Tuesday 26 August 2014

Hansard of the Legislative Council


Mr FINCH (Rosevears)- Mr President, despite the public debate, our days and days of briefings and despite this Government's genuine wish to rebuild Tasmania's ailing forestry industry, I still have deep reservations about this bill.

It is well known that I supported the Tasmanian Forests Agreement legislation last year as the culmination of four years of hard negotiation and compromise. The TFA was far from perfect. The process seemed to ignore the interest of private forest growers. For example, all sides of the forestry debate gave up a lot of ground and there was a hope for an end to the socalled forest wars which had been going on for more than 30 years. The ENGOs had been fully involved in the process; they were ready to support the industry in international markets and they showed that.

Now we go back to discord, a fact recognised by the Government which is pushing draconian laws against forest protests. Like other members, I received many emails supporting the Tasmanian Forest Agreement. I would like to quote one which seems to sum up the whole argument. I think it came in this morning. It was interesting and I was nodding my head in agreement. I will start:

The Forestry Agreement was negotiated with all the parties concerned and an outcome was reached in the true spirit of understanding and compromise. The real 'winners' of these drawn-out negotiations were the people of Tasmania - now and in the future.

This is the way democracy and community are supposed to work. Everyone not completely getting what they want but able to listen to the other side and agree to a give and take outcome. As the last bastion able to use common and moral sense in this argument, I implore you not to allow the destruction of the hard work and sensible and ethical outcomes that have come out from these negotiations.

The notion of 'winner' take all in elections needs to be challenged and dismissed. What message does the repeal of this Agreement say about good governance? Or would the message say governance is about self-interest and winner take all, dismissing democracy as a platitude to be used willy-nilly in any self-aggrandisement?

There are also many logical and practical economic reasons to keep the Agreement, all of which I am sure you are aware of through your research but seems to have been lost among the rhetoric instead to be replaced with 'tough' words like 'tear up', 'mandate', and 'keeping our promise'. The notion of keeping one's promise in today's fast-moving, changing landscapes while becoming aware of new scientific outcomes almost on a daily basis, shows a political immaturity that staggers the imagination.

I therefore request that you take these thoughts into serious consideration in this debate and reject the government's proposal to tear up this Agreement.


Earl Martin of Mt Stuart.

That is from one of the supporters of the TFA that I have heard from and I am assuming that email also went to all the other members.

This Government does not want participation by ENGOs in establishing a future industry, although the Forestry Industries Association says it does want them included. I will run through the membership of the proposed ministerial advisory council. It is made up as follows: the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania; the Tasmanian Sawmillers Association; the Tasmanian Forest Contractors Association; the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association; the Tasmanian Special Timbers Alliance; Forestry Tasmania; Private Forests Tasmania; and the National Centre for Future Forest Industries at the University of Tasmania. All well and good. As well as the omission of any environmental representatives, there are no community representatives. There are no union representatives. Tasmanian taxpayers, who own the state's forest resource, are not represented on the ministerial advisory council. The owners of Tasmania's forests get no say in the future.

We are wrestling with this bill against a background of declining native forest industry throughout Australia. As the Leader said in her second reading speech:

There is no doubt that the native forest industry is at a critical juncture, from which it could enter an irreversible decline through the loss of historic markets and increasing competition from plantation wood. Our historic markets have changed. The Government recognises that broad-scale wood chipping is not a basis on which the Tasmanian community wishes to build a forest industry.

Putting aside the blaming of the ENGOs and the Greens, and concentrating on the loss of historic markets, most recent statistics show that over the past 10 years the amount of logs produced from Australian native hardwood forest has collapsed from 10 million cubic metres to only 3.8 million in 2012-13. At its height, last decade, Tasmania was processing more than 5 million cubic metres of native timber. In 2012-13, as exports to Japan fell dramatically, less than 800 000 cubic metres were processed. An article in The Age newspaper on 9 August analysed the decline -

The once-dominant native-forest chip export industry has been the hardest hit. Chips, not sawn timber, has sustained the industry for many decades. 'I can't argue that there is no decline in the native forest industry' says Peter Mitchell, an experienced timber man and general manager of South East Fibre Exports, a mill and woodchip exporter on the NSW south coast. 'It is not happening because of green pressure. Not because of someone sitting up a tree. It is happening because of the market.' International competition from plantations in Vietnam, Thailand and South America produce cheaper chips with higher yields.

