This speech was delivered on 14th November 2012 in the NSW Upper House. You can read the full debate online here.
Mr David Shoebridge[11.28 a.m.]: I move The Greens amendment No. 1 on sheet C2012-154B:
No. 1 Page 8, clause 10. Insert after line 37:
(3) In the attainment of its objectives and the exercise of its functions, the Corporation is to take all practicable steps that it considers necessary or desirable to ensure the preservation and enhancement of the quality of the environment.
This amendment would reinstate one of the existing objectives in the current 1916 Act and it would include a new subsection (3) in section 10, which would read:
In the attainment of its objectives in the exercise of its functions the corporation is to take all practical steps that it considers necessary or desirable to ensure the preservation and enhancement of the quality of the environment.
This is the existing statutory requirement that is found in the Forestry Act. Indeed, section 8A was included as an amending provision in the Act in 1972 by the then Country Party member the Hon. John Fuller, who was the Minister for Decentralisation and Development and Vice-President of the Executive Council. In moving the amendment he made it clear that it was necessary to have these environmental controls. The Country Party recognised in 1972 that it was necessary to have environmental controls and it included these protections in the legislation. However, 40 years down the track the Liberal-Nationals Coalition is gutting the environmental controls that its forebears inserted in legislation in 1972. It is extraordinary that this Government has learnt so little. It demonstrates that it is blind to history, to the environment and to the fact that 40 years ago the then Country Party supported these provisions and inserted section 8A in the legislation.
More fundamentally, what is the argument for downgrading the environmental protections in the legislation? What is it about the current level of environmental protection of State forests that the Government thinks is too rigorous? What forest is standing that members opposite think should be destroyed to produce woodchips or to establish a coalmine like the one in Leard State Forest? What environmental protection provisions does the Government believe are too rigorous for forests in New South Wales? Why has the Government decided to turn a blind eye to a provision that had the support of the conservative Government in 1972? Has the current administration become so blind to the environment and so uncaring about the environmental protection of two million hectares of native forest that it is willing to ignore what its predecessors put in place and to strip this key environmental protection from the forestry legislation? Unfortunately that appears to be the case.
In any event, The Greens have moved this amendment not because we believe it provides perfect protection for forests but simply because it maintains the current level of protection. The Greens have been deeply critical about the lack of environmental rigour that Forests NSW now applies, whether it involves logging in Tallaganda State Forest, Double Duke State Forest or Wedding Bells State Forest. The current level of environmental protection is woefully inadequate, but it would seem that even that is too much for this Government. I urge the Government to note the actions of its forebears in 1972 and to accept this minimal environmental protection for forests in New South Wales.
Mr David Shoebridge: Point of order: The Minister is misrepresenting my comments. I have never described the Hon. John Fuller as a redneck. That is a total misrepresentation of my comments. I said that he had foresight.
Mr David Shoebridge: To the point of order: The point being made by the Hon. Jan Barham is relevant to the amendment. She should be given some leniency to set the scene and to indicate its relevance to the amendment. Because of the level of interjections and the sledging from across the Chamber it is difficult for the Hon. Jan Barham to contribute to debate on the amendment.
Mr David Shoebridge [11.53 a.m.]: The Hon. Paul Green said he is confident that the Government will do the right thing. This entity is being corporatised; it will not be under the Government’s control. Whatever the level of misplaced comfort the Hon. Paul Green may have in this Government about environmental protection, it will have no bearing on what the corporate entity will do. The purpose of the bill is to remove it from government oversight. The Christian Democratic Party cannot rationally oppose this amendment on that basis. More fundamentally, the Minister misunderstands the key point of the amendment.
Under clause 10 of the bill the objectives of the Forestry Corporation are given equal weight to the environment. The first principal, and the primary objective under the State Owned Corporations Act, is to be a successful business, to operate efficiently and to maximise the net return for the State’s investment. The next objective is to exhibit a sense of social responsibility—whatever that means—and to exhibit a sense of responsibility towards regional development and decentralisation. The last objective is providing timber with an equal weight to the environment. That is in direct contrast to the Act, which provides that in the exercise of all its functions and in entertaining all its objectives the environment is to be considered.
