great decking, rather than using unsustainably produced timber.

Every tree that is harvested as part of native timber harvesting in Victoria is regrown, because do you know what happens? You actually plant a tree, and over time it grows again, right?

Honourable senators interjecting

Something that my father did, some of the senators over there deride as if he was some rich guy just doling out the money. One of the things my father did after he and his crew went through and harvested the timber for places like Mount Buffalo was to then go through, in the mid- to late sixties, and replant everything. Do you know what? Those trees—I'm 50, so they're 50 years old now—are just ready to harvest. Fantastic!

Senator Gallagher interjecting

Sorry, what was that, Senator?

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

You can't possibly be 50.

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll take that interjection, Mr President. Merry Christmas, Senator Gallagher! Merry Christmas to you too!

The sustainable industry supports thousands of rural and regional jobs and businesses, like the ANC Forestry Group in Morwell. The ANC is dedicated to the Gippsland region and provides long-term employment for many workers, from truck drivers and machine operators to mechanics and administration staff. ANC and many others in the forest industry have worked hard to keep their community employed and engaged during these tough times. Our government has been prepared to stand with them, to give real and practical support targeted at those forestry communities impacted by the bushfires. Being part of our broader COVID response, it's been so responsive in these difficult times and has actually responded to each and every industry in a different, unique and targeted way, which has meant we are in a very good position relative to the rest of the world.

This is an industry that contributes around $24 billion of economic turnover to our economy each and every year. We've got hundreds of thousands of jobs in the broader supply chain. There are 80,000 people in the industry value chain. We roll these numbers off our tongues as if tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands—

An honourable senator interjecting

Do you know what they are, Senator? They are actual people feeding their families in a sustainable industry, paying mortgages, educating their kids, playing sport on the weekend, volunteering at their local sporting clubs. And you know what? There are 80,000 of them in the industry value chain. The fact that you stand up here and do not care about them and their children's future is, I think, an indictment on each and every one of you.

Every year the Australian forestry industry plants around 70 million trees so that—guess what?—in 50 years we can harvest them. Then we can plant them again, and again and again and again. That is what a renewable resource is all about. The forestry industry is the ultimate renewable industry. That is equivalent to 136,000 football fields; I do love my sporting analogies! That is more than two seedlings for each and every Australian every year. And the Greens political party, as Senator Macdonald used to call them, wants to shut this down.

In August the Greens and the Labor Party showed their contempt for rural and regional Victorian families in their pathetic failed attempt to shut down Victoria's sustainable timber industry. Ending native harvesting in Victoria, as the Andrews Victorian government announced in November 2019, is a devastating decision for regional communities. It means job losses, mill closures and negative impacts on regional communities in towns like Orbost, Heyfield, Benalla, Corryong and many more. Seven mill owners across Victoria were so concerned by the Andrews Labor government that they formed the Victorian Hardwood Sawmillers Association. Led by Leonard Fenning, who operates Fenning Timber in Bairnsdale, they are focused on promoting the economic benefits of their industries. Groups like AFPA(Time expired)

6:53 pm

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

I want to commend Senator McKenzie on that wonderful contribution—from the heart, about a great industry—to the disallowance motion we are discussing with regard to the forest industry and to vital support that is needed to help an industry that has been hit many times over by significant events. At a time when we are trying to reopen the economy, get people back to work and support regional economies in particular, we have a disallowance motion trying to pull the rug out from underneath an industry that needs this support.

I will come to the mischaracterisation of the program. Senator Rice conflated issues terribly around what the funding in this program would do. Most of what Senator Rice said had nothing to do with this program, the way that her contribution painted it. In fact it will go to do a lot of the things that I'm pretty sure Senator Rice, who, I'm pleased to acknowledge, is a supporter of parts of the forestry industry—the plantation industry but also the value-add industry in this country. Instead of shipping jobs offshore, we can keep them in regional communities to turn these raw products—these beautiful, sustainably managed raw products; timber products, the fibre that we get from these trees—into wonderful products in this country. That's what this program goes to.

