Speeches on the Otways Bill -
The Otway Ranges Environment Network would like to thank all Liberal Members of Parliament who stood up and acknowledged that the Bracks' government has a mandate to implement the National Parks (Otways and other amendments) Bill. OREN acknowledges that for some Liberals it was clearly difficult to support the government's Otway legislation. For example the Upper House member for Western Province, Mr Vogels finished his speech by saying:
"Although I am unhappy, I have to support the bill."
In total there were 12 Liberal MP's who spoke on the Otways Bill during the September sitting of Parliament.
OREN has only listed a few of the speeches. To read others see Hansard for the 7th, 8th, 14th & 15th of September 2005.
Selected Liberal Speeches
Mr MULDER (Polwarth) -- This will be interesting. Do you want me to start off with 'What about the Otways?'. I am more than happy to do that given my last rally. What about the Otways? On that note I will make some comments in relation to the legislation before the house, the National Parks (Otways and other Amendments) Bill.
Naturally I am very passionate about that part of the world because it is my electorate and in some ways I am somewhat disappointed with the content of the legislation that has come before the house. It is not that I am against national parks. I thought it was a great opportunity to create a great national park in the Otways. I thought it was a great opportunity to allow people into that region and to enjoy that region for recreational purposes. The Otways have enormous potential in terms of bringing tourists into that region and boosting the economy, but I also thought there was still a great opportunity to remain having a strong and vibrant timber industry. The timber industry over a number of years recognised that the Otways had been overlogged and continued to take cutbacks to try and get the logging quota back to a sustainable level.
We know very well that prior to the announcement of the Great Otway National Park, the Premier on behalf of the government announced that the department would undertake a study on the parts of the state that were being logged that were sustainable and those parts that were not sustainable. He gave a gilt-edged commitment and a promise that if any part of the state where logging was occurring was proved to be sustainable, he and his government would support those timber communities. That is what he said. I was here when we had timber processors, timber workers, log truck drivers visiting the Parliament, talking to the Premier, talking to the responsible minister and getting this commitment right up to the day that the announcement was made.
The member for Carrum, in her contribution today, said no-one could have missed that statement in relation to the creation of the Great Otway National Park.
Nobody could have missed that statement from the Premier and the government in relation to their commitment to support any timber industry that was sustainable across the state. They were lied to. That is what made me so angry about the way this whole process was handled from day one. There was always the opportunity for us to have a good national park in the Otways, a good timber industry and a good tourism industry. The strength of that entire region has never been its reliance on the timber, dairy, beef or any other industry; it has been its diversity. I am very concerned to see one component of it taken out of the equation for no reason at all other than a handful of Greens preferences.
What we have seen is not the end of it. The flow-on effect of those licences being taken out of the Otways has been that those companies are moving out into viable agricultural land, particularly in the Simpson area.
They are buying up land that has been cleared and land that has been used by those communities for dairy farming for many years and are starting to plant plantation timber to get resource security into the future.
I put it on the record that I will not oppose the legislation and we are not opposed to the legislation. I also acknowledge that the government got a mandate at the last election to take this legislation through the Parliament. But I also put it on the record that when the Liberal Party returns to government in Victoria, if any of this legislation has impacted negatively on my community, I as a local member will certainly push to amend it in order to get the best outcome I can possibly get for my community.
As I said, this whole process was handled as it was as a result of a lie. If it had gone through a proper consultation process and if the government had stuck to its word, we would have had an outcome that everybody could have lived with. We do not have that. The community of Colac and the community of the Otways are not happy with the way this legislation has been handled. They are not happy with the consultation process, and as their local member I put those comments on the record.