There is no reason to see that situation changing in the future. Plantations and yields in competing countries are only going to grow. With the shonky, market distorting, managed investment funds system gone, there is not much planting going on in Tasmania. The Leader is right in saying, 'this is the time to explore new opportunities, and not close our minds to what the industry may achieve'. This would happen just as easily and with more support under last year's TFA, and with the support of the ENGOs for FSC certification and in international markets, but that is going to be trashed.

It will require great ingenuity under this proposed legislation to maintain any image of harmony around the Tasmanian forestry industry - whatever shape it takes - especially if we are to see mandatory sentencing, and on-the-spot fines of $10 000 for those who protest.

A senior fellow at the Australian National University Fenner School of Environment and Society, Dr Judith Ajani, believes a big issue hanging over timber is resolving the social conflict between the environmentalists and the industry. She stated in that Age article, 'the role of government is critical. Governments own most of the native log resource'. She argues that -

with the growth in plantations and the fundamental market restructure, the forest industry is already enduring, and Australia is more than 80 per cent on the way to a new model. It will fall to policymakers to decide whether the final step is taken. It is the government's role to end conflict in society. And it now has a practical way to do it.

I do not see how this bill before us will end the conflict in society. Please correct me if I am wrong.

I would like to look at the proposed future potential production forest land, the future reserve land under last year's TFA, and we are told that this will be managed by Crown Land Services. We are also told, and I quote from the second reading speech, that -

the Government has determined that no native forest harvesting will be permitted on future potential production forest land.

That is until April 2020, when it may be converted to production forest. However, we were also told there will be selective harvesting of special timbers. The Tasmanian special timbers industry is small but iconic. We are told the list of specialty timbers comprises blackwood, myrtle, celery-top pine, sassafras, Huon pine, and silver wattle. Silver wattle grows rapidly when there is high rainfall and reasonable soil. Any requirement for this timber could easily be provided by private growers if the price was right. Celerytop pine takes approximately 400 years to reach boatbuilding quality, and Huon pine even longer. Sassafras is usually used for furniture and small craft objects. All these timbers have different regeneration periods and different management. I am interested in seeing an explanation of how the management regime will be put in place for specialty timbers.

One potential problem I foresee is that the special species list can be added to by regulation. What is to stop the minister in the future regulating to add the three Tasmanian oak eucalyptus species - regnans, obliqua and delegatensis? That would certainly open former reserves.

Can someone explain the definition of 'partial harvesting'? The member for Elwick had a query about that. We were going to look at that in further briefings but I believe it may have been covered privately. I would like an explanation of that. Is it some point between clearfelling and the selective extraction of a few trees? Even the selective extraction of a few trees needs roads - vehicular access - and they could cause damage to a former reserve with high environmental values.

I would also like to see details of what the special timbers industry expects to need in the future. Will there be a guarantee that all special species extracted will be used by the Tasmanian industry and not shipped out of Tasmania? I am sure there is a strong demand for Tasmanian myrtle and blackwood across Bass Strait. You could fill the Design Centre in Launceston with produce from a couple of trees.

I am concerned about the ability to convert FPPF land to permanent timber production zone land for harvesting by Forestry Tasmania. How does this fit into the proposed six-year delay in harvesting of the approximately 399 000 hectares of FPPF land? It seems that if this legislation is approved, Forestry Tasmania can seek approval to swap land between production forests and the 399 000 hectares of FPPF land. In the next six years, if any of the FPPF land is found to have high conservation values that must be preserved, it will take a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament to create the necessary reserves, and that is an unlikely prospect.

I referred earlier to the numerous briefings we have had. I commend the Leader for making sure we had those briefings, and that they were transcribed. That was a revolutionary advance and it has proven very helpful to me to have those notes to go over, rather than depend on my memory. It makes it much easier to unravel the intricacies of this bill, but it cannot help us to understand the long-term consequences of the bill. As the member for Murchison noted, the unforeseen circumstances are concerning. This bill needs further scrutiny by either a full committee of the House or a select committee, but that seems highly unlikely.

The situation has not been helped by a flood of last-minute amendments. We saw a tranche of them yesterday and there are probably more on the way. Last-minute amendments smack of legislation on the run. Why the rush? Why is this inexperienced Liberal Government so eager to tear things up? Common sense would indicate that when you gain government, after 16 years in the wilderness, you take things slowly. Like the budget process. This bill and the whole exercise associated with it is happening with unseemly haste. Almost every day we see catch-up changes and there could be more in the pipeline. We should have been taking a cold, hard look at this bill. Let us give the public a voice as well as the industry leaders. Perhaps then we might find a way to evaluate the so far unseen long-term consequences of scrapping the Tasmanian Forest Agreement and the rush to legislate logging in proposed reserves.

Mr President, I do not support the bill