Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (16:20): I would like to rise to speak briefly to the Conservation, Forests and Lands Amendment Bill 2022, and I have to say from the outset I feel like it is deja vu. I feel that we have traversed this issue many times, certainly in recent years, and we do not seem to be able to get it right, because it is not right. We need to transition this industry, and there are ways to do it and it should be done, rather than us trying to tinker around the edges with a bill such as this one.
You know, even with that interjection of COVID-19 to our lives I still remember the 2019 bushfires. I am sure Mr Quilty would remember them as well, and they were devastating. They were devastating on our native flora and fauna, and we have certainly have not recovered from them. In fact we have not recovered from the 2003 bushfires that devastated much of New South Wales. As I drive up to a property in New South Wales I still look for the mountain ashes that were there—mountain ashes that, when it was hot and we were driving up, would leave a strong peppermint smell in the air. They are coming back, but they have still got decades to go before they come back. I cannot forget the picture of that kangaroo bloated, dead on the side of the road, having tried to scratch on the side of the road to get away from the fire. In 2019, 1.5 million hectares of Victoria burnt in those bushfires, including more than half of the East Gippsland LGA. The fires wiped out the native forests, and they put significant strain on our endangered species. In terms of VicForests, that included 40 per cent of the area earmarked for native timber logging in East Gippsland.
At the end of 2019 the state government announced Victoria’s forest industry transition from native forestry and the end to harvesting native forests by 2030. Good. I do not see why we cannot bring this forward. Much of the timber that is being harvested is mainly for pulp, and there are many other ways that we can create jobs and we can create pulp. One of them is the need to transition to plantation timber, and I get that. We are working very hard on that, and it is important.
But as I have said many times in this place, we should be unlocking the extraordinary potential of industrial hemp. This is a product that could grow in all of the areas that we are looking at. Hemp should be the future of paper, and it can be. It could be the provider of many more jobs than are currently available in the timber industry. We heard Mr Hayes talking about how overseas are leaving us behind with their new technologies and with their new way of doing things. We could be a leader here as well, and we certainly could do this with hemp. Hemp grows 4 metres in 100 days. It is the quickest carbon to biomass available. The University of Melbourne is undertaking extensive research into how we can move from logging native forests to using hemp instead. Hemp is cheaper, it restores the soil and it does not destroy old-growth forests.
One acre of hemp can produce as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees. I will say that again: 1 acre of hemp can produce as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees. Hemp stalks grow in four months, whereas trees take 20 to 80 years. Hemp has a higher concentration of cellulose than wood, which is obviously the principal ingredient in paper. Hemp paper does not yellow, crack or deteriorate like tree paper. These are the raw facts, and this is where we should be going. This is the conversation I think this Parliament should be having.
I congratulate the government for announcing that there will be an end to the harvesting of our native forests, but let us do it faster, let us talk about the opportunities of how we are going to do that and let us start talking up hemp. Now, we actually need some legislative change for hemp. I would love to see some changes that would make it easier for us to introduce this industry. I have spoken to the unions about this, and the unions are very open to this. I have spoken to pulp mills; we can use our existing mills. We actually do not have to change a lot to transition to a much better product—a product that grows a lot faster, is a lot better for the environment, is a lot cheaper and is a lot better for our native flora and fauna because we do not need as much because it is a much denser cellulose product. And it is not just paper—we are seeing hemp really as an alternative to many timber products. Looking at particle board to high-strength beams: in 90 days you can grow the fibre required for structural beams rather than the 30 years it will take to grow that same beam, that same product, using timber. The rest of the world is going this way. We are seeing considerable changes: Germany, Canada and the United States are investing a lot of money into hemp as fibre, and we should be doing the same. We could be leaders in this area.
Going briefly back to the bill, I know that it deals with the codes of practice and the precautionary principle, and I understand that. I would have to say that I very much appreciated the minister’s office for the briefings that we have received about this. I certainly do not have the same concerns I heard from the opposition about the godlike powers that this bill may present. I note that the opposition is concerned about this legislation, but I understand that they are not opposing it. I cannot see that supporting a constraint on litigation in the way that this bill does is a positive. I cannot see that either of the godlike powers, as they are called, or the constraints on litigation are good things when we look at some of that litigation that has actually successfully protected native wildlife in the past and when we look at the warriors and the fighters who have stood up when we have seen the timber industry—and this is no offence to many of the industry workers—logging on streams and illegally logging. This bill will constrain, to a degree, the ability to litigate against that.
So again I thank the minister’s office and the minister herself for her detailed briefings. As I say, they did allay some of my concerns, but I will support Dr Ratnam’s reasoned amendment. I do not see any problem with a reasoned amendment to see an inquiry into this. I would hope that that inquiry would look at alternatives to the timber industry—how can we transition faster? As I say, hemp could not be faster: 90 days for 4 metres. But I do not think we should be massaging codes and making it easier to log native forest. We should be planning for short-term transition, and as I say, hemp could be a centrepiece.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading 24/3/22