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Forest Practices Amendment (Validation) Bill 2022

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Tags: Native Forest Logging, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, that was a constructive contribution from Ms White. Unbelievable. I presume then, given your closing comments, that Labor will support our move to restore the numbers in the House of Assembly so that the Tasmanian people can have some consistency of leadership and some confidence that we do have stability in Government.

Not that long ago whaling was legal and whaling happened in the River Derwent. Sealing was also legal. It was legal to go down to seal colonies and club seals to death to harvest their oils. These legal activities led to crashing populations of our wild animals. Native forest logging is currently legal, but that does not make it right. Scientists tell us in a time of climate and biodiversity crisis that it is not right. It is immoral, it is unscientific.

We got more from Ms White in a similar vein to what we got from Mr Winter this morning on the debate over the procedural matters. All politics, all the time. For Ms White to pretend in this place that there is any substantive difference at all on this area of policy from the Government is just dishonest. There is no difference. The only difference is about the politics. There is no difference in their approach to accelerating native forest logging. They both support the export from this island of around one million tonnes of native forest woodchips every year. Chips that come out of forests that you do not find anywhere else on the planet. It is an industry which is accelerating global heating. That is what the scientists tell us. But this debate on this issue so often, except for the Greens, devolves into unscientific, political rants and mudslinging.

Mr Speaker, did you know over the past week, even though summer has not reached the Indian subcontinent yet, people in India are experiencing daily temperatures of 50-plus degrees Celsius? South Africa has just been smashed by its worst storms and flooding in its history.

In northern New South Wales, in the Northern Rivers, twice within the space of a month the people of Lismore endured a deluge that was biblical in its proportions, and they were abandoned by the Morrison Liberal-National coalition government. There are still people who endured those climate-induced floods who are sleeping in tents, on couches, at friends' places.

Climate change, global heating, is happening right now and people are suffering and dying. Here on this island we have a carbon bank of global significance and here in Tasmania, because of the Greens in government, we are now carbon negative. We are a net carbon sink, and Dr Woodruff will talk about this more shortly, but the reason we are a net carbon sink is because of the work of conservationists over decades, the blood, sweat and tears of people who sat down to stitch together a Tasmanian forest agreement and every member of the then Labor Party in government and the Greens who voted for the Tasmanian Forest Agreement.

Our vote changed the greenhouse profile of this island. I regard that vote on the Tasmanian Forest Agreement as the most important of my political life because it had a tangible, positive effect on the climate and made sure we are sequestering and keeping carbon safe. We have debates in here about native forest logging where you get this chest-beating from either side who want to tell a mendicant industry that they are their best friends in politics.

Let us be clear about this: the native forest logging industry would not survive without massive public subsidies, the true extent of which are concealed by both parties in government, and public subsidies that - despite the promises of the Liberals in government, from Will Hodgman to Peter Gutwein, and who knows what we will get from Mr Rockliff – continue to this day. Logging these forests is a crime against the climate. It is a bit like what is happening with COVID-19. We are watching people sleep-walk into catastrophe. We are watching people pretend the pandemic is over. We are watching people in government, in positions of influence, pretend the climate is not a problem and business as usual is just fine.

There is a reason that young people, in increasing numbers, are in mental health crisis and seeking treatment for anxiety and depression. If they watched and heard Mr Barnett and Ms White in here, they would be even more depressed because the inertia in taking on the challenges that are so obvious and so necessary exists and persists to this day. When you get up in here and you cheer on the native forest logging industry, you are giving young people the middle finger and you are not recognising that Tasmania's single most important contribution to a safe climate is its forests.

Now to minister Barnett's second reading speech. All I can say is, what a load of crock. It is dishonest, it is political, and it skirts around whatever the back story is to this amendment bill. The same crap and pardon me, Mr Speaker, but that is what it is about 'wood is good'. You cannot have ministers run portfolios by cliché. At the very least what you should have is ministers who comply with the law, not break the law.

What do we have in minister Barnett? A minister who unlawfully approved the lease over Helilog Road in takayna for Chinese state-owned MMG. Because of that unlawful lease approval, which he was not honest about, dozens of people who were arrested defending that extraordinary place had their charges dropped. It was an unlawful lease approval. Now we have a minister who apparently has been overseeing an unlawful act and even though that has been happening, has allowed logging to continue. Why can this minister not be truthful about the genesis of this legislation?

