Ms DUNN (Eastern Metropolitan) — My question is for the Minister for Agriculture. The government is currently in negotiations with Australian Sustainable Hardwoods on supply of timber to the Heyfield mill. Is the government going to approve VicForests to log the water catchments that supply Gippsland and Melbourne to supply the Heyfield mill?
Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) — I thank Ms Dunn for her question and her interest in the challenges that are currently facing the people who work at the Heyfield mill, if in fact that is her concern. There are a number of arrangements that were put in place by the former government and the member for Warrandyte in the Assembly, when he was the minister for the environment, that have created a special protection zone buffer around the Leadbeater’s possum — something I am sure Ms Dunn knows very well — of 12 hectares per sighting, which is placing considerable pressure on the available resource for timber harvesting. Adding to that, the commonwealthgovernment’s declaration of the Leadbeater’s possum as critically endangered puts in place a commonwealth overlay on the existing state regulations. I think we are now in the sixth week of some fairly intense discussions with Australian Sustainable Hardwoods. They have had some preliminary discussions with VicForests about what an available resource might look like.
There have been, I think, some expectations for that company that were set by some completely unrealistic undertakings made by the former government. But these are very challenging issues. There are around 240 people whose livelihood hangs in the balance in relation to these issues, because the company have said that they do face an uncertain future. The company have put that decision that they announced a bit over a month ago on hold to give us a month to work through these issues. Earlier this week we requested a further week to continue working through these issues, and the company have agreed to that. The government continues to work constructively with the company on the issues of timber supply, and their desire and our objective here is to get the best possible outcome that we can for the workers at the mill at Heyfield, and we will continue to work to that end for as long as it takes and with whatever effort is required, recognising that there are of course some very tight deadlines on this question.
Ms Dunn — On a point of order, President, the question was quite specifically around the timber being logged out of the water catchments of Gippsland and Melbourne, and I was concerned that the minister may not be addressing that. The clock is at 1 minute 21 seconds, and I just wanted to raise that just in case it did not get addressed.
Mr Jennings — You understand the constructs of the catchments; you understand the answer.
Ms PULFORD — Thank you, Mr Jennings. Ms Dunn knows this issue well, knows these pressures well, has I think for many years being a campaigner and an activist in this policy area and has certainly demonstrated in her time in the Parliament a great interest in these issues. What I would say though is that there are aspects of the discussion that are commercially sensitive. I am trying to provide the house with as much information as I think I reasonably can in the circumstances. Suffice to say that our objectives here are twofold: to provide the greatest possible security and certainty to the workers at Heyfield that we can to give them the best possible outcome, while complying with a variety of other obligations that the government has, most of which we inherited — in fact all of which we inherited — from the former government.
Ms DUNN (Eastern Metropolitan) — Thank you, minister. Will the government proceed with logging in water catchments to increase the dependence on Labor’s desalination plant?
The PRESIDENT — Order! I am not sure about the linkage of the two issues and the extent to which the supplementary question raises new material. It is quite a different concept or line of inquiry. Ms Dunn?
Ms DUNN — To clarify, the water catchments that I referred to in my initial question are in fact the watershed forests that supply the Thomson Dam and the other water catchments in that eastern part of the state and flow through, so the linkage is around water supply, particularly for Melbourne. If the water catchments are logged and impact on the supply of water available or the amount of water that is shed into the reservoirs, is that because of the desalination plant?
The PRESIDENT — Order! I think I get it. I will allow the minister to answer. Distilling it down, the question is whether or not this matter has anything to do with — —
Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) — The desalination plant.
The PRESIDENT — Order! Yes.
Ms PULFORD — No, it does not. I do not know whether question time is the best place to come and peddle conspiracy theories that are that far from outer space.