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South West Forests Grievance

Adele Carles with daughter Claudia in Arcadia Forest.

Extract from Hansard – Thursday 24th March 2011

MS A.S. CARLES (Fremantle) [9.51 am]: I rise today to call on the Minister for Forestry to end the logging of native forests in this state. I acknowledge the conservationists here today, people who have spent years fighting for the preservation of our native forests. I also acknowledge the members of the Preston Environment Group, led by Peter Murphy, who are travelling here today by bus from the south west to place the spotlight on the plight of Arcadia Forest, a beautiful native forest near Bunbury that is due to be logged this year.

With the national debate focused on the role of carbon and carbon pricing, now is the time to assess the real value of Western Australia’s native forests. Now is the time to acknowledge the true work and value of our living native forests, for only then will we understand that they are worth more alive than dead. Climate change is happening, our planet is warming, and there is no serious scientific disagreement with this. We need to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere if we are to solve this, and the role our native forests can play in this cannot be underestimated. Whether we are interested in the environment or in the bottom line, we can no longer ignore the role our native forests play in mitigating climate change impacts.

The important Australian National University 2008 report “Green Carbon”, which I have referred members to previously in this place, found that native forests are more resilient to climate change than plantations because of their genetic biodiversity. Basically, the bigger the tree and the older the tree, the more carbon it stores. A forest is more than a group of trees; it is an entire ecosystem that has developed over time, including undergrowth, flora and fungi, insects and wildlife and the microclimates that contribute to rainfall and groundwater replenishment. This cannot be replaced by a fast-growing monoculture plantation. The scientific evidence is growing and compelling. Our native forests are uniquely valuable.

It is the sound scientific evidence that we should be using as a basis for government decision making on the future of our native forests, not the business-as-usual model of previous decades that is failing us. If we do not wake up to the science soon, we may lose our opportunity to act, and what a travesty for the next generation that would be.

It is almost eight years since the forest management plan was developed to provide for the so-called sustainable management of this industry, yet it cannot be shown that logging native forests has been of any real value, both economically or environmentally. Indeed, the Conservation Commission warned during the 2009 audit that the original assumptions were not keeping pace with science and that a sustainable future for this industry could well remain an elusive and unrealistic objective at a time when the world faces carbon constraints and severe climate threats.

Our south west forests and the animals that live in them are under threat—threat from the impacts of climate change, reduced rainfall, pests and diseases, logging, mining, salinity, burning and clearing. Diseases such as dieback are infecting our forests and there is an urgent need to quarantine areas not yet affected by this disease. The forest management plan has failed to protect biodiversity and has failed to manage these threats as more and more animals are now facing extinction. The FMP is a document that is showing its age. Vital new information has become available that radically changes the original assumptions of the FMP. Climate change has led to dramatically reduced rainfall in the south west. In a frightening development reported in the media only last week, some towns in the south west are now relying on trucked water to top up their supplies. This continual drying pattern is having significant impacts on the south western forests and the ecosystems they support. More species are threatened and facing extinction and this new information should spark an immediate reconsideration of the current FMP. Minister, the focus of forest management in WA must be on restoration and protection.

I turn briefly to cost arguments. Although many of us have long suspected that the Forest Products Commission is running at a loss, last June at a budget estimates committee hearing, the minister himself described the finances as being in a parlous state, to say the least. The FPC will not pay any dividends to the government in 2010–11 or 2011–12. The accounts for the year ending 30 June 2010—the latest accounts—show that the FPC annual loss before government grants and subsidies is more than $24 million. That is right. The FPC is currently carrying a loss of $24 million and that is before we know the impact of Gunns’ exit from the industry in February. The FPC’s biggest customer has walked away. How ironic that even Gunns could not make a profit out of native forest logging. When will the FPC wake up? This industry is not sustainable, minister.

The finances of the FPC are in disarray and clearly show that taxpayers are bailing out the logging industry to the tune of millions and millions of dollars, from the massive $160 million industry bailouts 10 years ago to the present day. Enough is enough, minister. It is time for the rorts to finish and it is time for our precious native forests to be properly valued. We need to wake up to the science and adopt a new carbon accounting method in WA. If we do this, we will soon see that we cannot afford to cut down our native forests. I am sure that the irony is not lost on members in this place. WA taxpayers are subsidising the destruction of our greatest natural assets, our native forests.

I return, minister, to Arcadia Forest, just near Bunbury and the bus load of people who are spending today coming to Parliament to try to get the minister’s attention. They are coming up here from the south west in the hope that the minister will finally listen to them. They know that Arcadia Forest cannot speak for itself, so they are coming to spend their day to speak for it. They want the trees, which provide habitat for the rare mainland quokka, to be protected. Is that really such a tall order, minister; is it really such a big deal? Many of these people have fought for 20 years to protect Arcadia and have not received any concession. Is it not time the minister heard their voices? If we want our south west to retain its beautiful internationally recognised biodiversity, if we want forests to store carbon and provide habitat to numerous species, if we want to encourage tourism, or if we simply want forests to exist as a safe and beautiful place to relax and escape to recharge our batteries in this busy world, we must act now to protect our native forests.

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