Tuesday 11 December 2012
Hansard of the Legislative Council
FORESTS AGREEMENT BILL 2012 (No. 30)
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - There is no plan B and
we have been told that time and time again. We first heard there was no plan B
from Jane Calvert of the union representing forestry and timber workers, the
CFMEU - a key player in the Tasmanian forest agreement issue. The federal
Environment minister, Tony Burke, used the term when he briefed us last
Wednesday. We heard it today from Ta Ann: there is no plan B. If the bill is
not passed, there has been too much deferment, and they will shut down. The
phrase that has stuck in my mind is 'plan B' and led me to think deeply about
the possible plan B.
I am not an expert on the forestry industry. I spoke to many
people in the industry and eventually came to the conclusion that any plan B
meant going back to where we were, watching an industry continue to decline,
losing jobs, being excluded from world markets, and continuing to split the
Tasmanian community. We have seen that for at least the past 30 years.
I find it important in considering issues such as this to
keep an open mind from the very beginning of the public debate. If I tell the
public how I intend to vote at the beginning of the process, half of them will
write me off and not bother to send me their views. For example, if I had
declared my opposition to the Tasmanian Forests Agreement from the start, many
of those who supported it would not bother to lobby me and I would have
received a skewed impression of public perceptions. Half of my electorate would
have written me off, and vice versa. It is important for me to hear from the
community, to listen to the briefings and some of the debate before making up
Since the state opposition made its commitment to tear up
the intergovernmental agreement some months ago there have been significant
developments, as we all know. Whatever I may have thought about the Tasmanian
Forest Agreement, at the eleventh hour, after 30 months of negotiations, the
forestry industry, the main union and the ENGOs have made substantial
compromises and reached an agreement and I bow to their judgment. They know the
industry far better than I do.
I feel if you disagree with their judgment and oppose this
bill, you are obligated to explain your plan B. I have no plan B and I am
therefore inclined to support the agreement because I do not want to see Tasmania go back to
where we were before. I do not want to go back to the forest wars that have
split communities and families. I do not want to go back to the decades of
massive subsidies to keep an ailing industry going. I do not want to go back to
the lack of transparency regarding prices paid for the taxpayers' forest
resource, to the total confusion of where the forestry industry is heading. I
do not want to go back to the time when forestry and tourism were in apparent
If anyone can come up with a plan B, an alternative plan for
the Tasmanian forestry industry, and for the protection of places like the Styx
and the Florentine valleys, and if they can demonstrate that they have the
support of the main players - the industry, CFMEU and the ENGOs - then I would
tend to vote with them. That is highly unlikely at this stage.
If this House rejects this bill without a viable
alternative, it will be negating more than two years of intensive negotiation.
It will be rejecting federal funding for regional development and the further
restructuring of the forestry industry. If we reject this bill, we will be
telling the forestry industry that we know better, that we know more about the
forestry industry and its problems than they do. That is a worrying prospect.
My electorate on the West Tamar has only a small forestry
industry but many of my electors are very interested in the future of a
Tasmanian industry and I have been at pains to listen to their views. I have
received plenty of emails. Because I have not taken a public position on this
bill and have demonstrated an open mind, I have received emails from both sides
of the argument, roughly 50:50, for and against. The balance might have changed
somewhat in recent days with the majority of messages coming from employees or
people connected with Ta Ann who are supporting the TFA.
I suggest that those who have declared a firm view, either
for or against, early in the process will receive a distorted view of public
attitudes. If you declare that you are implacably opposed to the TFA, then
those who back it will write you off. If you say you are all for it, most of
those who oppose the agreement will not bother with you. If there is a public
perception of how you intend to vote, half of the argument will potentially
What will Tasmania
lose if we reject this agreement on the future of forestry? For a start, a
substantial amount for regional development, desperately needed from the
forestry industry. The figure at the moment is $96 million. We would lose the
remaining $15 million for payouts to contractors for restructuring. We would
lose the indexed $7 million a year to help manage forest reserves under the
IGA. If there are other potential commonwealth funding losses - I believe I am
okay to speak, Leader and Madam President, about the money today?