The Greens amendment would keep existing clause 10 (1) (c), which talks about principles of ecological sustainable development and is the weakest of the five objectives, but it would ensure that there was an overarching obligation to consider the environment in all its objectives and activities. The Government has removed that. The Minister fails to understand that when a piece of legislation gives equal weight to the wiping out of a threatened species on one hand and potentially providing two jobs to a regional economy on the other hand—which is exactly what these objectives do—inevitably it will downgrade environmental control. For instance, the new Forestry Corporation could well say, “We will wipe out three threatened species by clearing this forest but we will go ahead and do it because that will give equal weight to the two potential contractor jobs that will be available for three months while we clear-fell the State forest.” We know that threatened species licences are regularly breached. Clause 10 as it currently stands gives equal weight to those propositions and will inevitably downgrade environmental controls. I commend The Greens amendment to the Committee.
Mr David Shoebridge [12.06 p.m.]: I move The Greens amendment No. 2 on sheet C2012-154B:
No. 2 Page 25, clause 44, lines 3 and 4. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead:
A timber licence may not be issued in respect of a flora reserve. A forest products licence or forest materials licence in respect of a flora reserve may not be issued unless:
This amendment would have the effect of amending clause 44 to provide that a timber licence may not be issued on a flora reserve, but it would still allow for a forest products licence or a forest materials licence on a flora reserve to be issued in limited circumstances. There is a clear environmentally essential reason for this. If a timber licence is issued on a flora reserve we will see, as we have seen in the past, the extraordinary destruction of parts of our native forests that have been consciously set aside because of their environmental values and because they have been determined to be an area that should be protected as a flora reserve. Indeed, this bill continues the process of setting aside parts of State forests as protected areas in the form of flora reserves. Clause 16 provides that notice may be published in a gazette of the dedication of Crown land that is set aside as a flora reserve for the preservation of native flora.
One must wonder what the purpose is of setting aside a flora reserve if a timber licence is then issued that allows for the trees inside the flora reserve to be chopped down. Unfortunately, we have seen that happen in the past. If we are to give any teeth to the concept of genuinely protecting flora reserves and if we have areas of the State that, on the advice of the Government, the Governor believes should be set aside for the preservation of native flora, surely we should prohibit the issuing of timber licences on those flora reserves. There are some truly precious parts of our State forests that are enormously biodiverse and contain old-growth timber as well as many threatened and vulnerable species. Setting them aside as a flora reserve should mean something. It should mean that once they are set aside as a flora reserve, because of their precious biodiverse values, they cannot be the subject of a timber licence, which would effectively see them clear-felled.
Anyone who has been in these precious parts of State forests in New South Wales would recognise that there are parts of them that should never be logged; that parts of them are of such extraordinary natural and environmental value that they should never be logged. Some of those parts are already set aside as flora reserves. Recognising that, The Greens moved this amendment to prevent a timber licence being issued over the precious parts of State forests set aside as flora reserves. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
Mr David Shoebridge[12.13 p.m.]: There is no protection at all in this legislation that the trees in a flora reserve will not be clear-felled. That is why The Greens have moved this amendment. The only protection for flora reserves is that the conditions of the timber licence need to be in accordance with the working plan for the letter. We know that the working plan will be delivered in accordance with the objectives contained in this bill, and that those objectives give the same weight to profit, decentralisation and return on investment as they give to environmental controls. Let us be very clear about what we are discussing here. The vast bulk of native forest in this State has already been cleared for farmland, urban development and industrial development; more than 90 per cent of native forest cover that existed in this State when white settlers came here more than 200 years ago has already been cut down.
We are talking about saving those precious remnants that remain. Surely even this Government could on occasion err on the side of the environment. We are talking about the precious remnants, the last stands. Even that seems too much for this Government. We hear comments and cries from the likes of the Hon. Rick Colless, who says that The Greens talk about the environment too much and are too concerned about the trees and the forests. I am more than happy to plead guilty to that. The Greens are concerned because the tiny remnant of native forest that is left is under industrial-scale attack to meet unsustainable wood supply agreements—even the Minister referred to unsustainable wood supply agreements.
These remaining precious parts of our State forests set aside as flora reserves should be protected from logging. Let us be clear about this: If it is a flora reserve, it should be protected from logging. That is the aim of the amendment. It is remarkable that the Opposition is happy to log flora reserves. That has been made very clear from the contribution of the Hon. Steve Whan, who I do not think mentioned the word “environment” in a contribution he has made on the Forestry Act. It is remarkable that the Opposition is happy to log flora reserves and would join with the Government in opposing an amendment that would ensure that these precious flora reserves in New South Wales are not logged.
