TASMANIAN FOREST AGREEMENT INITIAL PROPOSED RESERVE ORDER 2013
Mrs ARMITAGE ( Launceston ) - Mr President, I will start with a submission we all received last night from Andrew Denman - I have permission to use his name. I want a little clarification from the leader, in his summing up, with regard to it and I will quote the first paragraph of Andrew's submission:
Nothing would please me more than to be able to say that we support this durability report, the government's response to its efficiencies and subsequently the continuation of the legislation. I would also like to be able to say that since passing of the TFA legislation earlier this year, there has been good progress made in resolving the issues that we have highlighted to you all regarding special timbers. I would also like to be able to report that we have found a new way to make pigs fly.
Andrew goes on:
In an effort to appease upper House MPs, concerns on special timber supply and to allay the fears of the special timbers sector, the government introduced 24 special timbers contingency areas totalling just over 10 000 hectares - the so called schedule C coupes - to the TFA bill.
When speaking of these areas in parliament earlier this year the resources minister, Mr Green, called the schedule C areas an insurance policy and they were similarly referred to in the upper House. Although Forestry Tasmania acted in a consultancy capacity with regard to these areas, the final boundaries were chosen by the NGO signatories.
After a number of drawn-out RTI applications the truth about the schedule C coupes has come out. The size of the coupes has been inflated, with Forestry Tasmania advising that of the 10 000-odd hectares in these areas, only approximately 4 700 hectares were possible special timber areas. An on-ground investigation has shown that some of these coupes have been harvested as recently as 2010 and they have been resown as monoculture eucalypt.
Other coupes contain large areas of buttongrass plains with no trees at all and while some of the coupes do contain special timbers, it is not anywhere near the quantity or the quality required or fit for purpose to supply the industry and be our insurance policy. He also asks, why were they included as an insurance policy coupe? Who drew the boundary around clearly harvested coupes and called them special timber coupes?
He goes on -
As you are all aware, this amendment to the TFA Bill was proposed by MLC Adriana Taylor as an insurance policy on top of the schedule C insurance policy for the special timber sector. It was quite evident to upper House members from evidence supplied during the committee process by Forestry Tasmania and other experts that the areas initially set aside under the bill for special timbers production, both the original areas and the 24 schedule C contingency coupes, could not provide enough timber for the industry or meet the clause for agreed supply commitments.
It is my understanding that the Taylor amendment allowed for the harvesting of special timbers from basically anywhere in the state on a tread-lightly policy including harvesting in reserves. There is a fairly lengthy process to get to utilise this amendment but it is there, in law, nonetheless. The amendment was passed unanimously and the leader of the government in the upper house Craig Farrell stated on Hansard 16 April 2013 in relation to the government's position, the government is prepared to support this amendment and I am advised the signatories also support this amendment.
Mr Denman believes - and this is where I would seek some clarification from the leader - that unknown to upper House members at the time, and it would appear to Mr Farrell also, the government and the signatories had no intention of supporting this amendment and it could be argued that the House might have voted differently or introduced further amendments if this was made apparent at the time.
In the lead-up to the final lower House debate the NGO signatories sought and were given assurances in writing that says the infamous 21-point implementation assistance document that the federal and state governments had no intention of allowing logging under the Taylor amendment to occur. In notes from the 21-point document, point 17, the Tasmanian government will not allow logging in existing reserves and the minister as part of his third reading speech will clarify that the intent of clause 10(1)(a) is not to permit harvesting of specialty timbers with an existing gazette of reserves under the Forestry Act 1920 and the Nature Conservation Act.
Number 18, the Australian Government will not approve harvesting of wood including specialty timbers within World Heritage nominated or listed areas under the EPBC Act. I am hoping the leader will be able to allay concerns I have that the insurance policy, as we call it, in the act, will suffice and will take precedence.
I rise to speak to this motion with a deep sense of responsibility for our state, responsibility for jobs, for families, businesses and our entire industry; responsibility for the future and the opportunities that Tasmania will need to capitalise on. Debate over Tasmania's forestry industry has raged for decades, it has underpinned politics in this place, it has been a war fought on floors of the Houses of parliament, in communities and the forests themselves.
The mere mention of the word forestry has been divisive; we need to move on from this. I believe that not just the industry, but also the Tasmanian community, want this state to move from a past where contentious forestry debates have been a defining feature of contemporary Tasmania. For all the articles, news footage, protests for and against, speech after political speech, the fact remains that at the heart of it remains an industry employing workers.