Mrs Taylor - It has been on the 6 o'clock news.
Mr FINCH - It must be okay to release it. That
is another $102 million that will not come. We will have wasted 30 months of
A northern plywood mill valued at about $10 million,
promised by Ta Ann last Wednesday, will not go ahead and it is likely that Ta
Ann will leave the state. If that happens Tasmanian private landholders would
lose an opportunity to supply as many as 140 000 cubic metres of peeler billets
a year to Ta Ann, to make up the 160 000 cubic metres it needs.
It is possible Tasmania
would lose a potential share in carbon credits but I will leave that to the
member for Rumney to explain, knowing his dedicated interest in the subject.
Above all, we would lose even more export markets because of uncertainty and
the lack of confidence in the Tasmanian industry, not to mention intensifying
We were told last week at the Ta Ann briefing that the
company had lost markets in the UK
and Europe because of bad publicity by
conservationists. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that without the
agreement, Ta Ann will pull out of Tasmania.
That is as recently as the briefing today.
We were also told of the potential benefits if Ta Ann stayed
in an atmosphere of security and certainty. That briefing, also attended by
ENGO representatives, was convincing. I was amazed to see conservationists
sharing a public forum with a major player in the forestry industry. That bodes
well for the future. The national director of the Wilderness Society, Lyndon
Schneiders, was one of those present.
I quote from an article that Mr Schneiders wrote for The
Australian newspaper on 24 November 2012.
More than the forests or the timber industry, it is the
Tasmanian community and Tasmanian economy that most desperately needed the
Forest Peace Agreement that has been reached between environment groups, union
For it is the Tasmanian community, split asunder for years
by the battle for forests, that has been affected most by this debate. The
scars are deep and the uncertainty and constant political heat around this
issue have created a serious dent in investor confidence in the state and cast
a shadow over the prospects for sustainable economic growth and opportunity.
It is for these reasons, not just for the forests or the
workers, that the agreement now needs political support to give Tasmania a new start.
The fate of this agreement now rests on the shoulders of the independent
members of the Tasmanian upper House who have the power to bring it to life.
It is hard to realise how intense is the international
scrutiny of Tasmania's
forestry industry. Anyone, anywhere in the world, with internet access, can
watch Miranda Gibson sitting 60 metres up the Observer Tree. Likewise, any
other forest protests. Potential buyers of Tasmanian forest products can use
Google Earth to zoom into areas where products are likely to be harvested. They
can evaluate the effects of clear‑felling for themselves and we, in this House,
are under intense scrutiny as we debate this bill. It is as easy for potential
buyers in Japan, South Korea and China to watch this debate live, as
it is for Tasmanians.
These observers can judge for themselves what happens in the
harvesting of the products they might buy. If they see protests, if Google
Earth shows environmental damage, if they see a lack of political will to sort
out the Tasmanian forestry conflict, they will buy their forest products
elsewhere, and there is evidence that they are doing that.
This TFA agreement on the future of Tasmania's forestry industry has 11 signatures confirming the agreement and some of them were
arch-enemies previously. They have signed now without reservation. 'This is the
agreement', it states, 'we have signed it' - and you might listen to this,
member for Windermere - 'and will not resile from it'. Regardless of your view
of the TFA, this is an historic document.
There has been talk about amendments to this bill but as we
heard from the Premier, as long as the thrust of the agreement is not changed
and enhances the bill, the government is likely to agree but some issues appear
to be a matter for legislation in future negotiation. The bill is not specific
on the cut-up of resources, leaving that to later negotiation and regulation.
Much has been made of the reduction from the current statutory minimum of 300
000 cubic metres of high-quality sawlogs from public forest, to the minimum of
137 000 cubic metres under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement. It is important to
realise that the 300 000 figure was recognised by the industry as too high and
not sustainable. The Forests and Forest Industry Council assumed a realistic
figure of 150 000 cubic metres a year, well before the intergovernmental
Ms Forrest - In 2008.
Mr FINCH - Thank you, 2008.
Ms Forrest - Yes, the report in 2009 and that was
when they did the work.
