LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL SELECT COMMITTEE REPORT ON THE TASMANIAN FORESTS AGREEMENT BILL 2012
Mrs ARMITAGE ( Launceston ) - Madam President, I have a very short contribution. First, I thank my fellow Legislative Council members and also the Legislative Council staff for getting this report together in such a timely manner. Everyone appreciated the importance of the timeliness with this report. This select committee process has been extremely useful and worthwhile, and provided an opportunity for those in the community from all sides to have a voice. I, too, thank everyone who took the time to provide submissions, evidence, emails, letters, phone calls, as it is all-important to have as much information as we can to make an informed decision. Many witnesses bared their souls, and their passion and sincerity was obvious. Many areas of real concern, including durability and sovereign risk are revealed in the report, and it is imperative that they are addressed should the bill reach the committee stage. It is essential to look at the evolution of the agreement. We were told science applied in the verification process was strong and accepted, but there was compromise among the parties as they strove to achieve adequate wood volumes and still hold as coherent a reserve as they considered appropriate. Witnesses attested that this is the first time all parties, including timber communities, unions, workers and the environmental groups have led the way in coming together in an endeavour to save the forest industry. To see these signatories, of such diverse areas, genuinely working together for an outcome, was heartening. However, the select committee has shown just how poorly thought out the Tasmanian Forest Agreement is, and how many groups have been excluded, including the TFGA - in my opinion, a major player. One area of note was that the Tasmanian Forest Agreement failed to consider the impacts of this agreement, and the subsequent bill, on the speciality timber industry. Evidence to the committee indicated that the IGA guaranteed 12 500 cubic metres of specialty timbers subject to verification. The verification process for speciality timbers did not occur and is some months or years away. There were concerns expressed that the specialty timber areas set aside under the TFA, contained little if any specialty timber and certainly not enough to support an industry. If the supply target of 12 500 cubic metres cannot be met from the proposed reserves, then the TFA fails in durability as it cannot meet the clause 4 interim specialty timber supply. It further appeared that there had been no scientific basis or evidence for sizing specialty timber areas in the agreement and that the proposed World Heritage area extension removed a large area of specialty timber-production forest. This puts the specialty timber industry that employs over 2 000 full time equivalents at risk and we need to ask ourselves whether we can afford to lose any further jobs in this state. A good example is the wooden boatbuilding industry. We were told that it could take some time for a sawmill to collect the timber necessary, sometimes up to 12 months. How can they accept orders to build particularly large boats if the supply of celery top cannot be guaranteed? We also heard how important many of these forestry areas are to mineral resources and the millions of dollars in royalties that come to this state every year. We must ensure this is not lost. Carbon credits was also raised. It was interesting to note during evidence that because the land is already nominated for reserve, it is not eligible for carbon credits. The subject land must be available for logging and then under the carbon credits scheme reserved, saving it for future generations and thus enabling carbon credits to be gained - in essence, selling carbon credits for the timber that could have been logged. Unfortunately I must say again, this Tasmanian Forest Agreement has been poorly thought out. This select committee has indicated a need for process to measure outcomes. The concept of lock up and leave does not bode well for the future, as there does not appear to be sufficient money for maintenance. Conservation outcomes need active management and it was indicated that the cost of maintaining these reserves would be far greater than anyone imagined. Nothing is guaranteed to be forever. Many witnesses mentioned that the demise of Gunns is having a major impact on their viability and, in some cases, resulting in a dire financial situation. Then there is the economic impact on Tasmania. I do not believe anyone ever believed that a company such as Gunns would fail. It was thought they might move their head office to the mainland but it was unthinkable that they would close. This has been particularly painful for those involved in private plantations. It was evidenced that a great many people involved in forestry are hurting quite significantly now and many believe that this agreement would spell the end of the industry. Others felt that this agreement might be the only thing to keep this industry alive and they were holding on, hoping to avoid the banks and foreclosure. However, it was agreed that we needed to get up off our knees, and that this industry is sustainable. Disagreement was in the way to do it. Many believed that this downturn would pass and in the future we would have a thriving industry without this agreement, whereas others felt that the forest industry needs to be restructured for not just our children, but our children's children and beyond, allowing those who wish to leave the industry to do so with some dignity. It was commented that this should not be seen as a bill of last resort but one of hope to get forestry back on track. While this may be a lengthy report, it is well worth the time to read it and I hope that all the signatories seize that opportunity. We all need to take off the blinkers and see the bill as it is with all of its imperfections. This committee evidenced many findings that will need addressing. It is therefore hoped that the government and all the signatories will seriously consider the findings in the select committee report and accept the amendments that may come as part of the debate in this House. I believe that without an agreement there will be no industry left to fight over and that the consequences if we do not do it are much more serious than if we do.