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Forest Practices Amendment (Validation) Bill 2022

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Tags: Native Forest Logging, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, I will start my contribution by saying how very disappointed I am that this was the new Premier Rockliff's first bill of his parliament. Premier Rockliff is on the record for recognising the importance of climate change action, but he has made the focus of this week these two bills, because presumably we will have that noxious anti-protest legislation before us on Thursday; that is what seems likely given it was dumped in front of us today.

What we have are two bills, both of which are entirely in opposition to climate action. In a climate crisis we cannot continue to justify native forest logging by any measure. You cannot continue to expect that people will not peacefully stand up and do everything they can to prevent the unlawful activities of this Government, the criminal activities of logging carbon which has been standing for hundreds of years, centuries, continuing to store the gas which we are emitting into the atmosphere at ever greater levels. Globally, we are not doing what we have to be doing to reduce emissions. Emissions continue to increase despite making a commitment in 2015 to reducing them. It is at a critical level. That is why people will continue to do everything they can to defend our right to live in a safe climate.

We cannot look away from the devastation that has just happened in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. We cannot forget the incineration of more than three billion native animals. I had to remind myself of that figure because I had written down three million native animals and I realised I had written the wrong thing. The scientists' estimation is more than three billion native animals, species already on the brink of extinction. We are yet to understand whether they have survived but we do know that we have tipped over into a new world and that climate heating is accelerating. The consequences of that, the volatility in our system, is being expressed every day around the planet and will continue to be felt in our country of Australia and particularly in our beautiful island of Tasmania.

In the context of the ecosystem decade on restoration and a biodiversity crisis, which is the reason we are scrambling to restore all the natural land systems we possibly can, it is really staggering that Premier Rockliff has chosen to spend the first week back in parliament looking at these two bills. At least the anti-protest bill is on the books. We know there has been a global recognition of the importance of forests, a global understanding of their critical value in storing carbon and protecting the climate from increasing amounts of greenhouse gases and a global commitment through the Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use to halt and reverse forest loss and degradation.

The statement of that meeting in the United Kingdom in 2021 reads, 'We urge all leaders to conserve, protect and restore forests'. I do not need to remind the House but I will remind people who are watching and will read this later that our Australian Government signed that commitment last year with other world leaders to conserve and protect forests. We agreed to progress an end to land clearing, we agreed to retrain and redeploy forestry workers and we agreed to look at the planning systems that enable the degradation of land, the land clearing.

Mr Tucker, the member for Lyons, should not be in this place, should not be in the Chamber now, let alone voting on this bill as he has a material interest in the bill. He seeks to clear more than 1800 hectares of native forests, of which 491 hectares are threatened Eucalyptus ovata communities, communities which are essential for the dwindling forests that support quolls, Tasmanian devils, swift parrots and many other species in Tasmania. It is an obscene amount of land clearing that we have not seen the likes of in Tasmania for decades.

The insanity surrounding this bill is that there are people, dinosaurs, who continue to think the world is theirs to play with, that self-interest reigns and that we live in a system that will continue to support material self-interest at the expense, not only of other people and animals who are here today, but people and animals into the future. What we do makes a difference, which is why we are here and why the Greens do not support this bill.

We cannot support this bill because we have listened to the science and to the scientists, to the children and young people on the Youth Advisory Council, we have listened to the Doctors for the Environment and we have listened to the nurses and all the other people at the frontline of the mental health crisis who understand that people in Australia and Tasmania want an end to the madness which continues to allow native forest logging in Tasmania. It continues to pretend that we can release the carbon from our forests that has been sitting there, stored, for hundreds of years.

A fantastic new piece of research released in Environmental Research Letters, by Mackey, Moomaw, Lindenmayer and Keith titled 'Net Carbon Accounting and Reporting are a Barrier to Understanding the Mitigation Value of Forest Protection in Developed Countries' makes it clear in scientific evidence what I have been talking about. It says that although international climate policy and agreement, such as the Glasgow Declaration I mentioned, in the land sector recognises that forest protection as a greenhouse gas and mitigation strategy must occur, this is not being recognised, particularly in developed countries, because of the relationship between capital and natural assets extraction.