Mr FINCH - Much has been made of the perceived
reduction in specialty craft and other types of wood, especially by the
furniture and boatbuilding industry but, while the bill is not specific on
quantities, these can be fixed through negotiation and regulation. There is no
reason to suppose that harvesting 137 000 cubic metres of sawlogs will not
yield sufficient specialty timber as part of the harvest operation. We have all
heard stories about some of the stuff that was put into windrows and burnt, and
the impassioned discussion by Kevin Perkins in respect of the waste of that
We heard in yesterday's briefings from Mark Leitch. Mark
started as a craft timber worker at Circular Head. He worked for Forestry
Tasmania, then Private Forests
Tasmania and eventually became a
forest consultant. He has never lost his interest in Tasmania's unique craft timber. He is not so
much worried by the overall supply but the cost. Nevertheless, he believes Tasmania can be a leader
in providing specialty timbers and their products with proper management.
People who talked about the craft and furniture industry felt that there has
not been proper management in the past. Particularly Kevin Perkins, who spoke
yesterday on the same subject. He says that Tasmania's timber heritage has been sold for
firewood in the past. He says with proper management and proper conversion we
can do better, and that is why we need a fresh start.
It is important to mention the contribution by Bob Annells
who made the point that half the forestry industries' income has gone with the
demise of Gunns which has had a devastating impact on communities which rely on
forestry. He mentioned forest stewardship certification and its importance in
the marketplace. Much of Tasmania's
forestry industry backed the wrong horse some years ago. Mr Annells mentioned
the relatively new player in the forestry debate, the internet.
Apart from resource allocation, the other side of the
agreement is the legal protection of 504 000 extra hectares. This will be in
three stages under a special council of the parties involved in the Tasmanian
Forest Agreement, so there is flexibility and input from all sides in Tasmania's forest
debate. We are not now voting on reserves and how they will be used. In Monday
morning's briefings we were shown a flowchart of the process for creating
reserves. We have had more input this afternoon. It seems to me to be a long
process with plenty of places for input including from parliament.
In no way are we voting on reserves, what kind of reserves,
where they are, who will have access, land tenure and so on in this bill. That
is a task for next year. We have all been lobbied intensively by the Tasmanian
Forest Agreement members on this bill. Nowhere near the number on the same-sex
marriage bill, but substantial nonetheless. I have tended to give more weight
to those presently engaged in the forestry industry but some arguments from
other sources that I have taken note of have been well thought out. Helen
Hutchinson is the daughter of a sawmiller who had timber leases and sawmills in
the north-east, the north-west and in my patch, the Tamar Valley.
Her email puts the decline of our forestry industry in context.
My father had timber leases and sawmills in the north-east
and the north-west, as well as a sawmill in the Tamar Valley.
He was a believer in a strong sawmilling industry, an industry which value
added in Tasmania
and which received a good price for its products. At the time there were a
large number of community-based sawmills, a plywood mill and numbers of
companies making furniture. When industrial forestry became the norm, most of
the small mills and construction companies vanished. In turn, the small
communities vanished along with schools, post offices, hotels and eventually
houses. Communities were big losers.
The promise of largesse for Tasmania by the large timber companies did
not eventuate. The price we received for our forests resource dropped lower and
lower. The Tasmanian people who owned the forests did not receive proper
compensation for logging of the resource, only the buyers and the company
directors made money. At the same time the international markets did not favour
the type of timber industry we were promoting. Markets moved away from logging
native timber, businesses were affected by a high Australian dollar, and
woodchips were being produced more cheaply from plantations in other countries.
It became uneconomic to keep doing things the old way. It is still uneconomic.
It is time for a reality check. The latest inquiries into
the sustainability of the timber resource have proven that we are logging at a
rate which exceeds the capacity to regenerate. We cannot keep cutting forests
at the same rate without losing the resource altogether. Then what do we do? Easter Island provides a graphic example of people who
squandered their resources. Not only that, but we are destroying habitat for
native birds and animals and some of our history at the same time -
particularly the historical artefacts and dwellings of the first Tasmanians.
Some people believe that we are also threatening the health of communities
through forest burning and the use of chemicals.