Let's look at the history leading up to the need to provide this support. At the beginning of the year the bushfires that hit many parts of our nation had a huge impact on our forest industry, and we're still coming to terms with the actual gravity of the impact felt by this industry. We're still seeking to understand exactly how much of the forest resource was burnt in those bushfires across New South Wales, Victoria and Kangaroo Island in South Australia, and in order to properly support the industry we do need that data. But the fact is we lost a significant amount of resource, so for industry to be able to continue on, to be able to do what it does, to provide jobs in regional communities in a sustainable way, we need to do more with less. There is less timber to use, and so we have to find ways to support industry to be able to get as much out of that resource as it possibly can.

On top of that we've had COVID, which had an impact on freight and logistics chains, an impact, of course, on the consumption of these products, hence the need for programs like HomeBuilder to stimulate home building across the nation. The impact of the downturn in housing starts, as was predicted before HomeBuilder was announced, would have had devastating impacts on the timber industry and those right throughout the supply chain, so we need to make sure that they can keep up with demand for this wonderful material while being able to support the housing and construction sector. Again, we only have to look at more recent issues post-COVID: bushfires, COVID and now we have issues with exports, and this is why we need this program. Far from propping up an ailing industry, far from having anything to do with the points of the industry that Senator Rice highlighted as what this funding would go to, this is about actually helping this industry innovate to improve its practices, to improve the technology available to it to be able to get more out of less with less waste, to be able to produce new products that new markets might wish to access.

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

If only!

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

That's what we want to do, and Senator Rice says, 'If only.' Well, that is the case. That's what this program is all about. Do you know what? We want these regional communities, like the north-west coast of Tasmania, one day, hopefully, through future rounds of programs like this—and I hope there'll be many more—to be able to innovate and augment their processes, so those hardworking men and women in regional communities will be able to actually use this resource in a better way. I don't know how many timber mills Senator Rice has been through in recent times, but I tell you what: there are some amazing advancements in technology when it comes to some of these operations. What we want to do is take them to the next level, so we can compete with other advanced wood-processing countries around the world.

Senator McKenzie made a fantastic point about what happens when we shut down or attempt to damage our timber industry in Australia, one of the best in the world, contrary to the assertions of some of those people down the end there; we source it from elsewhere. I suppose this is a good opportunity to point out what we in the Australian government have been doing when it comes to clamping down on illegal logging and the sale of illegally harvested timber products. Recently, we were able to do a series of DNA tests on timber being sold in Australian retail outlets. A number of the pieces of timber being imported from other countries labelled as certain types of timber, weren't that timber at all.

This is what happens when Greens policy comes to the fore. There is a major retail outlet in Australia that has decided it won't use timber sourced from Victoria because of claims around certain operations. There's a court case which is under appeal and, as Senator Rice well knows, it doesn't mean it's final when it's under appeal. It's something that's being questioned as we speak, and I'm very confident about the outcome of that case, just as I am about the Bob Brown Foundation case in Tasmania. I acknowledge Senator Ciccone, who's a massive supporter of the timber industry, the best one in the world. The fact is, though, when we drive this industry offshore, we end up seeing products ripped out of the ground, true deforestation, and consumers here, who still want the products that come out of our forests, don't know where it's coming from. It's not coming from sustainably well managed forests here in Australia that are replanted, reforested, but from forests of South America, West Papua.

Senator Rice shakes her head as if it doesn't matter, because, if it's not in our backyard, we don't care. I tell you what: that is a shameful attitude to take because not only are you driving deforestation in other nations but you're driving up unemployment when you damage this sustainable, proud industry. The battles in campaigns that are run—and I often say this—have now moved from forestry coupes to the courtroom. It's their new high-tech way of trying to damage a very, very good and proud industry, something that I think they should be ashamed of.

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's about jobs.

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

Yes, because, as Senator Ciccone says, it is about jobs in regional communities. It is about being able to provide for these communities and ensure that they can send their kids to school, put food on the table, pay the mortgage and keep the lights on. But Senator Rice, with her disallowance here, wants us to find any way to penalise this industry—it's not enough that they were hit with the bushfires—and we want to help them get more from less. We want them to be able to get more resources out of the timber that remains in the reserves that they have access to. It's not enough that they've been hit by COVID and it's not enough that we have export issues at the moment. We want to do as much as we can to value-add here, not send our raw products overseas—

Senator Rice interjecting

Senator Rice says 'if only' once again. My door is always open. Pop on in. Let's talk about a constructive plan to grow this industry. If you're a supporter, as you say you are, of 90-odd per cent of the industry then come on down with a plan to grow the industry, not shut it down, talk it down or damage the brand. Senator Rice, my door remains open every day of the week I'm here. Come and see me in Tassie. Let's go and do a tour.

