Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (18:49): I am pleased that I had the agreement of the member for Burwood to cut his contribution a bit short, because I fear he might have embarrassed himself more if he continued on.
Mr D O’BRIEN: I was going to be generous, but after that contribution—for a start I am actually going to mention the bill a couple of times and speak on the actual issue that we are discussing here. I have been paying attention to this debate so far on the Conservation, Forests and Lands Amendment Bill 2022 because this is an industry that I am passionate about. It is one of the reasons I came into this place: to fight for country people and to fight for industries like the timber industry against the swathe of misinformation and untruths that are told about them. The intent of this bill is correct, and that is why we are not opposing it. We have some concerns about whether it will actually achieve its aims and whether it in fact gives too much power to the minister, which as some of my colleagues previously have said could be used for nefarious purposes, not good ones. The bill itself, I think, is potentially positive if it does achieve the aim of trying to give certainty.
Plenty of members previously have talked about certainty and giving certainty to the industry. I tie that into the concept of the precautionary principle that has been mentioned and that is crucial to this debate about making sure that the timber industry can go about harvesting in a way that is as environmentally sound as it can be.
When I was the CEO of the National Irrigators Council the precautionary principle was being applied to the Murray-Darling Basin. I mentioned certainty. One of my members at the time said with respect to the Murray-Darling Basin plan, ‘Yes, we want certainty, but we don’t want certain death’. This is very pertinent to this legislation too, as is the precautionary principle, which provides:
… if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.
And that is true. If we had a single forest estate that we were harvesting, we would need to apply a very, very precautionary principle to it to make sure that we did protect our biodiversity and that we had representative protection. But the reality is that in Victoria we have 8.05 million hectares of public land. More than 4.2 million hectares of that land is dedicated already to conservation areas in the form of national parks and other conservation reserves. The remaining 3.2 million is in state forest, and only about 0.45 per cent is available at any given time for commercial harvesting. And more importantly, only 3000 hectares, or about 0.04 per cent, of public land is actually harvested in any given year. About 94 per cent of Victoria’s forests are not able to be harvested, and very, very few—about four in 10 000—trees in any given year are actually harvested, and they are of course replanted.
So when we are applying the precautionary principle we need to understand that our forests are largely already protected and the tiny area that we actually log is also being done applying the precautionary principle. This bill is aimed at trying to reduce the lawfare that we have seen from green groups who are intent on shutting down the industry before the government does. There is no question. You might have thought they would think, ‘We’ve won. The government’s going to shut down the industry’, but no, they have gone even harder ever since then.
I want to talk a little bit about some of the contributions that have been made by previous members. I am not even going to go to the member for Burwood; he was by no means the most egregious. But the member for Bendigo West—I heard this and I was absolutely astounded; I thought I might have misheard—talked about bushfires and said that it is frightening how many trees we have lost and that they do not regenerate after bushfires. This is the level of debate we have got in this place: the member for Bendigo West does not realise that the trees grow back. Indeed the entire Victorian mountain ash resource is based on regrowth from the 1939 Black Friday bushfires. That is what happens. The bush comes through, it burns and it grows back.
The member for Bendigo West, the member for Bass, and I will mention again the member for Burwood, and many others talked about how we are doing this transition to plantations. It has been proven time and time again now that it is a complete sham. Others over there have used the ministerial talking points that talk about the $110 million provided for plantations in the Latrobe Valley. In 2016 that money was provided—2016—and there is still not a single extra acre of new plantation in the Latrobe Valley or indeed anywhere in Gippsland.
Just recently the minister went and unveiled some works at the Gelliondale Nursery for HVP, in my electorate, and we heard then that VicForests has bought land at Stradbroke. What have they planted? They have planted Pinus radiata—pine trees, pulp. Not hardwood, not native forests, not blue gum even but Pinus radiata, which is going to be pulp for Australian Paper. This idea that we are transitioning to plantations is a complete sham. It is just as shambolic as the claim—I heard the member for Eltham say it and I heard the member for Bass say it—that only Labor is supporting workers. Frankly, that is offensive.
It reminded me of the Orwellian press release issued by the government, when they made the decision to shut down the native timber industry, on 7 November 2019. It was headlined ‘Securing the future for forestry industry workers’. An announcement about shutting down the native timber industry was headlined ‘Securing the future for forestry industry workers’. I just say: what a scam that is. For those members to say that they are supporting the workers is astounding. They should have been at the Heyfield Timber Festival a couple of weeks ago, where there were blue-collar workers and their families and members of the CFMEU telling us what we all know in country areas, particularly in timber harvesting areas—that the Labor Party has completely forgotten its roots when it comes to this and is more interested in the inner-city area
To that point, I do not want to miss the Greens on the way through. We heard the member for Melbourne talking about this bill, and she made a number of claims that I want to actually address. First of all, she said that this is a bill to allow logging to be easier at a cost to biodiversity.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Settle): Order! The level of conversation in the house is too high.
Mr D O’BRIEN: Thank you, Acting Speaker. She said that this will come at a cost to biodiversity, but again, as I said earlier, the member for Melbourne completely misunderstands that 94 per cent of our forests are not available for logging. That is the biodiversity; that is the representative reserve system that we have. Secondly, she said logging is bad for the climate. I quote from the IPCC’s report in 2019. It says:
In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.
That is the IPCC saying if you manage your forest, if you produce timber, you store carbon in that timber. That just highlights the idiocy of the Greens—that they simply do not understand this. And finally, she said logging costs taxpayers money and that VicForests is losing money. Well, the Auditor-General said in 2013 in a report titled Managing Victoria’s Native Forest Timber Resources, on page 45:
VicForests does not receive any government subsidies.
I come back to the issue that this bill is actually trying to address, and that is the issue of green lawfare that is trying to hamstring VicForests and hamstring the industry. The member for Melbourne says that logging is costing taxpayers money. Yes, VicForests in 2021 made a $4.7 million loss. Guess what its legal fees in 2021 were: $4.8 million. So there were $4.8 million in legal fees, and we have almost exactly the same figure for a loss. So it is just absurd to say and it is wrong to say that logging costs Victorian taxpayers money. VicForests has a dual role, and its role is to return funds to the state but also to support regional areas with the jobs that it creates. It is just ridiculous, frankly, to be talking about biodiversity—with due respect to her—the member for Melbourne, with the most asphalt, concrete, glass and buildings. It is just extraordinary. This is an industry that deserves our support. I will support it every day that I am in this place.