Our community has been divided into people who believe that
we can continue to extract timber at the same rate, and those who can see that
it is impossible. As the community became polarised there was more tension, and
more distress. It is time for that to stop. Just as people in war torn
countries such as Palestine became dazed by
conflict, many people in Tasmania
are also experiencing this. We live in a state of limbo when we should be
accepting of the scientific reports and beginning to move towards a different
The IGA may not be perfect, but it has the capacity to heal
if people on both sides act in good faith.
Here is part of an email from a contractor at Riana,
I believe that along with the other remaining contractors
that our last chance to remain in an industry that we have dedicated our heart
and soul to is to implement the Tasmanian Forest Agreement.
If the Tasmanian Forest Agreement is implemented not only
would it stop the ongoing 'war' between the forestry and Greens but also we
would gain forest stewardship certification for our wood supply. With this
certification in place the result for the timber industry in Tasmania would be similar to curing somebody
with the flu. Our timber products would be sold worldwide without any
I said earlier I have tended to place more stress on views
of those engaged in the industry. The Padgett family has been an important
player over many decades, so I would like to quote Ken Padgett from an
interview in The Examiner last Sunday:
Northern Tasmanian forest contractor Ken Padgett of
Australian Forest Contractors Association, a signatory to the Tasmanian Forest
Agreement, has spent hundreds of hours over the past two years arguing for his
industry's survival at the so-called forest roundtable.
More than 60 meetings, mostly in Hobart, have taken his focus from the fight
to keep his own business afloat.
Mr Padgett said that the emotional capital invested in
getting the forestry industry deal had been huge.
He said that when the process started, there were 137
Tasmanian forest contractors. Now there are 27.
Mr Padgett believes that the state could have a new,
flourishing and vibrant timber industry within two years given the will of
those involved to look to the future.
'The industry has been bashing its head against the wall for
so long that everybody's foreheads are bleeding', Mr Padgett said.
'There are hundreds of thousands of hectares of trees
growing in this state that are totally unaware of the collapse of companies
like Gunns - they are just growing,' he said.
'We know in Asia that major
change has been projected, including a shortfall in wood product, and we are
sitting in a place with a lot of wood with new owners who will be free to do
with it what they want.'
Mr Padgett also said that the potential sale of the former
Forest Enterprise Australia
and Gunns' assets would change the face of the Tasmanian forestry industry.
He places the demise of the state's forest industry not on
the drawn-out peace talks or environmental lobbyists' attempts to turn the
international market against Tasmanian timber but on the uncompetitive
'It's been going on for the past three years', he said.
'It means we haven't had access to markets.'
But that will end', Mr Padgett said. 'It will change with
the end of the mining boom, and that is already here', he said.
The other surprise for those who have known Mr Padgett and
his father, Andy, as tough fighters for the timber industry, will be his
support for the controversial Tasmanian Forest Agreement. He admits to being
sceptical about its success at the start of the process but he believes that
the positive has been the major shift by both the industry players and the
environmental groups at the table.
'I think they've (environmental groups) given up quite a bit
and I think we have modified our views.
I'm confident of the industry's future but we have to step
back from lobbing incendiaries at each other - we have to give peace a chance.'
Some who oppose the TFA do so because they want something
better, something that addresses a much wider range of issues and incorporates
many more views of how forests should be managed. A group of seven non-partisan
individuals, some from my electorate, have written an open letter, published in
the Tasmanian Times at the weekend. A leading signatory is Frank Strie,
an experienced forester who has long argued against established Tasmanian
forest practices in favour of a more sensitive approach and higher quality
products. The following quote sums up the group's argument:
The best way forward for the Tasmanian industry is a real
focus on high‑value adding which benefits Tasmanians, not on a continuation of
resource-stripping for the benefit of a few through the promotion of monopoly
That model has failed and will continue to fail in the
future. It is really incumbent on the Legislative Council to look beyond the
foreign corporate lobbyists to places in the world where practices, such as
selective harvesting, ensure careful maintenance of land and water resources
for the future, as well as a timber resource for the future as well.
It is clear that the current agreement does not cater
adequately for a viable sawlog industry in the future, for it allows the
harvesting of the resource while it is still immature for the short-term
benefit of a single company.
