The Guardian December 1, 1999


Senate opposes Federal Forests Bill

The Federal Government's environment legislation, the Regional Forest 
Agreements Bill, was sent back to the Lower House for the second time by 
the Senate last week, opening the door for a double dissolution 
trigger.

State governments have recently negotiated State RFAs (regional forest 
agreements) which determine how much native forest is laid open to logging 
companies. In contrast to the proposed Federal RFA legislation, the State 
RFAs are merely agreements between the States and the Commonwealth -
- the Commonwealth can intervene at any time to stop logging in a certain 
area if it becomes a politically hot issue.

However, the Federal RFA would become a law, which means that if the 
Commonwealth takes action to stop logging in an area it would have to pay 
compensation to the logging companies for lost revenue. The RFA Bill 
further entrenches woodchipping and logging of old growth forests for the 
next 20 years.

The Bill sparked one of the longest debates in the Senate's history:

The Bill was extensively amended by the Senate in September. These 
amendments were rejected in October by the House of Representatives, where 
the Government has a majority. The Senate again refused to pass the Bill 
unamended, as the Government insists. It will now go back to the House of 
Representatives for the second time.

The Federal Government is pushing the RFA Bill to serve the interests of 
big global capital, not Australia, not its people and certainly not the 
environment.

The Government refused to reveal to the Senate what its role would be in 
the Global Logging Agreement to be discussed at the Seattle World Trade 
Organisation round this week. Howard would certainly have liked to have had 
his legislation passed in time for the WTO meeting, but it is now possible 
that debate over the RFA Bill will continue into next year.

The Senate passed an amendment to ensure that if the RFA Bill passed the 
House of Representatives, all State RFA's signed after 1 March, 1999, can 
be re-negotiated.

"This means the Court Government's [WA] poorly devised and very poorly 
received RFA can be scrapped", said Democrat Senator Brian Greig.

"It is not too late for the government to abandon this legislation 
altogether, which will then mean all State RFAs can be revisited", 
said Senator Greig.

Australian forests are further threatened if the Global Logging Agreement 
(GLA) before the World Trade Organisation conference is adopted. Green's 
Senator, Bob Brown, in a letter to the Prime Minister, has called upon the 
Australian Government to oppose the GLA. If agreed to, it would authorise a 
9.2 per cent increase in logging in Australia by 2010.

Furthermore, WTO decisions once adopted, override national laws which 
protect the environment. "Every environmental law that has been challenged 
at the WTO has been found 'illegal' and the guilty nation has been forced 
to eliminate the offending law", says Bob Brown. This could include laws 
protecting endangered species, clean air, marine mammal protection, 
forests, eco-labelling and the importation of invasive species of timber.

Bob Brown says that "The world's forests are presently being logged at 
unsustainable rates with disastrous effects on global warming."

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