We see presidents like Bolsonaro being an obvious international pariah. Mr Barnett, the minister for forestry, should also be an international pariah. He has been a minister of the Crown who has been overseeing unlawful logging during his time as that minister. The Government has been actively overseeing this. Both the Labor and Liberal governments together, since 1985, have been overseeing the unlawful logging, clear-felling of native forests in Tasmania.

Old forests matter. Another lie constantly perpetrated in this place is that old forests, new forests, baby trees, ancient trees are all the same. There is also the lie that trees stop storing carbon. That was dispatched in 2014 in the journal Nature. Clear research shows that the biggest trees increase their growth rates and sequester more carbon as they age. That research included Eucalyptus regnans and showed those ancient trees can continue to store huge amounts of carbon as they age. They liken the false myth that juvenile trees store more carbon to the idea that in the anthropocentric focus of our understanding of trees, humans grow fast as children and then we slow down. Trees, it seems, do not do that. We know this from tree ring records which go back hundreds, even thousands, of years. The extraordinary growth of eucalyptus forests are an essential part of carbon storage. As they age they increase the amount of carbon, so our old forests are critically important to retaining not just carbon for Tasmania but for the whole planet.

Professor David Lindenmayer said:

It's been a remarkable achievement for Tasmania to become net carbon negative because this is what we actually understand.

We hear a lot about carbon neutral but not carbon negative. It is one of the first times on the planet that anybody has ever shown this kind of reversal from carbon positive to carbon negative. That is Tasmania. That is a fantastic situation, but something the Government never drills down into the reasons for. That is because of the uncomfortable truth.

The authors of the paper make it very clear that this happened, according to their research, in 2011-12. That was the tipping point. What happened in 2011 and 2012? The ABC did a neat time line of what happened to cause that tipping point, where we moved from being a carbon producer to being a carbon storer as a state, and is the reason why we now have a net carbon negative status - one of the only places in the world that has that.

It is because the clear-felling of our native forests slowed down. The reason it slowed down was because there was a significant drop in native forest logging. That drop came about because of the demise of Gunns Limited. It went into administration in 2012 after a long period of corrupted practices, illegal practices and enormous amounts of public monies that were hoovered up over decades by the native forest logging industry in Tasmania. That company made merry for many years. It was only after the Labor Government, Paul Lennon and his secret talks with John Gay, who was then chair of Gunns Limited, about the Tamar Valley Pulp Mill that it all started to come unhinged. Let us not forget when the independent assessment of the pulp mill committee had been interfered with by the Labor premier of the day. They wanted it to go ahead, come what may, and Christopher White, who was the retired Supreme Court judge who was the chair of committee, was told by Paul Lennon to speed up or be sped up. It was pretty clear that there was never going to be an independent process for the Tamar Valley pulp mill, it was just going to be an opportunity for that company to make vast rivers of money at the expense of our native forests. Thanks to the peaceful protests, the people of the Tamar region, the Wilderness Society and the Conservation Trust and all the other groups who stood up, Tasmanians overall were absolutely outraged at this attempt to take every last stick of forest in the state away and put it into a dirty, stinking pulp mill.

It fell over, Mr Speaker. John Gay was found to be the criminal man that he was and, when Greg Lestrange took over, Gunns went into freefall. This is the sort of disgusting, abusive, corrupt practices which have continued and continue today, where we have ministers making unlawful approvals for leases for MMG. The minister was caught out with that one. A total of 35 people were unlawfully, illegally arrested, and we have protesters who stood up for the Eastern Tiers, the Wentworth Hills, where 23 people were arrested, and that case was thrown out of court because there was no evidence because the basis for their arrest was also not lawful.

This Liberal Government has form in continuing the practices that the Labor government made themselves expert in over decades, and that is doing everything possible to continue the logging of Tasmania's wild and carbon-rich forests. It was only because of the Greens in government that we finally got an end to this with the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, which was to be a peace deal and a pact for all Tasmanians to move on from our divisive history, for conservationists, along with foresters and forest communities, to seek to build a future looking at how we can manage our forests for the future, how we can manage our forests to be safe for communities that live near them under a heating climate and the continuing threat of bushfires. These are really important things that this Government could be focusing on, but instead it is focused on trying to lock up peaceful protestors and trying to continue apace native forest logging.

