Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (Native Forest Bio-material) Regulation 2013


The Hon. LUKE FOLEY (Leader of the Opposition) [3.42 p.m.]: I move:

That, under section 41 of the Interpretation Act 1987, this House disallows the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (Native Forest Bio-material) Regulation 2013, published on the NSW Legislation website on 7 March 2014.

d why the Federal Government had excluded native forest biomass from the renewable energy target scheme. He said:

Native forests are important for biodiversity and store large amounts of carbon. Excluding electricity that is generated from native forest biomass from eligibility under the Renewable Energy Target Scheme removes the potential for the Renewable Energy Target Scheme to provide an incentive for the additional burning of native forest biomass for bioenergy, even where this burning is a secondary use. In the context of the benefits of bioenergy from the carbon price, the additional incentive from the renewable energy target could increase both the primary and the secondary purpose use of native forest wood, which could lead to unintended outcomes for biodiversity and the destruction of intact carbon stores.

The Energy Minister, the Hon. Anthony Roberts, said publicly on 7 March that allowing the burning of forests for biomass will not lead to the destruction of one extra tree or increase the volumes of logging. My concern is that we have heard this before. In 1967native forests  when the export woodchip industry began in Australia we were assured that this was only a use for waste as the inevitable by-product of sawmilling. The community was led to believe that small limbs and crooked trees would be sent to the chipper while the bulk of the timber taken from the forests would support good value-adding jobs in a timber industry creating fine dressed timbers for homes and other specialty products.

By the early 1990s more than 90 per cent of the volume being taken from native forests was ending up in the wood chipper. Allowing wood chipping in Australia's native forests changed the economics of the industry entirely as we harvested this magnificent resource for low-value export, employing very few people, generating poor returns and driving unprecedented forest destruction. The ecological costs of native forest logging are well known. Native forests are important for biodiversity and store large amounts of carbon. The Labor Party is not interested in opening the door on a new low-value use for our forest heritage.

What is even clearer is that the arguments to suggest that this is a renewable energy are highly questionable. Trees regrow; forests are a more complicated proposition. Many of the animals that rely on forests rely on hollows, the holes left in tree trunks when dead branches fall down. Birds, possums and gliders all need these safe havens to survive. Hollows only exist in well-established trees. The destruction wrought by the process of logging is obvious. Koalas, wallabies, possums and birds all lose their homes. But even regrowing forests fails to provide the domestic architecture of hollows that many animals need. Furthermore, regrowing forests tends to have less species diversity and age diversity than an established forest. All this undermines the biodiversity of the forest. A forest is renewable for the biodiversity that relies on it only after hundreds of years.

Further, when we speak of renewable energy, we are usually speaking of energy that can renew itself without an increase of carbon in our atmosphere. Our native forests store huge amounts of carbon. Each tree's trunk is a bank of carbon locked away from the atmosphere.

The argument is that we can burn this carbon store because as the trees regrow they will sequest that carbon again. The evidence now suggests that the carbon cycle associated with ancient forests is more complex than that simple input-output model suggests. Ancient forests do store more carbon than young forests. Having some of the most carbon-dense forests on the planet, by far the most efficient way for us to benefit from their carbon values is to leave them in the ground.

Furthermore, Labor has health concerns about the burning of forests for electricity. We have all heard reports of the impact of burning wood to heat our homes on air quality: that it increases the incidence of asthma, and exacerbates respiratory problems in the elderly. With this change to the legislation, we are talking about far more domestic wood-fired pollution. The Massachusetts Medical Society and the American Lung Association have both commented publicly on the unacceptable health risks associated with biomass power plants because of increased air pollution. Pollutants can include nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and sulphur dioxide.

As I said earlier, this Government's regulation opens the door not only to burn native forests for power but also to burn native vegetation cleared on private property under the Native Vegetation Act 2003. Labor is concerned that with reports coming from across the State about the lack of proper compliance oversight of this Act under this Liberal-Nationals Government, this new regulation provides an incentive for landholders to rort its intention. Cleared native bush should not become simply a resource with monetary value.

Labor opposes this regulation because it is clear that the people of New South Wales do not want their forests logged for electricity generation. They are interested in renewable energy that utilises cutting-edge research, innovation and technology. They are interested in renewable energy that creates skilled jobs and opens new international markets for Australia. They do not want so-called dead koala electricity. They want their forests protected and their electricity clean and genuinely renewable. I commend the motion to disallow this regulation to the House.