Speech - Senate Chamber - Tasmanian Timber Workers

By leave, I move: That the Senate take note of the letter from the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.

The coalition has a very proud and long history of supporting timber workers, especially Tasmanian timber workers.

So when the Greens, through their increasingly faltering leader, moved their ill considered motion asking about Coalition support for the Tasmanian timber industry, we on the Coalition side were of course very happy to oblige and support the motion.

The President of the Senate rightly communicated the motion to me. I responded by indicating:

Coalition Senators would be delighted to comply with the terms of the motion and seek an early allocation of Senate time to ensure the Senate's wishes in this matter are fulfilled in a timely fashion, please table this response, and we seek your advice as to a suitable allocation of time.

Guess what? Labor and the Greens, having supported this motion, have still not come up with a suitable allocation of time for us to be able to discuss this issue in this place.

The Greens' motion is right, to a certain extent. The excellent stewardship of the Tasmanian timber sector by the coalition does need to be told, and I look at Senator Macdonald, who had stewardship for many years. The coalition has a proud record and we are more than happy to talk about it.

But where the Greens motion fails, like its leader, is in the pathetic and disingenuous attempt to pin on the coalition, somehow, the loss of jobs in that sector in 2011, three years after we lost office and one year after the Labor-Greens alliance got their fingers on the levers of government.

I agree with the Greens: our stewardship was good, indeed very good, especially under Senator Macdonald. But to ask that our good legacy somehow should be able to protect the industry and reach forward for three years and more to protect people against the onslaught of the Labor-Greens alliance was expecting too much even from us, the coalition.

The fact they thought we might be able to do that was kind of them, but even good coalition policies cannot protect an industry, or the budget for that matter, from the wrecking policies of a Labor-Greens alliance.

The Coalition's support of the timber industry in Tasmania saw the integrated Southwood plant. It saw the Ta Ann plant in southern Tasmania and in Smithton, a plant the Greens now demonstrate against using the tag of it being 'Malaysian'. One wonders why they have to use that tag, but it might hark back to the previous motion that they will always try to play that particular card. But what is the evil of Ta Ann? Ta Ann are now converting re-growth logs that used to go to woodchip into peeler logs and veneer. If ever there were a value-add to a low-priced timber, it is this. So, what do the Greens do? They chain themselves to the ships that export this veneer. They chain themselves to trucks and try to denigrate the reputation of Ta Ann.

But that is what the Greens always do. They say they want downstream processing. Well, we delivered funds for that to occur. What do the Greens do? They demonstrate against it. But in their motion the Greens, surprisingly, ask us for an explanation as to the closure of woodchip mills in 2011. Guess which woodchip mill closed in 2011: the Triabunna woodchip mill that Senator Brown's mate bought. You know the mate, the one who gave him $1.6 million in donations. Then, Gunns finally sold to Senator Brown's donor at $6 million below the going price. When a consortium of Tasmanian timber industry bodies got together to try to buy this mill for $16 million, they were gazumped by these greens, Mr Wood and Ms Cameron, at a price $6 million below the asking price.

Why the quickness? Well, we now know, don't we? It was because Senator Brown's mate agreed not to operate this woodchip mill until such time as Gunns got compensation for exiting native forests. It was a commercial decision Gunns took of their own volition some time ago.

So here we have the spectre of the Australian Greens actually supporting taxpayers money going to Gunns. Why would that be the case? Because as part of the deal Gunns said, 'You cannot operate Triabunna until we get taxpayer funding.' So we have the bizarre spectacle of the Greens in Tasmania and the Greens up here in Canberra cooperating, and I must say, Senator Feeney, it is disappointing to see Federal Labor and State Labor agree to this, agreeing that taxpayers money will now go to Gunns.

Gunns will now get a lot more money than if they were to sell the Triabunna woodchip mill for $16 million. But as we were told by Mr Wood he saw his donation to the Greens as a good investment, and yes it is paying off to the tune of $6 million here, and Senator Brown said in response to the donation that he would be 'forever grateful'.

But despite the efforts of the Greens and Labor the industry now needs the injection of $276 million in an attempt to close it down, to buy it out. So if you want to complain, as the Greens did, about our support to the tune of $240 million, the Greens are there to the tune of $276 million, not to enhance the industry but to close down an environmentally sustainable, wealth-creating, jobs-rich industry. I ask the Greens, as I did on Q&A the other night: tell me of a country that does forestry better than Tasmania and Australia? And we never get an answer. The reason is that there is no such country.

We have a very proud record in this area. When they close down Tasmania's native forest industry they can sit proudly by knowing that the timber needs of Australia are now no longer being supplied from within Australia but from South-East Asia and the Pacific Islands, whose record on forestry is so much superior to that of Australia! That is why I say to my friends in the Labor Party, 'Be very careful when you join up with the Greens.'


About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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