Mr David Shoebridge[12.18 p.m.]: I move The Greens amendment No. 3 on sheet C2012-154B:
No. 3 Page 33, clause 59. Insert after line 27:
(4) The land manager of a forestry area is, in the attainment of the land manager’s objectives and in the exercise of the land manager’s functions, to take all practicable steps that the land manager considers necessary or desirable to ensure the preservation and enhancement of the quality of the environment.
This amendment would insert a new subsection (4) in the objectives of the land manager. During the second reading debate I spoke about the new process being inserted into the Act enabling land managers, who can be land managers of private entities or government authorities, effectively to take over the entire operations of State forests except forestry operations. They will be able to do anything in a State forest that the corporation could do apart from forestry operations. As a consequence, the controls, objectives and principles of the Act under which land managers operate must be right. We therefore need to put in place the kinds of environmental protections that currently apply to all the kinds of actions to be undertaken under this bill by Forests NSW.
Currently Forests NSW is effectively the land manager for all its properties—although that is a new term that is being proposed in the bill—and as land manager it is required in the attainment of its objectives and in the exercise of its functions to take all practical steps it considers necessary or desirable to ensure the preservation and enhancement of the quality of the environment. All The Greens amendment does is to maintain the existing requirement to take into account the preservation and enhancement of the quality of the environment in relation to what the land managers do. I note and I accept that land managers are to have a number of objectives such as looking after fauna, except for feral animals, and that their actions are to be not inconsistent with forestry practices. I accept those provisions are in the bill and I can already hear the Minister’s reply.
What is missing and what our amendment would put in place is to ensure that all the land managers’ actions as a private entity will be controlled. Land managers can do things unrelated to forestry; they can potentially establish resorts and hunting parks and allow trail bike riding—it is effectively unlimited. The land mangers’ actions need to be controlled by the principles and objectives of the bill. For that reason I commend the amendment to the Committee. Let us be clear: This amendment would only retain the existing level of environmental protection for those parts of our State forests that are likely to be effectively farmed out and privatised to other entities.
Mr David Shoebridge [12.28 p.m.]: I move The Greens amendment No. 4 on sheet C2012-154B:
No. 4 Page 1, Long title. Omit “and use of State forests and other Crown-timber land for forestry and other purposes”. Insert instead “, conservation and use of State forests and other Crown-timber land for forestry and for ensuring the preservation and enhancement of the quality of the environment”.
I accept that this high-level principle amendment does not specifically amend an operative provision of the Act. Amending the long title of the bill would make clearer, if there are any concerns about ambiguity in the legislation, the extent to which environmental values should be advanced. The Greens believe that having a clear statement in the long title—which the bill always should have contained—would ensure the preservation and enhancement of the quality of the environment. That would be a step forward should any question of statutory interpretation arise and it would demonstrate that the weight to be given to environmental values had been considered in that statutory interpretation. For those reasons The Greens have moved the amendment, which we commend to the Committee.
Mr David Shoebridge [12.31 p.m.]: Of all the Minister’s contributions I find remarkable the argument that putting the preservation and enhancement of the quality of the environment in legislation is an ideological spin or an ideological twist. Surely every credible party that has a concern about the long-term future of this State would accept as a minimum that he or she should be considering the preservation and enhancement of the quality of the environment. It should effectively be blind. The basic principle that the preservation and the enhancement of the quality of the environment are matters that the legislator should take into account should not be political. For the Minister to suggest that wanting to put that as an element of the long title of the bill and even making the reference that preserving and enhancing the environment is somehow some ideological warfare shows how far to the brown right this Government has lurched.
Mr David Shoebridge: I hear the mutterings of the great civil libertarian the Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox, and the Hon. Rick Colless, who views State forests as tree farms, is sitting in the Chamber. Thankfully, the Government Whip is not in the Chamber. He probably would say any kind of environmental regulation is an impost on the market. The ideological blinkers with which this Government approaches the environment—any statement about environmental protection is seen as some kind of ideological attack—shows how this Government has lost touch with what should be a fundamental principle for any legislator.
By all means take into account the economy. By all means take into account social welfare and social justice. By all means take into account the need for people to make a decent living. Regardless of our political colours, we should all be concerned about preserving and enhancing the quality of the environment. Regardless of which side of the Chamber it comes to when it is raised, it should not be seen as an ideological element; it should be seen as basic DNA in any politician.