Great forest national park

Mr O'SULLIVAN— I move:

That this house —

(1)   opposes the creation of a great forest national park in Victoria;

(2)   notes that the creation of a great forest national park would —

(a)    destroy the timber industry in Victoria;

(b)   result in the loss of up to 40 000 direct and indirect jobs in Victoria;

(c)    significantly increase the threat of bushfires around the outer north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, putting lives and property at risk;

(d)   result in timber products needing to be sourced from countries that do not meet the same environmental and management practices adhered to by Victoria's forest industry; and

(e)    impose substantial additional demand on resources available for existing park management.

The great forest national park is a term that has been thrown around a little too generally in this state. Everyone is referring to the great forest national park as if it already exists. It does not exist, and I get a bit annoyed when I hear people referring to the great forest national park as if it is out there, it is already in operation and people can go to it, as if they can walk up there and they will see a sign at the front saying 'Great Forest National Park' or if you look at a map, you will find an area which is referred to as the 'Great Forest National Park'. You cannot do that; it does not exist. It only exists in the minds of those people who would like to see it exist.

So I am very happy to move this motion today, which opposes the creation of the great forest national park, or whatever park it is. It probably should be referred to as the Central Highlands proposal for a national park, which the Greens, to their credit, have pushed very well and they like to talk about. I understand the reason for doing that, but there are many people who have a different view to that of the Greens. I respect the view that the Greens have, but I would hope that they would also respect others who have a different view to the one they have in relation to the national park.

On 6 December this year all members of Parliament received an email which I am going to quote from; in fact I am going to read out the first two pages of the email that we received. The email came from a group called the Institute of Foresters of Australia (IFA). This is a group based in Macquarie in Canberra. They have done some work in relation to the proposed great forest national park and I want to talk about that for a moment. I am going to read out the first two pages of that email:

Dear member of Parliament

Position on the proposed 'great forest national park'

The Institute of Foresters of Australia (IFA) is the professional body representing over 1000 members who are forest scientists and managers operating in all aspects of forest, natural resource management and conservation in Australia.

Over the decades, foresters have been good stewards of the forested landscape. These forests have yielded a wide range of benefits from timber to honey, from tourism to conservation and from four-wheel driving to firewood. Our members, informed by the science of natural resource management, play a crucial role in shaping the future of sustainable forest and land management for community benefit.

The IFA position is that multiple-use forests in the Victorian Central Highlands offer more public benefit than a huge new national park. We believe that the current mix of public land tenures allows a good balance between conservation and other (multiple) land uses. There is no need to create a 'great forest national park'.

Creation of a new national park is not supported as:

the proposal provides no major additional conservation or biodiversity benefit.

the proposal, without substantial extra investment in fire prevention and maintenance of access, may potentially increase the risk of large, severe bushfires which would have huge impacts on biodiversity, not least on the endangered Leadbeater's possum.

there are already extensive national parks and other permanent reserves in the Central Highlands which, combined, provide a far greater range of community values and material benefits than a single-purpose national park.

around 70 per cent of the region's mountain ash forest (current or potential Leadbeater's possum habitat) is already permanently reserved from timber harvesting.

the proposal would significantly reduce the supply of high-quality eucalypt logs, thus severely damaging the native timber industry that currently contributes $573 million to the Victorian economy.

the proposal would restrict or prevent a number of legitimate public land uses, such as hunting and prospecting, and greatly overestimates additional tourism opportunities.

In summary, the proposal would not optimise social, environmental, biodiversity, economic and public benefit outcomes for the Victorian people.

Note that the IFA supports the current government study into extra plantation development, and the current review of the conservation status of the Leadbeater's possum.

This is signed by Euan Ferguson, the chairman of IFA Victoria. I think that is a pretty reasonable summary of why the establishment of the great forest national park would not be an advantage to Victoria and why in fact it would have a detrimental impact on Victoria in so many ways. I want to touch on some of those today.

The report that was provided by the Institute of Foresters of Australia goes into a lot more detail on each of those aspects, giving extensive scientific detail as to why they have taken the position that they have. Some would say you would expect that from a group that has close links to the forest and timber industry, but I want to read out again what the Institute of Foresters of Australia is actually made up of. It is:

… the professional body representing over 1000 members who are forest scientists and managers operating in all aspects of forest, natural resource management and conservation in Australia.

This is not a group of haulage and harvest contractors; this is a group of people who use science and who work in the natural resource management and conservation area. When they come up with a proposal or say something, they actually back it up with fact. They have done that extensively throughout the report they have provided to us.

One of the things I am always having to debate is when you can apply the science to the actual outcome to come up with a position that can be substantiated. I think that the Institute of Foresters of Australia have done that exceptionally well in this document. In fact I think it is one of the most proficient documents that I have used in terms of a resource element in this area. It provides detailed analysis and reference as to why it comes up with the positions it does.