We know that children like Harriet O'Shea, who was with Bob Brown and others in the Wentworth Hills in late 2020, is a climate strike organiser - that is why she was there - and she understands the importance in a wildlife emergency, in a climate crisis, to protect forests like those in the Wentworth Hills. She is just one of many people who have continued to stand up and defend these places and they will not stop. The minister and this Premier need to understand that you can bring bills like this to parliament, but we have cases in court at the moment, we have the land clearing - the outrageous 1804 hectares of land proposed to be cleared by Mr Tucker at Ansons Bay. Let us not forget how big that area is in case people do not understand, it is something like a rectangle 4 km long on one side and 4.5 km long on another side. It is not going to be replanted with a forest, it is going to be cleared for pasture.

Do you know what that means, Mr Speaker? When you log an intact forest you dry out the area dramatically, you remove the moist forest and it gets replaced with a dried landscape. That affects not just that area, but everything else around it. It increases the drying in an already dry east coast. Mr Tucker would not onlky be having an impact on the endangered species in the forest area and the [??? 4:15:54] community, but on the local climate for all of these neighbours. I wonder if he thinks about that. These are the sorts of impacts we have to be aware of. We have to do what we can in our short lives to effect a change which is good for other people and children into the future.

We do not support this sort of naked attempt to feather one person's nest at the expense of threatened species and our climate. We do not support the continued logging of our native forests, like the Franklin Forest in the south of Tasmania, just one small area of beautiful native forest which has become so beloved by the local community that it has people there every weekend. I spoke to someone in Cygnet who was taking groups of people through just last weekend showing photographs of the fungus and the nursery logs which are growing new rainforest species. These are the places Tasmanians love and they will not be stopped from loving them. The genie is out of the bottle. We know what we have here is really special, we understand that it is different to anywhere else in the world and we really understand the importance in a climate crisis of doing everything we can to keep the carbon in the ground.

Just to complete the story about why Mr Tucker should not be in the Chamber for this vote, it seems Mr Tucker was a member of a concerned farmers' group who apparently lobbied pretty heavily against the threatened nature vegetation communities amendments to the Nature Conservation Act and the Forest Practices Act. These were mentioned in the Hansard debate. This obviously shows that there has been a long history of self-interest when it comes to Ansons Bay. That is exactly why it is completely inappropriate that somebody who has a forest practices plan that is being challenged in the court today should be in this Chamber voting on legislation that is seeking to unstitch the problems that have been in the legislation about the authority of the forest practices plans that have been assessed, certified and approved in the past since 1985. Mr Tucker's is just one example of so many forest practices plans that it seems were approved, presumably unlawfully.

The minister claims that the words that have been used in the instrument of delegation 'could' be interpreted as fettering powers, but then at the same time he assures us that is not the interpretation that is intended. If that is the case then why does the act need changing at all? Why don't we just adjust the words of the instrument of delegation, as well as a validating amendment? Why are we here? What is this about? Why is the minister being so untransparent, so deliberately murky in his language? I assume it can only be because he does not want to be on the record for providing ammunition for yet more court cases. There are a large number of them. More will come, by the way, minister. There will be more people standing up and prepared to get arrested if that is what it takes to stop the bulldozers going in and clear-felling native forests. People will not sit down and stay in their chairs and remain comfortable when we are in a situation where we have just eight short years before we reach a tipping point - and that is an extremely conservative estimate.

We do not accept the legitimacy of Mr Tucker voting on this bill. We do not accept the need for the bill at all has been demonstrated by the minister; it is completely unclear. We challenge him to give the actual words that he is talking about instead of referring to them in purposely euphemistic language. It seems his job here today is to do everything possible to avoid letting us know why we are here debating this bill in the first place. It is either not necessary and there is no problem, nothing to see here and everything that has happened since 1985 is fine, or there was a problem and he is going to fix it and the problem needs to be outlined so that we can understand what it is we are voting on.

As it is, I do not understand what the minister is asking us to vote on. I am certainly not going to give my vote as the member of Franklin to something that is so deliberately deceptive. It is a cynical treatment of parliament. It is more of this minister's, frankly, unlawful - is a kind way of putting it. He cannot lie straight. I think he should feel ashamed of the fact that he is trying to cloud this in some legitimacy when it has none.