SUSTAINABLE FORESTS TIMBER AMENDMENT (TIMBER HARVESTING SAFETY ZONES) BILL 2022

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (16:46): Well done, Acting Speaker. Even the actual Speaker cannot get that one right most of the time. I have made a big impression in my eight years here obviously.

A member: Not memorable.

Mr D O’BRIEN: No, clearly not. It actually is a pleasure to rise to speak on the Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022 because it is the first time since I have been in the Parliament with the Labor government here that we have actually seen something that supports our timber industry, and that is a good thing. That is absolutely a good thing. We are supporting this legislation, the Liberals and Nationals, led by our Nationals leader, the member for Murray Plains, as the shadow minister on this. But this is a good piece of legislation to try and put an end to the outrageous protest action that has been consistently hampering the harvesting activities in our native forest sector for many years now and has only got worse in recent times. I would say that this is the exception that proves the rule. I guess the government does not care about our forestry sector, because it is actually closing it down. So let us be aware of that: it is in fact closing down the native timber harvesting sector, and this is but a small thing on the way to improve it for our workers.

Just on that point, I want to just take up some of the speakers opposite, the member for Hawthorn in particular, who talked about how plantations are the future. Well, they may well be under the government’s policy, but the reality is that there are not the plantations in the ground for us to transition to. That is a fact that after a couple of years of talk the various ministers—Minister Symes and the current Minister for Agriculture—have ultimately acknowledged: that they have not got the timber in the ground. In terms of actually having a policy—and, again, the member for Hawthorn talked about this—and having a strategy and a plan, this government allocated $110 million to new plantations in the Latrobe Valley in the 2017 budget, and it still has not put a single extra new tree in the ground. The best it has done is replace what was already plantation land—500 hectares—which is about a couple of days of supply for the Australian Paper mill at Maryvale. It has not done anything with that $110 million. I have been asking about this at every Public Accounts and Estimates Committee inquiry, and still there has been no announcement as to what is happening with it.

However, I do say that the government’s decision is a good one with respect to this bill in bringing in these stronger penalties for protest action. The member for Eildon talked about the black wallaby actions, where camouflage protesters run in and out to disrupt a harvesting operation. There are tree sits, where they literally set up on the road or elsewhere to stop logging activity from occurring. And of course there are the lock-ons, which are also addressed in this legislation.

But I want to address particularly the comments and the position of the Greens on this legislation. The Greens and green activist groups will say that this legislation is about stopping protests. Indeed the member for Brunswick said this is about stopping freedom of expression and ‘human rights’. The member for Brunswick also went on to say that this was ‘authoritarianism’. I do not remember the Greens standing up and worrying about authoritarianism when police were out there firing rubber bullets on protesters last year. It only seems to suit him when it suits their green argument. The notion that this is somehow stopping freedom of expression and human rights is absolute tosh. All this does is stop you from getting into a logging coupe and stopping those workers going about their legitimate business. You can stand out the front, exactly as—what are they called—Extinction Rebellion did on Tuesday, and protest in front of the Parliament. You can protest near the coupe, within 150 metres of it. The notion that this stops someone’s right to protest is just rubbish, and the Greens stand condemned for peddling this false truth on this particular legislation. It is ridiculous.

I would just like to add some of the other comments made by the Greens. The member for Brunswick, who has come in to listen—I hope he actually does listen—talked about this being a bad decision when we are facing a climate emergency. I go to a statement by the Leader of the Greens actually, who said that protecting the carbon stored in Victoria’s forests was essential climate action. Well, do the Greens not understand that when you cut a tree down and turn it into timber you do not let all the carbon disappear into the atmosphere? It is stored in the timber, and then you grow it again. And young trees absorb more carbon, so it is actually good for the environment. Indeed do not take my word for it, it is not just me that says this; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its 2019 report:

… 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.

Well, there you have it. The IPCC says a sustainable forest industry harvesting timber for use by humans is actually going to be good for mitigation. I go on to again that statement from the Greens leader, who put in a quote that says, ‘Victoria is the most cleared state in Australia’. Well, that again just shows the Greens do not understand this. Native forest harvesting in Victoria is not about clearing, it is forestry. It is regenerative; they plant it again and it grows back. Clearing is what has happened over recent centuries where, certainly, land has been cleared for agriculture and the like. Native forestry is not clearing. So the Greens stand condemned for not understanding this issue and for peddling a lot of mistruths on it. The government at last has actually done something to support our timber industry workers in Gippsland and elsewhere. They stand condemned, though, for their actions in shutting down this industry. I am very proud to support this piece of legislation.

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