Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Questions without Notice
I direct my question to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Considering that a Supreme Court decision last year stopped VicForests from logging old growth forest at Brown Mountain in East Gippsland because of threats to the endangered long-footed potoroo, the tiger quoll and various frog species, the Victorian government is proposing to change the Code of Practice for Timber Production to allow logging projects to be exempt from the requirements of its Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, which protects endangered and threatened species. Will you act to stop the Victorian government from changing the timber production code, considering the federal government's responsibilities to protect endangered species and preserve biodiversity?
I thank Senator Rhiannon for her question. I know the extent of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is quite broad, but it does not extend so far as to indicate to Victoria. We do have RFA, regional forestry agreement, processes in place to support the timber industry, to ensure that it remains competitive and to ensure that it remains viable. My role in all of that is to ensure that the timber industry remains competitive. In terms of the issues around the environment, it is true to say that even within my portfolio we remain committed to ensuring that we meet all the environmental legislation that is available to us. Minister Burke has responsibility for the environment, under the EPBC Act. If there are areas which require significant protection they would generally fall under Minister Burke's requirement to act. I am not appraised of whether or not the issues surrounding the frogs in Victoria would fall within that ambit. I can take advice. In this instance it would be from Minister Burke rather that from my department, but I will also check within my portfolio as to whether there are issues that would fall within the responsibility of the Victorian government. It does seem that that is a matter for the Victorian government. They have their own strong environmental legislation. I am positive they also have a forestry portfolio that covers the interests of workers and ensuring that the timber industry remains sustainable into the future.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, you made reference to the RFAs. Considering that the agreements rely on the states protecting endangered species, if Victorian endangered species legislation no longer applies fully to logging areas, how will this impact on the RFA process?
I thank Senator Rhiannon for her question. Regional forestry agreements are the primary mechanism for ensuring sustainable management which seeks to balance outcomes covering economic and social matters and the environment, including biodiversity and heritage issues. They are 20-year agreements between the Australian government and the states. They exist in New South Wales and Victoria. In Victoria they sought to ensure there was an independent reviewer's report, which was tabled on 28 September 2010. So they are going through that process of ensuring that the regional forestry agreements do what they set out to achieve—that is, economic, social and environment outcomes. They do continue to be reviewed to make sure that they maintain their continued responsiveness to those issues and, of course, that they meet the requirements of the first and second five-yearly reviews of the five Victorian regional forestry agreements. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Minister, considering that the balance you speak about, between jobs and the environment, clearly has not been achieved, will you acknowledge that there has been a failure of the regional forestry agreements, and commit to move from industrial logging of native forests to plantation resources as a way to protect jobs and to also protect our biodiversity?
We seem to have got to the nub of the issue. The federal government and the states that have signed up to regional forestry agreements are all strong supporters of regional forestry agreements. They are the primary mechanism to ensure that we continue to have a sustainable management which provides that balance for issues which go not only to the environment, including the biodiodiversity, but also those economic issues and the social issues that surround them. There is a five-yearly review of each of those agreements in place. So Victoria has five separate RFAs in process, and they are reviewed. We received, in September, the five-yearly review in respect of the RFA.
I disagree with the import of your question. This government and the Victorian government and the other states and territories highly value regional forestry agreements as a means of ensuring we strike the appropriate balance.