My question to the minister is, at what point did he become aware, and how, that there were provisions in the Forest Practices Act 1985 that potentially facilitated the unlawful certification of forest practices plans? Why can this minister not be straight with us? What makes it so hard for him to be frank to members in this place? This second reading speech, if you can call it that, is littered with dishonesty and cliché and it still does not tell us what that small subset of words is that led to this amendment bill.

Both minister Barnett and Ms White know the future of the timber industry is in plantations. The million tonnes of native forest woodchip that we export every year goes straight off to China. They do not give a toss about Forest Stewardship Council certification which this state and Forestry Tasmania, under this minister, cannot achieve. They have twice failed to achieve Forest Stewardship Council certification. Both minister Barnett and Ms White support the felling of our incredible forests, their chipping and their shipping off to China. Shame on them, Mr Speaker. Will either of these two of my collegues be at the school strike for climate coming up on 13 May? Will they have the audacity to stand there before young people when they are part of the problem and pretend that they want to be part of the solution?

We have been told the first untruth in the second reading speech, that the forestry, wood and wood products sector is worth $1.2 billion to the Tasmanian economy. Over what time period and how much is it worth when you minus the subsidies? Who can say? We would not know, because this minister cannot lie straight in bed.

The second untruth in here is coagulating, pretending the native forest sector and the plantation sector are the same thing. What an insult to responsible players like Forico to lump them in with a mendicant industry. Where is the proof that the industry provides employment to 5700 people? I have never seen it. So much double-speak. A responsible government that was not all about the politics, that listened to the science, would be investing in a just transition for native forest workers. That is happening in other parts of the world. In New Zealand, for example, the Ardern Government is investing resources in helping communities transition out of the old industries into the new. I know that because I am the very proud mother of a young man who is working as a Just Transition policy specialist in the New Zealand Government. It is inspiring to hear about that Government's sincere commitment to modernising industry and making a positive contribution to the climate. It is a commitment that is backed by money, by investments, in those communities, not lip service which is what we get here.

Ms White talked earlier about McKay Timber. Yes, come down the Midlands, past Brighton, look left and see the evidence of a climate crime; the size of those logs is extraordinary; the carbon that is sitting there in the yard at McKay Timber. It is subsidised climate crimes. We will not have a part of it.

Of course, the primary dishonesty in this second reading speech is the fact that it skirts around what the issue is. We have had a minister who was prepared to oversee illegal arrests in the forests at the North East Tiers and Wentworth Hills and, of course, in takayna. On behalf of the Greens, I want to most sincerely thank our forest defenders; people who go into these places with great courage. They know what is at stake and they put their lives on the line for love of this place and care for the future. Stale, old, troglodyte, unscientific governments will learn the hard way. You cannot arrest your way out of a climate and biodiversity crisis.

We have seen tabled in here today the latest attempt to put a shine on a cow pat with the police offences legislation which is anti-protest laws by another name because we still have sitting on the statutes the unconstitutional Workplace (Protection from Protestors) Act 2014.

What will Labor do? We know that Mr Barnett thinks you can arrest your way out of a climate and biodiversity crisis. We do not know what the new Premier thinks but this is the Premier who let this bill dominate the first day back. What will Labor do about this unchecked assault on the right to peaceful protest?

I am warning you both that if you think young people are going to see this kind of legislation and it will prevent them from stepping up, you are more deluded than I thought you were. Young people are at the point where they do not think they have anything to lose. That is why you see incredibly brave young women hanging from the loader over the trucks full of coal that are being exported out of this country, trucks full of coal which are killing our future.

I struggle to understand why every member of this place is not alarmed about the state of the climate and determined to be part of the solution, so each of us can look in the face of young people and say we did our best and we did our bit. We made sure that Tasmania was a positive contributor to a safe climate.

This is not just about our own children; it is about every child alive today - children who have not yet been born, who are being born onto a baking planet full of idiot adults who are not taking it seriously enough. We are sleepwalking into a catastrophe. You have governments that are more interested in corporate profits, donations and politics than they are about humanity's future and that of all life on earth.