There are real problems with the legislation. Not only has there been a massive expansion of the Otway National Park -- from 40 000 hectares to 102 000 hectares -- but there is also this new category of park, the Otway Forest Park, covering some 30 000 hectares, in which some recreational use will supposedly be allowed. We are not sure exactly what that recreational use will be. We know why this new category has been created -- that is, to shut logging out of the Otways altogether. We got what we knew we were going to get -- our Otways national park. It was agreed, and we understood, that there would be no logging in national parks, and that was acceptable. However, the only reason why this new category of forest park has been introduced, and the only reason the legislation is structured in the way it is, is to ensure the government can get rid of the licences.
I know the majority of those companies have taken their money -- taxpayers money. The loggers have taken the money, the processors have taken the money and the contractors have taken the money, and they have walked. There is no way known that those particular operators, contractors and other people who worked in the industry will hand the money back and come back on board. Nonetheless I put it to the house that the reason why this category of park has been introduced is to do away with the timber industry holus bolus. It has been handled in such an underhanded manner that the people of the region, like those right across the state, are now starting to lose faith in the government. It gives communities one line, then it lies to them and does the opposite. In the second-reading speech the minister stated:
It -- the Otway Forest Park -- will provide for recreation, including some activities not normally permitted in a national park, and minor resource uses ...
The bill states that the land is reserved for the purposes of:
... providing opportunities for informal recreation associated with the enjoyment of natural surroundings ...
What does that mean? This is new lingo.
When you do not want to tell people what your real objectives are and what you are going to do, you dress it up with these sorts of newfangled weasel words, as we call them, which the government has become so renowned for.
A large number of people in my electorate, who between them share a wealth of expertise and knowledge of the area, made over 700 submissions to the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council investigation and heavily involved themselves in the consultation process. In addition over 1000 people turned out at public meetings in Apollo Bay, and they included people who use four-wheel-drives and people who want to walk their dogs and ride their horses. They will now be watching very carefully to see how this government deals with the expectation that their recreational activities will not be curtailed. As I said, they have no guarantees. When they look at the minister's comments on these matters, how on earth could they have any surety that they will not be negatively impacted upon?
As I said, the 10 minutes I have been given to contribute to this debate as a local member is a shame and a disgrace. There are so many issues I would like to cover, including the control of noxious weeds such as ragwort and blackberries. I have been to a number of private properties that adjoin the national park where the landowners are sick and tired of the government not controlling noxious weeds such as ragwort and blackberries that are rolling over the park boundaries onto their properties. The government has no intention of doing anything more. Up until this point in time the resources the government has provided for the upkeep of the national park in the Otways have not been anything near the amount required. The national park will grow from 40 000 square hectares to over 100 000 square hectares. Where will the money come from?
A lot of the limited amount of money that has been put in is being creamed off for activities such as surveying. Surveyors are working in the Otways at the moment, trying to determine the boundaries.
That has caused a lot of angst among private landowners, who believe the Surveyor-General's department has been heavy handed. Once again this money was supposed to be put aside for the operation of the national park, but it is being used for these types of activities. It makes you ask how much will be left to manage the park.
The tragic bushfires went through the area in 1983. We get fires such as those every 25 to 35 years. If this park is not managed and operated properly, another bushfire will go through the area. It will be devastating, it will ruin communities and it will greatly impact on the natural beauty of the area. We saw what happened in the north in relation to bushfires when the government failed to look after its area of responsibility, and I can see the same thing happening in my part of the state, because this park will not be resourced or managed properly. On that note, I repeat that I will not oppose the bill.
Hon. E. G. STONEY (Central Highlands) -- I was disappointed in Ms Carbines's contribution. I admire her passion for her own area, but considering she is the Parliamentary Secretary for Environment with statewide responsibilities and should take a statewide view of things, it is disappointing she has taken a very parochial approach. It is absolute nonsense and sheer humbug to claim that the success of the Bracks government in 2002 in winning a record number of seats was because of its Otways policy..