One of the other aspects of the motion that I have moved today is in relation to jobs that are created in this industry that would be severely impacted. Just recently this chamber of Parliament held an inquiry into the operation of VicForests in terms of its management of Victoria's native timber harvesting. As a part of that we had many people come in from both sides of this debate, but one that has certainly resonated with me was when the CEO of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries, Tim Johnston, came in and presented to us. Mr Johnston, when the question was asked of him, 'What would the creation of a great forest national park mean for employment, for jobs, in Victoria?', said that the forest, fibre and wood products industry directly employs around 21 000 people across the state and indirectly supports another 40 000 to 50 000 jobs through flow-on economic activity. That is a lot of jobs — 21 000 directly employed is a lot — and then the flow-on in terms of all the other supporting industries, supporting jobs and supporting businesses around the whole of Melbourne is a big slab of jobs.

Further, when it was investigated and he was asked questions in relation to that, to the great forest national park being established, he said that that would all go. There would be tens of thousands of people in the unemployment queues because they would be out of a job. If it is 21 000 employed directly and then another 40 000 to 50 000 employed indirectly, that is potentially up to something like 70 000. Even if it is half that, even if it is 35 000, that is a large town in regional Victoria that essentially would just be wiped off the face of the earth in terms of employment.

If we talk to the Greens and others who support the creation of a great forest national park, Sarah Rees, who presented at that same inquiry, said that the creation of the great forest national park would create about 700 jobs. I am not sure about everyone else's maths, but my maths is actually reasonable. We are saying that there are potentially 35 000 people who would be in the unemployment queue, and then there are their families, who rely on them to bring home the money, put a roof over their heads and feed the children. Compare that to creating the great forest national park, which would create 700 jobs. I think that is pretty substantial in terms of the difference. To kill an industry and kill absolutely tens of thousands of jobs to create another national park for just 700 jobs is just absolutely crazy.

Sarah Rees went on to say that creating these 700 jobs and creating the great forest national park would contribute about $70 million to the local economy. Just to go back to what the Institute of Foresters of Australia said, the current native timber industry contributes $573 million to the economy, so you have got a difference of $500 million. It is a $500 million difference between what the current industry provides to the economy and what the creation of a new national park would provide. That absolutely makes no sense on an employment basis and absolutely makes no sense on an economic basis in terms of what a great forest national park would deliver for this state. It would actually take us backwards, and I do not think that anybody wants to go backwards in this state in terms of employment or in terms of economic activity. I would think that even the Greens would agree with that.

Mr Gepp interjected.

Mr O'SULLIVAN— Mr Gepp, who also represents Northern Victoria Region, would certainly agree that we need more economic activity and employment in this part of the world. We might hear a contribution from Mr Gepp later on in this debate.

In terms of the Leadbeater's possum, that is something that I want to talk about this morning as well, because that is certainly an issue that keeps coming up in relation to why a great forest national park should be created. There have been many, many hearings and inquiries where people have made comment about the Leadbeater's possum, and the inquiry into VicForests operations was one of those. I was on that inquiry, and I listened to all the people talk about everything that has been done for the Leadbeater's possum and about what should be done to protect it in the future. I think it is fair to say that everyone agrees that the Leadbeater's possum needs to be protected — and it is. People say that it should be protected more and that we should create a national park to protect it more. I am not sure that that would actually make a difference.

The Leadbeater's possum is certainly being looked after pretty well right now. There is no doubt that in the past it was not protected as well as it should have been, but things have changed. Back in 1999 the possum was listed as a critically endangered species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Back at that time it was probably fair to say that it was pretty scarce, but as we know, the community has evolved, and we have come up with better ways to do things differently to bring a different result. As we know, there has been a lot of effort put into protecting the Leadbeater's possum.

We should also remember that the greatest enemy of the Leadbeater's possum is bushfires. Bushfires wipe out their habitat, and then they have nowhere to live, and the fires probably burn a few Leadbeater's possums along the way as well. One of the most fundamental things we can do to protect the Leadbeater's possum is minimise bushfires. As we know, one of the problems with national parks is that they are harbourers of bushfires. If a bushfire gets going in a national park, they are very, very hard to put out, because quite often we see that the parks are not managed well enough. They have a build-up of fuel load, and once they catch fire they burn very intensively. When they burn so intensively, the old-growth logs that the possums like to live in burn — all those trees that are 100 to 200 years old. They have their habitat in the trees. The trees burn very well, and that destroys the habitat of the Leadbeater's possum.