That is a valid point, but we have to start somewhere. I
suggest that the TFA is an appropriate beginning.
Ms Forrest - In the briefing Forestry Tasmania
spoke about selecting specialty timber logs by helicopter as a different way of
doing things, which is what Frank speaks of; similar practices.
Mr FINCH - Exactly. When you know Frank, you
know his opinion, you know his passion for forestry, and you know the emails
that we receive quite constantly.
Mr Hall - They did not support the TFA, did
they? They have some issues with them.
Mr FINCH - Yes. I said that it is clear that
the current agreement does not cater adequately for a viable sawlogging
industry in the future. No, I did not intend to mislead in being selective with
Mr Hall - I never thought you would have done.
Mr FINCH - Thank you. I talked, before I was
interrupted, about this being an appropriate beginning and that is a view
expressed by many.
The TFA is not perfect but it offers a new start. Many,
particularly younger people, are fed up with the whole argument. They are too
young to remember the forestry industry in its heyday. They just know of an
industry declining against the background of constant bickering. Just get on
with it, they tell me, just get on with it.
I would like to quote from an email from Melva Truchanas,
the wife of the man who helped put Tasmanian wilderness on the world map. She
The Tasmanian Forest Agreement acknowledges that compromise
has been reached between leaders representing many interests. It must be
responded to positively.
Though far from perfect, such an opportunity will never be
presented to Tasmania
again that can provide a new respect for the forests whilst planning
successfully for the earning capacity of previous workers.
In the past, I have watched with anguish as Tasmania's endemic
specialty timbers have been chipped, burned and destroyed.
There are indications that ahead will be a recognition of
their value, acknowledgement of their increased rarity, respect for their
beauty, and understanding for their valuable, limited use in a select industry.
Further debate and negotiations undoubtedly will be needed,
but this is the beginning of the chance to improve.
I have seen no other.
Please allow the agreement to proceed.
Melva Truchanas from Kingston.
Olegas Truchanas, coincidentally, is quoted by Patricia
Wilson of Prospect in Launceston when she says:
If the bill is not passed, the outlook is grim for Tasmania. If the cutting
down of native forest continues on an unsustainable basis, the state will lose
precious heritage and forest workers will lose their jobs anyway.
Remember the words of Olegas Truchanas who said, 'Tasmania can be a
shining beacon in a dull, uniform and largely artificial world.'
The TFA bill delivers a good outcome for all Tasmanians and
for the land of Tasmania.
As you would be aware, the Tourism Industry Council has
reservations about the TFA, particularly about maintaining the same access or
being given those opportunities for access and also opportunities within land
areas to be protected as it has been up until now. We heard from Simon Currant
this morning about that extra funding that he would like to see come towards
whatever our new landscape looks like if the bill is passed. I have always been
a great supporter of the tourism industry and the forestry industry but I can
also see the synergy between the two in those new opportunities that might
arise from the agreement to this bill.
The Tourism Industry Council says correctly that there are
no provisions in the agreement to realise the tourism potential of newly
protected land areas. The agreement does not specify future use of reserves and
this is a matter for later decisions and there is no reason why tourism will
not be taken into account. Not all reserves, as we have heard, will be equal.
To get back to the extensive briefings over the past couple
of days, most agree that the future of Ta Ann is crucial and today we heard the
company's problems in the present situation - compelling evidence. We heard of
the company's monthly losses which have been going on since March and we were
told that if this bill is deferred for too long they will shut down. We heard
that if the TFA is buried it is doomed to fail. My impression from the briefing
was that Ta Ann will close unless this bill is quickly passed and this bill is
merely the auspicious start of a long process. If we kill it at birth there is
nowhere to go. I have already laboured the point that there is no plan B.
I have said that this bill is not perfect but it is the best
we have to try to solve a ridiculous situation, a situation where the state is
split over an industry which employs a minority compared to retail, agriculture
and tourism. For the sake of Tasmania,
Madam President, let us get on with it. Stop the antiquated arguments. Stop the
posturing. The world has changed. Let us get on with it.