Our precious forests have been illegally logged under Guy Barnett's watch - more destruction, more arrests and more confusion. This is the minister for illegality, issuing incorrect permits in takayna, illegal forest practices plans in Derby, the Wentworth Hills and the Eastern Tiers and all over Tasmania. Confusion reigns under this minister for illegal and improper activity.

The Wentworth Hills, a high-altitude eucalyptus delegatenses and sub-alpine rainforest, slow growing but fast to form. There is destruction of masked owl habitat, wedge-tailed eagle habitat, home to Tasmanian devils and spotted-tail quolls, all in our forests. We have iconic and endangered Tasmanian species being rendered homeless by unlawful logging. All the while, dozens of brave forest defenders have had their lives up-ended following arrests that, as it turns out, were not lawfully made. They have been made criminals because of their efforts to stop criminal logging.

In the Eastern Tiers, Bob Brown and a number of other people on that day when Senator Whish-Wilson and I were up there, were arrested for attempting to save the habitat of the endangered swift parrot, another icon of our Tasmanian wild places. It is the fastest parrot in the world but not fast enough to avoid Forestry Tasmania's illegal logging. The swift parrot needs slow growing old trees to nest and forage trees that are being immorally and unlawfully logged as a result of this Government's approach. Krushka Forests up in the mountain bike mecca of Derby is the subject of urgent legal action by Blue Derby Wild. These are the last remnants of glacial refugia forests, forests that survived Tasmania's last period of glaciation over 10 000 years ago, forests that under Mr Barnett's watch, cannot be logged fast enough. Now we understand they have been unlawfully logged, potentially for decades.

Meanwhile we have Liberal MP and Chair of Committees, John Tucker, proposing to clear 1800 hectares of native forest on his own land at Ansons Bay to graze cattle. That is a double climate whammy: you log the forest and you put cattle on. Just like what is happening under Bolsonaro in the Amazon. They could not give two hoots for nature or the climate. This includes nearly 500 hectares of critically endangered forests. This action is the subject of legal action by the Tasmanian Conservation Trust, questioning the validity of the forest practices plan certified under the act. I have an amendment, which I flag now, in relation to Mr Tucker's participation. With so much uncertainty over the legal status of logging in Tasmania amplified by the minister's murky attempts to clean up dirty law, all native forest logging underway must stop. Mr Tucker, who has a direct financial interest in a logging operation, cannot possibly vote on a bill that will potentially pave the way for him to destroy endangered forests.

The bill we are being asked to support today, on very short notice, validates all delegations made, or purportedly made, by the Forest Practices Authority prior to the commencement of this bill. One of the reasons this is highly problematic is that this Government has been extremely coy with details on what the actual problems are.

Mr Barnett repeatedly makes claims of a 'highly technical administrative matter in respect of delegations'. That sounds just like the rubbish he spat out after he was busted unlawfully approving a lease for a Chinese state-owned mining company. Only in his second reading speech do we get any further details outlining that the issue is with 'the particular use of a small subset of words'. These words have not been provided to this place, yet the Government asks for support for this retrospective legislation.

Typically, retrospective legislation on administrative matters has been used to correct issues that have resulted from unforeseen conflicts in legislation or gaps that were not apparent to the parliament. A recent example is the suite of miscellaneous amendment bills we have seen to address issues discovered in relation to certain provisions in various acts rendering section 21(3) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1939 redundant in respect of those acts. These were clearly unforeseen problems. Is that what we have here? The minister's second reading contribution and past media releases on this matter would suggest this is the case. However, the contents of the bill seem to support these claims.

The minister claims that the words used in the instrument of delegation could be interpreted as fettering powers, but assures us that this interpretation is not intended. Frankly, I reckon it was. Anyway, if this is the case, why does the act need changing, rather than just adjustment of the words in the instrument, as well as a validating amendment?

One of the things this amendment bill seems to do is extend the powers of direction of a Chief Forest Practices Officer to apply to not only delegated functions and powers but also functions and powers conferred directly under the act. If the words in the instrument of delegation that are causing issues are indeed not intended to fetter powers, why is it necessary to expand the authority of the Chief Forest Practices Officer to fetter powers? This is an inherent contradiction that seems to suggest the Government is not being honest or entirely forthcoming - what a surprise.