Since we became more aware of the Leadbeater's possum and its situation, there have been many things undertaken to look after them. One of the things I was involved with when I worked for the Minister for Agriculture was the implementation of exclusion zones — the 200-metre exclusion zones — around the Leadbeater's possum colonies. I remember when we were putting that in place there were about 100 colonies that we were aware of. We said we would have exclusion zones of 200 metres around those colonies, which would give the possums plenty of space to work with. At that time we said, 'When we get to 200 colonies we'll have a review of how this is going'. That was just in the last term of government, only about four or five years ago.

Do you know how many colonies we are up to now? We are now up to 649 colonies. What I find fascinating about this is that there are 649 colonies that we actually know of, because what we also know is that the actual amount of native forest that gets harvested in any given year is about 0.05 per cent of Victoria's forests, so in terms of where that work is done, in actually understanding where those coupes are, we are looking in the areas where the logging actually occurs and that are available for native logging. We are not even considering the 70 per cent of native forest that is not appropriate for logging and that is protected. We are not even looking in those areas. If we were to look beyond where the native timber industry works, I think we would find a whole lot more coupes than just those 649 that we are already aware of.

What we have also come to understand in the last little while is that the possum numbers have increased significantly. At one stage there were reports that possum numbers during the 1980s peaked at about 7500. That is terrific, but we know that they did take a bit of a nosedive after that. In 2014 the species population was estimated to be 11 000 individuals, and that is according to the Leadbeater's Possum Advisory Group numbers. Since then 354 new possum colonies have been discovered. There could be something in the realm of 20 000 individual Leadbeater's possums in the forest out there that we are aware of right now, but I suspect it could be even more than that because, as I said, 70 per cent of the forests have not been looked at in terms of finding where those coupes are. I suspect the numbers of the Leadbeater's possum are much greater than what we know and that they are doing a lot better than we think they are.

As we know, the timber industry go in and do preharvest detection before they do any harvesting of the native timber. We know that as a result of doing that, whenever they find a colony, there is an exclusion zone put around it. The industry work under a whole range of different internal regulations as well as laws and regulations — both state and federal — which give them plenty of regulation to ensure that they are doing everything they can to protect the possum itself. So possum numbers are in good stocks because of all the work that is being done.

There has been a lot of work done by the timber industry itself, by VicForests and other groups, but there has also been some good done by the Greens and other groups who are doing whatever they can to protect the Leadbeater's possum. As we work together — the industry and the people who are trying to protect the possum, as we all are — we are getting a good result for the possum, so I am very pleased to say that that is working. And we should continue to do that. What we need to ensure is that there is a balance and that we can operate a native timber industry in this state which employs tens of thousands of people, which sustains families and local communities and which has a real impact in terms of economic prosperity in this state — some $550 million to $570 million, as we know.

Just going to one of the other aspects of this motion, in relation to the management practices in current national parks and reserves, no-one is against national parks when they are managed properly. One of the things that we see is that they are not managed properly now. There are not enough resources available for national parks to be managed appropriately. They are not managed appropriately. So there is no point creating a new national park, because I do not feel, and I do not think anyone else would feel, that there would be the appropriate resources to maintain it.

When national parks, reserves or whatever they are are not managed properly, that is when they start to become a risk on a whole range of levels. They do not have the proper fire mitigation measures in place. The tracks become overgrown so you cannot get anyone in there even if there is a fire in those areas. Also, the people who might want to walk into these areas cannot get in there because there are not the appropriate facilities, they are not encouraged to or the walking tracks and so forth are overgrown because there is just not the management in place to ensure that that is done as well as it could be. It is a pity to see our natural vegetation and our natural environment not well looked after. As we know, landowners themselves do everything they can to look after our natural environment. Governments also need to do their bit to make sure that it is managed appropriately. We have not got enough resources to look after the parks we have now, and we certainly should not be creating any new ones.

To allow other people to speak on this motion, I repeat that the great forest national park does not stack up on any measure. Financially it would be a drain of about $500 million in lost economy to this state. In terms of employment there are somewhere between 20 000 and 70 000 people who would directly lose their job as a result of this. Even if it is half, even if it is 35 000, that is too many. We could never, ever sustain that. In terms of protecting the Leadbeater's possum, that is happening now better than it has ever happened before. If the numbers of Leadbeater's possums were in a nosedive and they were about to become extinct, I could understand there would be an argument in that direction. That is not the case. The numbers are more healthy than they have ever been, by a factor of two, three or four.

So this motion makes absolute sense — that this house opposes the creation of the great forest national park. The Liberals and Nationals will certainly be voting for this motion, because we think it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing for that part of the world, it is the right thing for employment, it is the right thing for the economy and, very importantly, it is the right thing to do for the protection of the Leadbeater's possum going forward.

Together we can make a difference

Help build a better Ovens Valley

Volunteer Now
Created with NationBuilder