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TASMANIAN FORESTS AGREEMENT BILL 2012

December 11, 2012

Mrs ARMITAGE (Launceston) - I wish to say to the member for Apsley, I have been upstairs listening to every passionate word.

 

First, I thank everyone who has phoned, sent emails, letters and briefed us over the days and weeks. I admit that as the briefings continued, my opinion changed constantly. Every person who briefed us made perfect sense and spoke with passion and real concern for the forests, be they farmers, workers, employers, conservationists, unionists, and the list goes on. I particularly thank the three Michaels as well - three amigos - who took the time to travel around the state with their RIP forestry coffin, gauging opinion from the community and one could not help but be moved by their plea. They are hard-working men with families who took the time to do what they believed was right and I respect them greatly for that.

 

I have also had contact from many people who are wishing to exit the industry, who have had to lay off large numbers of their community. One I particularly remember was a gentleman on the north-east who had previously employed a large number of people in his small community but now had a skeleton crew. On phoning back, I spoke to his wife who probably told me more of the story about the man and how he was feeling than I would have got from him. She told of a broken man who hated walking down the street in their country town because he felt he had failed his community. In fact, at almost 60, he had become something of a recluse. She also told of her fears for his mental wellbeing and of their future. She asked that I please consider supporting this bill to hopefully provide them with a future.

 

There have also been calls from accountants on behalf of their clients who do not want to exit the industry but want to be able to continue operating in an environment with some certainty. I could go on for hours recounting stories that I have been told.

 

There have also been contacts from those in the community who do not want this bill to pass as they feel that there is more of a viable forestry industry into the future without these lock-ups. They too are passionate about the forests and see a future viable industry.

 

If I had a crystal ball, this decision would be really easy, but I do not. In fact, we all have to do what we believe is right and be able to sleep at night. I hope that those who do not agree with my decision will accept that I have made what I believe to be the right decision at this time with the information I have before me.

 

It is vital we move on decisively. There has been a paradigm shift. However, it is disappointing that after two years of negotiations, this bill is put to the Legislative Council on the death knock. My concern is that the Legislative Council has been placed in a position of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear and the government has not performed its fiduciary duty with this bill. The Legislative Council is a House of review, not the House of government.

 

People may ask how many forests Launceston has. The current transition being experienced by the forestry industry has had a profound influence on the social and economic welfare of Launceston. Job losses from the forest industry in Launceston exceed 500. These are direct job losses from the industry and do not take into consideration the associated impacts in the Launceston economy resulting from a reduction in the amount of disposable income circulating in the economy. It has been estimated there are an additional 1.2 job losses for each direct job loss in the forest industry, and this is considered conservative. This means there have been an additional 600 job losses in Launceston alone, as a result of the 500 direct jobs lost within the forestry industry. This total of 1 100 job losses has a huge impact on the social and economic wellbeing of the northern region. If this bill is not passed, how many more jobs will be lost? We have heard today there is no plan B, and I do not have one either.

 

Ms Rattray - Michael Kelly's got one.

 

Mrs ARMITAGE - If he can prove it will work, I would be happy to see it.

 

I accept no-one appears to be 100 per cent happy, but are they happy now? Businesses are closing, people are losing their jobs, markets are drying up, ecoterrorists are ramping up, some banks are already foreclosed and others on the verge. What is the future for our forest industry and forest workers? I have been told that some banks are currently forgoing interest payments to allow people to get through and some banks are waiting to see what happens with this bill. They, too, need some surety. Without it, what do we have? A forest industry that could be great, but is not.

 

The industry's community, and the union representing workers in the sector, have come together with some, but not all, conservation organisations and proposed a process for solution in Tasmania. While it appears not all stakeholders on either side are entirely happy with the process or the outcome, an agreement has been reached. While I am concerned the broader community and many other stakeholders have not been involved, and the process has not been seen to be entirely inclusive, fair, transparent or reasonable, I am hopeful the agreement will assist to restructure forestry in Tasmania and provide a social licence. I am hopeful that saying yes to this agreement is saying yes to helping promote and encourage sustainable forest practices for all Tasmanians, resolve the conflict over forests in Tasmania, protect native forests and develop a strong, sustainable timber industry.

 

While we hear concerns about whether there will ever be peace in the forests, whether some of these rogue or splinter environmental groups will ever cease to protest, is this a reason not to try it? Instead of looking at the negatives, we should be looking for the opportunities. There is a chance we can establish a sustainable industry, creating jobs and confidence. Forestry is an essential industry, along with agriculture, aquaculture, mining and retail, but what sort of forest industry have we had over the last years? We must look to the future, not to the past.

 

I listened carefully to the honourable member for Apsley and the honourable member for Western Tiers, with their deep concern and passion for their communities. Listening to them I could almost reject this bill, but what if we do? Will that guarantee a return to the years of a profitable forest industry or have things already changed too much? I accept we already have the largest forest area in the nation locked up, but locked up is not destroyed; it is still there, it is still a resource into the future.

 

I look to Launceston and the fact it is known for its heritage buildings and the number of tourists who come to the city because of this. I can see some similarity to those who wish to preserve as much of our native forests as they can. I do not necessarily have to agree with them on the amount we should preserve, but I can understand their reasoning. We have had many briefings over a lot of weeks. One I particularly remember was from an industry representative who pleaded with us, on behalf of his members, to accept this bill and allow what he hoped was a future for forestry and those workers who wished to stay in the industry. He made a comment, this is worth remembering - it is about whether you are right or wrong:


Here lies the body of Michael O'Day,

Who died defending his right of way,

His right was clear, his will was strong,

He is just as dead as if he was wrong.

 

Members laughing.

 

Mrs ARMITAGE - Right or wrong, we need a sustainable, confident industry with some surety, and if this agreement can deliver it, it is worth a shot.

 

Currently the bill does not fully reflect the intent of the agreement, and there are several amendments that will be proposed if this bill reaches the committee stage. It is a first to see the conservationists and forest industry coming to a compromise and making a pledge for peace in the forests.

 

Will the Tasmanian Forest Agreement bring an end to conflict and enable Tasmania to move forward on this issue? Only time will tell. Can I stand here and say I will not give peace a chance because I do not believe there will be peace - I hope there will be peace.

 

At this time, unless further speakers can convince me otherwise, I will give peace a chance.

 

 

 

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