Some other matters of concern are that this bill changes some language to make it clear that the Chief Forest Practices Officer cannot require a person to make a decision, and that a person can be required to seek advice, where the current language requires them to seek approval. This suggests that there may have been an overreach in powers where Forest Practices officers have been directed to make certain decisions and/or required to seek approval for their decisions. This does not sound like a mere technical quibble.

In respect of the retrospective validation, we have grave concerns. This validation does not limit itself to the specific issues we have at hand but in fact validates all delegations made since the act's inception in 1985. If we look at bills that were introduced in respect of the aforementioned section 21(3) of the Acts Interpretation Act, this was not the case. For example, the validation provisions of the Justices Validation Bill 2021 read:

A summons or warrant that was on a day the relevant day that occurred before the commencement date, purportedly issued under section 41 of the Justices Act 1959 to a person is valid and is taken to have always been valid as a summons or warrant would have been if immediately before the relevant day the amendments to that section made by this act have been in effect.

These amendments only validate decisions that were made to the extent that if the amendment bill had been enforced, the provisions would have been valid. We see no such qualifications here, simply a blanket validation of 100 per cent of all past delegations, and this is while there are matters before the court relating to forest practices plans regardless of what issues that may have caused them to be invalid, and regardless of whether they conform with the act as amended. This is highly suspect. Retrospective provisions and legislation need to be carefully constructed and need to be well argued. This Government has failed on both fronts. They will not tell us exactly what the problem is and they have not constructed their bill to specifically address these problems.

Mr Speaker, my amendment to the second reading is to leave out everything after the word 'That' and insert instead the following: 'the bill now be read a second time'; and, '(2) the House calls on the member for Lyons, John Tucker MP, to absent himself from any vote on the bill as has he has a conflict of interest.'

I have moved an amendment on the second reading to remove Mr Tucker from this vote because it cannot be argued that he does not have a material interest in the outcome of this vote.

Mr Tucker is in the court facing the Tasmanian Conservation Trust over a forest practices plan that approved the logging of 1800 hectares of biodiverse, carbon-rich, globally unique forest at Ansons Bay. The Tasmanian Conservation Trust is in court this week to save those forests and without the TCT's intervention this forest will be bulldozed and burnt to make way for cattle pasture. Permitted clearing for agriculture has gradually reduced to around 600 hectares per day per year over the last decade in Tasmania and the scale of this clearing is well against this modernising trend in Tasmania. The TCT calculates that burning the forest would release almost 690 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. That is equivalent to 150 000 cars driven for a year.

Mr SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, before you go any further, the issue is that the amendment you put forward is out of order in the sense that it is not dealing with the issues. Standing Order 170 deals with the issue of a member who has voted and the House wants to deal with that post the vote. So I have to deem your amendment out of order in that there are processes within the Standing Orders that deal with this once the member has voted.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay, Mr Speaker, so the clock has just restarted for me. Does that mean that this is not an amendment I can speak to? There is no question in the Greens' minds that Mr Tucker should not vote on this bill because he has a direct material interest in its outcome.

Mr SPEAKER - With the amendment out of order the clock will just revert back to your original contribution time and your contribution on the second reading, so that is not lost.

Ms O'CONNOR - I encourage members of the Opposition to have a look at this because Mr Tucker told us this morning he is going to exercise his right to vote and will be voting on legislation that retrospectively validates every forest practices plan authorised since 1985. He is now before the court -

Mr Barnett - That is not true.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, it is true. He is now before the court relating to a forest practices plan that was given over his property at Ansons Bay which, if it is logged, will lead to a massive climate crime. He is conflicted in this debate and should not be allowed to vote. It does not pass the pub test. He is not just part of a broad class of persons as defined under the Standing Orders. He is a very significant farmer and landowner on the north-east coast who has a forest practices plan which has been brought into question and which is now subject to legal action.

If this legislation passes, does that not mean that Mr Tucker's forest practices plan would no longer be invalid and could not be challenged? Would that not potentially change the outcome of the court case? Am I an idiot? That sounds to me prima facie like a direct conflict of interest on Mr Tucker's part. Shame on him, first of all for wanting to clear-fell that beautiful patch of forest, because he is only a custodian of it. Shame on him for contributing to an unsafe climate. Shame on him for thinking he does not have a conflict of interest in the outcome of this legislation.