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Forest campaigning is not going to go away

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 8 Feb 2017

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This document is the regional forest agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia and the state of Victoria. I will only take up a short amount of the Senate's time, knowing how precious it is at the moment. But I have to note this very important re-signing of the regional forest agreement that took place. The 20-year regional forest agreement between the Commonwealth and the state of Victoria for the East Gippsland forest area was the first of the 20-year regional forest agreements to be signed. It expired last Friday. This agreement has now been extended for 13 months. This extension was done extremely quietly. It was a bit like a wink and a nod in a dark car park the night before. It was only announced the night before the agreement was due to expire last Friday. Clearly it was not something that either the state of the Commonwealth were shouting from the rooftops about because I cannot see how they could be proud of it.

The regional forest agreements have failed. One has been in place for 20 years in East Gippsland, and the remaining regional forest agreements are going to expire over the next couple of years. They have failed to protect jobs and they have failed to protect the environment. We have a situation now in East Gippsland where we have species that live in these forests that were threatened 20 years ago and are now critically endangered. So they are now hurtling towards extinction. The logging that is taking place under this regional forest agreement is the threatening process that is leading these animals closer and closer towards the edge.

We have forests that are some of the most carbon dense in the world. They have 200 times the carbon stored in them as the average forest globally. Yet the importance of these forests for soaking up carbon and playing a role in tackling global warming is not even recognised in these regional forest agreements.

The other thing that is very clear after 20 years of these forest agreements failing to protect our forest environments is the insanity of the fact that by having these agreements in place it means that our national environmental laws do not apply to forests that are covered by these agreements. In the mining industry you have to assess a mine and how it is going to impact on threatened species. But because it is declared that forestry that occurs under an area that is covered by a regional forest agreement by definition is ecologically sustainable forestry we do not need to go through that process. That is why you can have critically endangered species and logging that is still continuing to destroy their homes. That is why when a clear-fell operation occurs you can have greater gliders thrown out of their nests. That is why you can have the habitat of the long-footed potoroos totally destroyed.

Clearly this is not the way for the future. We know that Australians love their forests. They want to see their forests protected. We also know that a sustainable wood product industry is important to Australia and is possible. The majority of the wood products industry in Australia now has already transitioned into plantations. The native forest logging industry is the rump of wood production in Australia, and it is time that rump was quietly transitioned out so we can protect our forests.

Extending these agreements in such a wink-and-a-nod way before last Friday means that we are not taking these opportunities. The opportunity was there to restore the balance and to acknowledge that this is not the way to be managing our forests into the future, that we need to be managing our forests by transitioning out of native forests and into plantations. That is the direction the Australian community wants to see for forest management.

My real concern is that we have had the East Gippsland forest agreement just rolled over and the government have told us that this is what they intend to do for every other forest agreement across the country. The Australian public will not put up with this. We have had forest wars continuing the decades. We had the opportunity to move on from those—to be protecting forests and to be protecting jobs and to truly have resource security in a plantation based industry but that opportunity has been lost.

Forest campaigning is not going to go away. People who are concerned about our forests and who want them protected for tourism, water and animals are not going to go away. We are going to keep on campaigning until we protect those forests for their beautiful values.

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