I will restrict my remarks to the effect that this bill has had on the Victorian timber industry. I am constantly disappointed that government speakers crow about stopping logging and woodchipping in forests like the Otways but for some extraordinary reason never tell the house how supplies of sawn timber can be sourced from alternate areas. The government ignores this very important issue for Victoria as though it does not exist. Ms Carbines and the government never talk about where alternate timber supplies will come from. The only time I can recall it being addressed was when the Premier was asked about it. Members will notice that Ms Carbines has left the chamber, which she always does. She delivers some broadsides and leaves the chamber. That is very disappointing.
During the 2002 election campaign the Premier weighed into the Otways logging closure debacle. On the Jon Faine radio program he made comments to the effect that, 'If you look right down the south-west of Victoria you can see the blue gums and sugar gums maturing and you can transfer this industry into the plantation forests which are their and which are coming on stream'.
He went on to say that is a sensible shift or move and that the government would meet the licence arrangements until 2008 and he would not be renewing the licences. That is all good, but the Premier was talking absolute rubbish because he was mixing up the pulpwood industry with the hardwood sawlog industry. When the Premier sees some hardwood plantations growing, he thinks it will replace the Otways. But it is an entirely different thing. You have to mange hardwood plantations right from day one to become sawlogs and you have to manage pulpwood in a different way. You cannot change from a pulpwood plantation to a sawlog plantation just because you are short of sawlogs. No-one told the Premier this and he really embarrassed himself.
My concern is that no-one in the government appears to care about the long-term effects of closing more and more sustainable areas to hardwood forests. No-one in the government explains where we are going to get our sawlogs in the future. Any government has certain responsibilities, one of which is to create good public policy in all areas and not just the easy options of closing areas and creating national parks. The government has no plan to ensure the sustainable supply of hardwood sawlogs to Victorians in the future. When the Otways closed, the government put in a lousy $9 million to start planning for plantations. This money has gone and I am not sure there are many trees in the ground. It was really a half-hearted attempt to replace the absolutely sustainable area that was the Otways to sawlogs. A government press release quoted Mr Bracks in November of that year saying:
... the government would assist the industry in moving to alternative sustainable areas, such as western Victoria's maturing plantation resource.
He went on to talk about the $9 million for the plantation resource, but that really was just a drop in the bucket. We have to plan now for 10, 20, 50 years ahead for Victoria to supply its own hardwood sawlogs.
Recently the Minister for Agriculture in the other place claimed that 11 000 hectares had been planted to hardwood plantations in recent years. I am prepared to bet that most of that is for pulpwood and not for sawlogs. I have actually put a question on notice to the minister asking him to clarify that. The sad thing is the Otways was classified as absolutely sustainable. To make my point an Australian government document referring to the Western Australian regional forest agreement (RFA) goes on to state that the parties, the state and federal governments:
... acknowledge that this agreement is expected to provide 77 900 cubic metres per annum of D+ sawlogs from the western Victoria region.
It goes on to mention the various regions of western Victoria and the Otway forest management area is expected to produce 27 000 cubic metres on a sustainable basis. It was signed by the Premier in 2000. He said about the Otways and Wombat RFA:
... the agreement was reached after a community and stakeholder consultation process unprecedented in the development of Victoria's prior three RFAs.
The fact that Labor has now turned its back on that agreement to cease logging by 2008 means it is turning its back on its own agreements.
Our Forests Our Future was released on 23 August, three months before the 2002 state election. It says:
The timber resource review undertaken in 2001 as part of the licence renewal project indicates the estimated biological sustainable yield for Otway is about 28 000 cubic metres and that current licence levels can be maintained at 27 100 cubic metres. This resource level takes into account operational and economic factors ... Over time the licence level may vary depending upon improvements in new harvesting and sawing technology and new timber products being developed.
This leads me to the Otways Ranges Environment Network and a paper commenting on the Vanclay evaluation of the Otways in 2001. OREN in one of its newsletters on the Net says:
Recommendation 16. Acknowledge two components of sustainable yield: the maximum timber yield that can be sustained and the optimal harvesting rate that delivers the greatest benefit to stakeholders.