That industry generates work to associated businesses; it is part of the Tasmanian economy. My city of Launceston has undoubtedly been hit hard by the forestry downturn. Launceston has had a significant reduction in jobs since 2009. As a major commercial centre supplying the forestry industry, the impacts of decreased forestry activity have spread through associated businesses and been borne in empty order books and slumping profits, and in the worst cases job layoffs and closed doors.
Between 2006 and 2011, wages and salaries in Launceston decreased by $98.7 million. Along with that hundreds of jobs in the north also disappeared. It is not for me to tell you what that means for communities, what that stress, uncertainty and pressure does to families. The jobs we have seen go are from traditionally strong sectors, such as agriculture and manufacturing, and industries such as transport. More than this, the uncertainty and division over our forestry industry has caused investors and developers to pass over our state. They hesitate when it comes to Tasmania. They waver, because this division is a disincentive to invest in our state.
All these impacts are very real and so is the need to do something about it. I do not believe for a second that retreating to a position of constant blame and media sound-bite one-upmanship from either side of the forestry divide will do anything to allay that impact.
This downturn is a result of changes in the market and in consumer preferences. It is a market reality that industries must adapt to what their consumers demand. Industry needs not only a sustainable timber supply but also ongoing certainty about market access. If we wish simply for a return to the past, the downturn will inevitably continue. Having access to every single tree in Tasmania will do nothing to convince any buyer to purchase the product if they believe it is contentious and will damage their own brands.
I cannot countenance allowing Tasmania's forestry industry to languish in continuing uncertainty, not just for the sake of the industry and its direct employees, but the many thousands of other Tasmanians who indirectly rely on this sector to put food on their family's table. To see the forest industry and the ENGOs, traditional enemies in the forestry debate, stand side by side and say as one that this agreement is worth pursuing was an event many people thought would never happen. An agreement that provides environmental gains at the same time as securing international markets for Tasmania's forestry products has to be worth backing. What on earth would the alternative look like? It would be a continuation of a decades-old conflict, loss of further international credibility for Tasmanian forestry products and a continual shrinkage of the sector. I do not believe that Tasmania, our economy, our communities or industry, can afford that.
If this agreement offers a chance to give our forestry sector certainty, then do we not have a responsibility to take it? Should we not give it a chance to succeed? We have been through the downturn, that is a fact; we have been through the toing and froing between the industry and the ENGOs, which negotiated this outcome through what was undoubtedly an extremely difficult and challenging process. But through it all, the agreement emerged. That agreement can only offer a chance of certainty if it remains in place. To tear it up only guarantees a return to uncertainty and conflict. To have come through all that, the culmination of so many years of arguing and debating over Tasmania's forests, and to play political games with this agreement at this point does not achieve certainty.
While the federal government has removed the tie of $100 million to the independent proposed reserve order, there are a number of other funding packages under the TFA that remain tied to the Initial Proposed Reserve Order (IPRO). The high quality sawlog buy-back program and the regional millers structural adjustment program is tied to the IPRO. It is worth noting that the additional funding for employee and contractor assistance is tied to the implementation of those two programs and is therefore tied to the IPRO. The residue study and implementation funding and funding of the operation of the special council is tied to the IPRO. As the council is responsible for running programs such as the special species study, it is indirectly tied to the IPRO. Funding to assist Forestry Tasmania achieve FSC certification is tied to the IPRO. From the industry point of view, I believe this IPRO should be passed, especially given that it only permits the passage into former reserves of the subset of the World Heritage areas, minus the Hall amendment forests. Any further reserves will be subject to further durability reporting and cannot proceed before October 2014 and when Forestry Tasmania has received FSC certification.
Failing to accept this reserve order will destroy any certainty for the industry. It will take away the chance for Tasmania's forestry sector and the communities that rely on it, to move forward. It is a chance for them to put this war behind them and move on, and to move on with certainty to new markets with the support of the very groups that once opposed the industry in its entirety.
I cannot, in good conscience, deny Tasmania this chance to move forward. I believe it is a chance we need to take. That is why I will be supporting the acceptance of this reserve order but I would appreciate, as mentioned earlier, some comment from the leader to say that the special timber areas will be protected and enforced, and the member for Elwick's amendment will be taken into notice.