Matters of Public Importance-Great Forest National Park

1 Nov 2017

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I rise to support the creation of the great forest national park, which is discussed in this matter of public importance. This really is, I think, one of the most exciting policy proposals in Victoria — to end logging in our native forests and create the great forest national park. There are so many benefits to this proposal to have a national park on Melbourne’s doorstep for tourism, for sustainable industries, to transition the native forest logging industry to plantations and other industries, to improve our water quality and in fact increase water in our water supply, to tackle the effects of climate change and that massive carbon sink that we know protected native forests would be, to protect our native animals, including our faunal emblem, the Leadbeater’s possum, and of course to reduce the risk of fire through that natural firebreak of rainforests.

I also want to take some time to respond to some of the points raised by other members in their speeches. I will first respond to the member for Yan Yean. It was a bit off topic, but the member for Yan Yean in her contribution accused the Greens of being absent during Black Saturday. At the time a member for Eastern Metropolitan Region was in the gallery. She is a member who represents that area, a member who was a local government councillor for many years, including at the time of the Black Saturday fires, a member who was out in her community at the time of the Black Saturday fires, a member who spent thousands of hours supporting her community after the Black Saturday fires. The Greens did not just visit those communities. The Greens are part of those communities. The member for Yan Yean I am sure can make some time after this debate to go and apologise to that member for Eastern Metropolitan Region and apologise to the Greens for such an outrageous accusation.

The member for Mordialloc and other members raised the matter of jobs — and rightly so, because this is important. We have always been very clear in this regard, that in ending native forest logging and creating the great forest national park, we need a transition plan for timber workers. We need to transition to plantations and we need to invest in those other industries that will support those communities. I remember voting on some legislation to close down the commercial fishing industry in Port Phillip Bay. This government has a record of closing down industries. I understand there was a transition package. It is doable; it can happen.

The reality is that the situation faced by the Heyfield mill workers and those communities is not the fault of the Leadbeater’s possum, and it is not the fault of the environmentalists; it is the fault of successive governments in failing in that transition plan. If you have not had the courage in those previous terms of government or in this term of government to put in place that transition plan to plantations, then you are responsible for the current situation faced by those workers at Heyfield.

Guess what? The Greens have been to Heyfield; we have been to that plant. We do go and speak to those communities, and we do go and speak to those workers. We have been to the factory. Other members know that part of our support for the great forest national park is our support for a transition plan for those affected workers, a transition to plantations and a transition to sustainable industries. Those workers and those communities will be much better off.

The member for Gippsland East suggested that plantations could not supply the necessary timber, yet the industry’s own statistics and figures show that 92 per cent of what is produced is paper, woodchips and sawdust; only 4 per cent is appearance-grade timber. These are industry figures. So to suggest that plantations cannot be used to replace native forest logging is completely untrue.

The other issue that has been raised is fire. If I heard correctly, there was a suggestion that the logging industry is at the front line of fire protection. Here are the facts. A protected rainforest is a natural firebreak, and a natural firebreak can reduce the impact of fires. Those are the facts, and the idea that somehow logging is a natural firebreak is simply untrue; in fact the opposite is true.

A lot has been made by government members of the task force. This was, I think, the policy that the government took to the last election. I do not remember that they had much of an environment policy at the last election —

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — If the member for Essendon will just wait, the Liberal-Nationals coalition did have a policy of no new national parks, so I guess no policy is better than a bad policy. This task force, which has been going for three years, has been exposed for what it really is — political cover for not taking the right decision to create the great forest national park. I really feel for those people who have engaged with that task force in good faith. All we have seen so far — this is my understanding — is a statement to say that the status quo cannot continue, but in actual fact the status quo has continued. Stop using the task force as political cover and get on with creating the great forest national park.

A lot has been made about the Northcote by-election — that this is all about the Northcote by-election. I can assure the member for Ferntree Gully that it is not only in Northcote, but a poll of the residents of Prahran supports the great forest national park. And do not worry, I will be sending out an email to those people as well about their opposition to the great forest national park.

I think that probably detracts from the fact that it is the people in those communities who are supporting the great forest national park. There are people in those communities who are pushing for the great forest national park. That is a fact. The suggestion from the member for Gippsland East that it is us versus them, inner city versus rural, is completely false. In fact the Greens were down there just recently, talking to voters affected by logging in their communities.

I would suggest that it seems to be the season for this government to implement Greens policies. We have seen reform on donations laws, we have seen better rights for renters, we have seen a ban on plastic bags and we have seen a supervised injecting room. There is still time to stop delaying and get on and create the great forest national park. It will bring more jobs, which is better for local economies. It will protect the ecosystem from collapse, increase our water supply, increase our water quality, save the Leadbeater’s possum and other native animals from extinction, reduce carbon emissions, protect our climate and reduce the risk of bushfires. It is for all these reasons.

You have to ask why it has not been done, and the answer is that neither the government nor the opposition are acting in the public interest. They are not acting for the public good; as usual they are acting in favour of vested interests. They are acting in favour of the logging industry, not in favour of the local communities who would benefit so much, not in favour of those workers who need a long-term plan for their futures and certainly not in favour of the environment.

This task force has been exposed as a process that is providing political cover. This government is relying on citizens to do the job for them and identify those protected species that need protecting. This government needs to do their job. They need to do the job that is required, create the great forest national park and stick up for those communities.

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