Recommendation 16 provides an acknowledgment that the figure of 27 000 cubic metres of sawlog is a maximum rate of logging for the Otways, but an optimum rate of logging factors in issues such as the need to protect water catchments, tourism values and nature conservation values.
That is all fair enough and obviously somewhere over 20 000 cubic metres a year would be sustainable forever. But this is the rub and it has been identified by OREN. I am not criticising OREN at all; in fact it has done a lot of work on this and that is its right to do so.
Given this position, the state government decided that the optimum rate of logging for the Otways was zero, and was re-elected in 2002 with this zero logging policy.
There is an identified 27 000 cubic metres a year sustainable for all time and the government opted for a zero logging policy. This really demonstrates there was a sustainable yield available that was ignored by the government which closed the Otways for green votes. That is indisputable. I absolutely understand the parochial local groups such as OREN. They are fighting for their patch. It is not up to them to create good public policy for the whole of Victoria.
That is up to the government of the day. In this case the government of the day has totally failed the wider constituency here in Victoria by failing to provide a sustainable supply of sawlogs into the future.
I need to make it clear that the Liberal Party accepts that the state government was given a mandate to end logging and create a new national park, but my concern, as I said at the start of my contribution to the debate, is that the government has made no tangible arrangements to replace the access that was lost to sawloggers with that decision. It made no arrangements to provide access from somewhere else. That is my issue; that is my job as opposition spokesman for forestry. It is an issue that the government has been ducking ever since I took on this shadow portfolio. In that area the government has failed the people of Victoria.
I will make a general comment about good management of our forests and national parks. Over the years public perception has been moulded by the Greens. The Greens claim that locking up our forests, including our renewable resources like timber -- and I emphasise timber -- is conservation. The real story is a lot different. It is important that we promote a balanced use of the vast areas of public land in Victoria. It is important that there is multiple use of that public land. We support our existing national parks; they are an important part of our public land, but the rest of our public land should have multiple use, including forestry in suitable areas.
It is an absolute myth that locking up our forests is true conservation, and one day we will come to that realisation. In fact, many scientists are now starting to exert their opinions on this because it is coming to the point where we have to be brave and acknowledge that. Over the years the Greens have used the image of logging for their own ends.
They have promoted misleading images about the forestry industry. The public has been led to believe that logging permanently damages the forest and the environment, but really that is patently self-serving and totally untrue.
To conclude I will quote a local from the Otways. I will read from a paper written by the local federal member for Corangamite, Stewart McArthur, in 2002. It is a very clear paper in which he refers to the language used by the Greens. It says:
The next 'objection' of the extreme green movement is that our forests are 'being woodchipped'. This emotive language implies that beautiful trees are being shredded to pieces to be transformed into items of dubious worth. This kind of language succeeds as a piece of emotive language, but fails the test of logic.
He goes on to explain that the timber industry does not harvest native forests for woodchips; it harvests them for high-quality sawlogs, and woodchips are a by-product of that operation:
Woodchips are a by-product of the harvesting of the very valuable and sought-after mature sawlogs used for essential components in houses, other buildings and in furniture.
Stewart McArthur is a local. He has lived near the Otways all his life and he understands the industry and what I have been talking about here tonight. His paper is only a few pages long but it is absolutely spot-on and certainly worth a read.
The removal of access to the Otways for sawn timber has impacted right across Victoria. Our issue, as I said earlier, is the future supply of sawlogs. There are debating points about tourism totally replacing timber for jobs, but I am not even going to get into that tonight because the basic premise of that is wrong. That is not the main point I am making. The main point is, where will we get our future sawlogs? There is no answer; the silence from the government is deafening on that basic point.
