We are here on Ngunnawal country, and I acknowledge the First Peoples of this land and pay my respects to them. Sovereignty has never been ceded by the peoples of this land nor by the First Peoples of the land I want to take you to. A few hundred kilometres to the south of here are the lands and the forests of the Bidawal, Yuin, Gunaikurnai and Monero Ngarigo peoples in East Gippsland in Victoria. When I was in my 20s I got to know the tall, wet forests and some of the totems of this country really well—incredible animals, including greater gliders, yellow-bellied gliders and powerful owls. These forests shaped me significantly and helped me feel and understand how we all exist as part of the web of life.
In my first speech in this place I recalled my work as an environment campaigner from those years. I said:
I … fell in love with the forests of East Gippsland. I experienced their beauty and learnt everything I could about their ecology; their wildlife; their values for tourism, for water and as carbon stores; and about the impacts and economics of the forest industries.
I became a leader of the East Gippsland forest campaign, working with hundreds of thousands of supporters, and we had some big successes. The wonderful rainforest and huge eucalypts of the Errinundra National Park in the catchment of the Roger River are protected because of our campaigns. But, despite the support of over 80 per cent of the population and despite the significance and value of these forests, neither Labor nor the coalition are willing to commit to protecting them. In my speech I also recalled the first time I visited a forest that had recently been clear felled and burnt on the Errinundra Plateau. It was early 1984, and I said:
I can still vividly picture the smouldering stumps of trees hundreds of years old. These trees would have needed a dozen people arm to arm to encircle them. The forest was destroyed, and I was appalled—not just because of the loss of the forest, the potoroos and spotted quolls, but because it was all so unnecessary. The forests were being logged not because we needed the sawn timber but for export woodchips, with minimal employment in their processing.
I worked as a forest campaigner into the 1990s.
The ongoing sellout and betrayal by the Labor Party and the Liberal Party on forests and the hypocrisy of Labor, who claimed to be concerned about nature, animals, birds, climate, water and First Nations heritage, yet allowed industrial-scale destruction of some of the most biodiverse and carbon-rich environments in the world, were pivotal in my decision to throw myself into being one of the founders of the Greens in 1992. From then on, I kept on campaigning to protect our forests—one of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. Over decades we have campaigned on how destructive, how uneconomic and how illegal logging of our precious native forests is, pointing out that we don't need to log our forests for wood supply, that almost 90 per cent of wood produced in Australia comes from plantations now and that the potential of farm forestry and urban forestry is huge.
Then suddenly, last month, four decades on, things in Victoria changed. The Victorian Labor government announced that native forest logging would end at the end of the year. The announcement has been celebrated across the country. Victoria is joining Western Australia in ending logging at the end of the year, and New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania will be next. The end of logging in Victoria is a victory for all the dedicated grassroots organisations who have been calling for this day for over 40 years. It's a victory for First Nations heritage and culture. It's a victory for the many threatened species and all of the other wildlife that call our forests home. And it's a win for the climate. Logging in Victoria was a huge driver of carbon emissions.
It is genuine progress to see an end to logging in Victoria and Western Australia, but there's so much more to do. We need to end native forest logging in the other states, and this bill ends the regional forest agreements that allow this destructive logging to occur. The alternative, if we don't pass this bill, is that native forest logging continues in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania, with devastating impacts for First Nations communities. When governments heedlessly damage forests through destructive logging, they are destroying First Nations heritage, with devastating impacts on our wildlife. There are over 1,300 plant and animal species that live in forests that are listed as critically endangered or vulnerable, including the critically endangered wollert, or Leadbeater's possum, swift parrots, Tasmanian devils, koalas, long-footed potoroos, gliders, owls, gang-gang cockatoos—the list goes on.
Forests also have incredible benefits for water supply. Logging impacts the quality and the quantity of water available. And protecting our native forests has massive carbon benefits. Native forest logging increases carbon pollution at a time when we need to be doing everything we can to combat the climate crisis. Logging of Tasmania's forests emits almost five tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. In New South Wales, that figure is four tonnes.
We also know that, when we preserve and protect our forests, there are economic benefits across our communities. As part of realising those economic benefits, we have to ensure a just transition for workers and communities out of native forest logging. The Greens have called for greater support for just transitions, including through a national transition authority. Just transition assistance should be provided to communities and workers affected by job transitions, towards sustainable industries. There are so many potential jobs—in plantation based timber, in ecological restoration and in pest animal and weed control, and in tourism. A key part of Australia's appeal in the international tourism market is our reputation as a place where visitors can be inspired by unique ecosystems and see incredible wildlife that is unlike any anywhere else in the world.
Sadly, Labor has been missing in action when it comes to what's needed for protecting our environment. The nature repair market shows how far they've gone wrong. We don't need a green Wall Street; we need urgent, genuine action by government. We need investment in our forests. It's estimated we need to invest in the order of $2 billion a year in ecological restoration to halt the extinction crisis. And we need urgent action on the climate crisis, rather than the half-hearted efforts so far. Our forests are at increasing risk because of our heating planet. We are in a climate emergency, and our forests are on the front line. There is no time left. Who can forget the massive swathes of forest burnt and the two billion animals killed in the Black Summer fires three years ago? With the next drought, the next El Nino event, we can expect to see more—much more—of this devastation. Of course, protecting our forests enables them to keep growing, keep on soaking up and storing carbon and fully contribute to restoring a healthy, safe climate for us all.
In conclusion, I commend this bill to the Senate, but I don't expect it to have the support of either the government or the opposition. Sadly, both parties at the federal level are still back in the Dark Ages, unable to recognise what needs to happen to allow our forests and our wildlife to flourish. But I can tell you that campaigning to protect our forests is going to continue until they are protected. And I know that eventually the federal government will see the light and will follow the lead of communities and the governments of Western Australia and Victoria, and that this bill, or a bill like it, will pass through this place. For the sake of our forests, I hope that happens today.
Long debate text truncated.
Date and time: 10:10 AM on 2023-06-15
Senator Pocock's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 13
Total number of "no" votes: 32
Total number of abstentions: 31
Related bill: Ending Native Forest Logging Bill 2023
Adapted from information made available by theyvoteforyou.org.au