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Go to the Heyfield mill.

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

Let's go and have a look at the Heyfield mill. Let's go and actually talk to the people you are denigrating through this motion, claiming that we are propping up an ailing industry. It's an industry that those who work in it should be very, very proud of. So, while imploring colleagues here to vote against this disallowance, I implore Senator Rice to come and work with me. Come and work with Senator Urquhart; Senator Ciccone; Senator Scarr; Senator Molan, who I spent last Friday with talking to bushfire affected communities; and all of my colleagues here. Work with us, those who are pro-forestry and who actually deal in science. Contrary to the fact—

Opposition senators interjecting

Let's talk about science while we're on this matter. It was asserted a couple of Senate estimates ago that 20 per cent of all of the forests in Australia had burnt in the bushfires. In fact, as we know, Senator Rice, 20 per cent of a certain biome was affected, not the entire forest estate. It's dangerous assertions like that—like those prefaced with the words 'We know X happened.' I've seen the Greens in this parliament do it all the time. They speak with authority, claiming something to be true, and there could be a kernel of truth in there, but you get to the end of the sentence and there's a little asterisk: 'Terms and conditions apply. Don't dig too deep.' We only have to look at the science that was claimed to be proof positive that forestry operations in this country increased the risk and severity of bushfires. Well, of course, as we know, that paper—from some scientists in Tasmania—was withdrawn because it was found to be riddled with errors. This is the thing. Let's talk in facts. Let's talk science. Come and talk to the people who are in the industry who are proud of the brand they have.

Primary producers—Senator McKenzie mentioned a whole heap of them—rely on a good brand. They don't want to trash it. You guys are doing a good enough job of that by peddling falsehoods. 'Propping up an ailing industry'—we are one of the best in the world. As I say, come on out to the country communities that actually support what we do. The timber in this chamber did not fall out of the sky, Senator Rice—through you, Mr President. It was harvested sustainably.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

How do you know that?

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

I reckon it's because the forests are still there, in response to Senator Siewert's question—

Senator Rice interjecting

'Decimated'? Why am I going to engage with people who are not going to listen to reason at all? They have no idea when it comes to sustainable, well-managed, world-leading forests. There's a head-in-the-sand approach to what is the world's best forest industry. Let's remember a former member of the Tasmanian parliament, Peg Putt, who made a full-time career out of travelling into foreign markets to damage the brand of a sustainable industry. I think the organisation was called Markets for Change. Do you know what? They changed from sustainable, well-managed forest resources and estates, where science underpinned what was done, to markets where they ripped trees out of the ground and didn't replant them.

In fact, Senator Rice, on the issue of invitations, while I'm trying to convince my colleagues that this is one of the worst disallowances that has ever come across the table in this chamber, I'd love for you to come down the Arve River with me. There's a coupe down there that a group called Environment Tasmania had custody of. They were given funds by the taxpayers of Australia to reforest this particular coupe. It's in the heart of World Heritage wilderness. It's barren. They believe that the practices the forest industry put in place are wrong. If you go to the forestry coupe next door that Sustainable Timbers Tasmania, formerly Forestry Tasmania, and contractors managed, you wouldn't know it was ever harvested. But come down and see what ET, Environment Tasmania, these bleeding heart antijob people did to this piece of land. It is barren. There is erosion. You wouldn't know—

Senator Rice interjecting

Look, come on down to my office after this and we'll look at Google Earth and you can see what your friends have done. You don't care about the environment. You certainly don't care about jobs in regional communities, from downtown Melbourne. Please accept my invitation—anyone: come into my office and we'll look at Google Earth together. Vote against this ridiculous disallowance, support hardworking men and women in this industry and reopen our economy when we need it most. Stop the madness.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the disallowance motion moved by Senator Rice be agreed to.