The decision to close logging by 2008 makes a mockery of the government's statements that the 32 per cent reduction of hardwood sawlog volumes was critical to ensure the future of the Victorian industry -- and this was with the Our Forests Our Future process. If the Otways were not unilaterally closed the overall impact to sustainability would have been much less. I make the point again that the Otways were assessed originally under the Regional Forests Agreement process as being fully sustainable. They were closed unnecessarily, and that has put pressure on the sustainability of the rest of the logging areas.Hon. PHILIP DAVIS (Gippsland) -- Before I make my substantive remarks on the bill, I wish to acknowledge a very significant contribution to the standard of debate in this place this evening.
I have informally talked to the Leader of the Government about what I regard as the deteriorating standard of contributions of members of this place that has turned from a place of the debate of policy ideas and concepts to a house where members come in with set speeches which frankly could easily have been written and posted on the Internet and the members not turned up here at all. Tonight I heard a contribution from a member who truly engaged the members of this place in a proper constructive analysis of the debate around this bill. I congratulate Mr Hilton on what I regard as the best contribution I have heard from a Labor backbench member in here in the last five years. I do not agree with most of what he said, but I want to put on the record that I thought it was a deliberate attempt to properly engage in constructive debate, and I would like now to return fire in kind.
Firstly, let us remind ourselves of the geographic area we are considering. The Otways formed part of the west Victoria regional forest agreement (RFA) in 2000.
I remind members that the Bracks government came to office in 1999, and it was Steve Bracks who signed the west Victoria RFA in 2000. In 2002 the Bracks government initiated a review of the sustainability of our forest estate to look at a range of issues. In particular, the review looked at whether or not the resource assessments had been accurate. There had over a period of time been indications of some errors in resource assessment, but the Our Forests Our Future process in 2002 confirmed there was a sustainable forest industry in perpetuity in the Otways as part of the west Victoria RFA. However, three months later, the Premier, going into an election and keen to maximise the populist vote, announced in the early weeks of the election campaign of 2002 a policy which repudiated the commitments the Bracks government had entered into with the stakeholders and communities who were directly dependent upon the timber industry -- the forestry industry -- in that region. It was a major and profound policy announcement, and I well remember from an opposition perspective the deliberations we had at about that same time.
Obviously in an election campaign one has to consider the policy and political impact of any response. After going through the necessary analysis and exhaustive discussions, the opposition took the view -- the position which the Leader of the Opposition in the other place, Robert Doyle, stated then and has repeatedly stated -- that the Liberal Party supported science-based decision making. That was why the Liberal Party adhered to the RFA -- the Our Forests Our Future analysis that basically confirmed that there was a viable forestry industry which could be supported in the long term and which was important for the communities that were dependent upon it. However, let me say quite emphatically that it would be frankly stupid for any member of Parliament of any party to come into this place and not accept that the Bracks government won a clear mandate for its policy in 2002.
I have to say that the criticism I have heard of the Liberal Party's position from The Nationals during the debate in this place and the other is just embarrassing for the intellectual bankruptcy of the argument. Members of Parliament contest elections based around a policy debate. When a government wins a clear mandate for its policy positions there is an obligation under our democratic process to respect that mandate. I have to say that on this issue I respect the mandate the Bracks government won because it was so emphatic in terms of a policy position -- and it was one of the central planks in the return of the Bracks government. I say it is churlish, naive, stupid, ignorant and frankly completely ill-informed for members of Parliament to suggest there is any alternative but for the Parliament to accept that the government had a legitimate right to implement this policy.
Having said that, let me say this: the members of Parliament who represent this area in the Parliament of Victoria and in the commonwealth Parliament are all Liberal Party members. None of those members of Parliament has had representations retrospectively made to them that this bill should not proceed -- that is to say, the Liberal Party went out strongly during the election campaign and argued a case for a long-term and sustainable forestry industry in the Otways. The stakeholders supported the Liberal Party in that position and made strong representations to support us during that election campaign. What has happened since? Three years has elapsed and the government has put in place, without legislation, the implementation of its policy.
It does not need legislation to shut down the forestry industry in the Otways, because the licences all expire by 2008 in any event. In case anybody has not been watching, everywhere else in the state that was affected by the Our Forests Our Future statement was clearly affected without the need to resort to legislation. No legislation was required to shut down 50 per cent of the forestry industry in East Gippsland or indeed 47 per cent of the forestry industry in the Central Highlands. No legislation was required. It was simply a matter of the government proceeding to buy out or not reissue licences in regard to those areas.
I say that it is foolish, naive and frankly stupid to come into this place and argue a case that we should not look at and deal with the merits of the bill as they are before us. The bill implements the government's policy.
The details of the bill go some way to clarifying some aspects which change the form of land use in respect to some parts from state forests to national parks and others from state forests to forest parks. The forest park is clearly a vehicle designed to restrict in future and forever access to that area for forestry because no other areas of activity are so precluded. It is a limited form of changed land use, and it is clearly designed to restrict future forestry. That is the position, in effect, which the government took to the election and won a mandate for.
I note there are arguments being advanced that the community would have some other outcome. Yes, three years ago the community wanted a different outcome and strong representations were made.
I have to say that no representations with respect to this particular bill have been received by the Liberal Party from the Victorian Association of Forest Industries, Timber Communities Australia or the contractors and harvesters, which are the three groups to represent the timber industry. Clearly they would prefer the bill did not go through, but I have not received any representations nor has the shadow spokesman on forestry received any representations from any of those groups. The local members, the Honourable David Koch, the Honourable John Vogels and the member for Polwarth in the other place, have not received representations. I do not know whether Stewart McArthur, the federal member for Corangamite, has received any representations, although he has a different view. There is clearly an issue here about the fact that it is all basically over; it is over in the sense that the government won a mandate to implement its policy. The bill before the house puts into effect that policy and you would have to be frankly a Luddite to not understand that is the case.
The Liberal Party has consistently argued the case in Parliament and in the community on behalf of local communities which were adversely impacted by national park proposals. We did that with some success with the implementation of marine national parks because we could see there were some difficulties. Members of this place will recall that the government had to have two shots at getting the bill through Parliament when the upper house was controlled absolutely by the Liberal Party. The first attempt by the government failed because we were not prepared to accept some of the proposals advanced. That bill was withdrawn and a second bill was brought forward which was adopted by the Parliament because it ameliorated some of the impacts. You cannot win everything all the time. If The Nationals position is to vote no on everything, then it will have no leverage and never will amount to a party that can effectively advance the interests of the constituents in rural Victoria.
The Liberal Party position has been to clearly set out a position that is pragmatic, realistic and to negotiate better outcomes for local communities. I have to say that I think we have been pretty effective. The Liberal Party has been able to make commitments recently about where it will be in relation to the mountain cattle grazing issue. It was a willing debate not so long ago. The Liberal Party position is quite clear. In government we will implement our policy commitment to reinstate grazing in the Alpine National Park. That is a position we have spelt out in public, in the Parliament and which I adhere to now. It does not mean that from the point of view of public policy we have to concede that because the government holds a mandate for this bill, it has a mandate for its other policy agendas, which it has implemented even notwithstanding it had no mandate for them. I will be clear about mountain cattle grazing.
There was no mandate for the Bracks government to shut down mountain cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park. In my view the government behaved outrageously, hypocritically and misled those mountain communities. It is an outrage what has occurred with respect to that policy of the government.
I have to say in respect of the policy dealing with the Otways that there is no question of the government having a right to implement that policy. I further say that Parks Victoria is a complete and utter failure as a public land manager. Anybody who is familiar with those great areas of the state that are under the care and responsibility of Parks Victoria well knows the outrageous and shocking lapse of responsible land management which has occurred. The weeds I have seen in those parks make me weep because of the millions of dollars and millions of man-hours which will have to be invested eventually to bring it under control.
I do not think any amount of resources provided to Parks Victoria will be able to achieve anything in its present form, and I would like to see significant changes in policy in Parks Victoria. With that I indicate I will not oppose the bill.
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