Wednesday 24 May 2017
Hansard of the Legislative Council
FORESTRY (UNLOCKING PRODUCTION FORESTS) BILL 2017 (No. 6)
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I apologise for my interjections, they were uncalled for. The title of this bill harks back to the destructive forestry wars, which were a big factor in the loss of our international markets. I can only believe that is what the Government wants - a return to conflict and family-splitting argument over what is now a fairly insignificant native forest industry. That concept of divide-and-rule may have worked for a time with the colonial powers in Africa and the Asian subcontinent, but look where that has left those regions now.
The former Gray government tried it with the Gordon below Franklin dam proposal. The divide and rule concept certainly rent Tasmanian society apart. But the government failed to rule as far as the Hydro project was concerned. The reserves in this bill were to be open for logging in 2020. Now, the Government wants them available from July next year. It just happens to be a state election year - snap!
I will get to the suggestion that practically no-one wants timber from this area shortly. Could it be the Government's motivation is to inflame another conservationists versus the forestry industry? That is a good old fight before next year's state election. The tactic would not be in Tasmania's interest. Tasmanians are sick to death of being used as pawns in artificially concocted forest wars. What a load of rubbish. They have seen it all before. The majority are like me. We are fed up with this business.
We had a glimmer of hope when the then prime minister, Bob Hawke, appointed former judge Michael Helsham to evaluate parts of Tasmania's forests for possible heritage listing. Helsham back then almost became a household word, the Helsham inquiry. I remember it vividly. The Helsham inquiry was followed by many forest-funding agreements over decades in which many millions of federal funds were used to end the conflict over Tasmanian forests by restructuring the industry and saying which forests could be logged and which protected.
Under the previous Tasmanian Labor government it looked like we were heading for some sort of lasting peace in our forests. But then the Hodgman Government tore that apart after the 2014 election, and now they apparently want to consolidate that with next year's election.
It puzzles me why the Minister for Resources is instigating this move without apparently assessing any interest in harvesting reserved areas. Where are the expressions of interest to get involved? Surely, if you are going to change ecologically important reserves into forest production areas, you ask first whether anyone is interesting in logging them, apparently without any hope of the certification now necessary to get into the international markets. They must realise that social acceptance is part of the Forest Stewardship Council certification evaluation.
Forestry Tasmania does not want to log previously protected forests because, among other things, it would jeopardise any hope it has of winning FSC certification. In any case, Forestry Tasmania harvesting operations operate at a loss. Forest Industries Association of Tasmania - FIAT - is largely against the move because it might jeopardise their markets. Sawmillers are opposed to the bill. The giant national hardware retailer Bunnings says it will not sell any timber products from the area.
The most significant opposition to this bill comes from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union - the CFMEU - the very same union which supported the Howard government's forestry policy in Tasmania and devastated the Tasmanian Labor vote. The CFMEU says unlocking the reserves early will destroy the industry which the Government says it is trying to save. The union's decision to oppose the bill was taken by a meeting of about 500 timber workers some months ago. ABC Online quotes the Tasmanian District Secretary of the CFMEU, Scott McLean, as saying that he does not understand why the Government is trying to get this bill through parliament. In saying that most of the industry does not want logs from the reserves, it is important to note the vocal arguments of some of these using speciality timbers.
Andrew Denman of Denman Marine has long argued for a greater supply of specialty timbers. He said that demand for specialty timbers is high. I assume we all received Mr Denman's email in which he put forward a well-presented case. He said -
Forestry Tasmania either can't or won't supply the timber.
Mr Denman has a point. I am not convinced there is not enough resource elsewhere.
Let us look at the history of Forestry Tasmania logging practices over the past few decades when it was considered a nuisance to separately extract specialty timbers. We remember that time. It was disgraceful. How many people who loved our forests and our timbers had to stand and watch them burn? There are plenty of cases where timber such as blackwood and myrtle was windrowed and burnt. But I am prepared to let that go - that is in the past, it is just a reminder.
Any timber in the former reserves is to be felled by private operators, if at all. The excuse for the Government's moves to help make up this 137 000 cubic metre sawlog requirement that Forestry Tasmania is supposed to supply every year, whether there are buyers for it or not - that quota, to me, seems long outdated. Is there an opportunity for that to be revisited? I think it is outdated. Any privately harvested sawlogs from the former reserves, as mentioned by the member for Western Tiers, will go towards Forestry Tasmania's 137 000 cubic metre quota. How will this be viewed by the Forest Stewardship Council? That is going to be interesting.
The bill, for the first time, allows sawlogs harvested from private land to go towards that quota. Private landowners have long complained about the unfair competition from the subsidised, loss-making Forestry Tasmania but perhaps sawlogs from private land might make the opening up of the reserves unnecessary. Has the Government researched that possibility?
The Government also says it needs the 137 000 cubic metres to save up to 700 jobs. Yet we have been given no firm details of where those jobs are or whether they will be provided by private operators, who do not seem much interested in logging the former reserves.
Of course we have all received numerous submissions and emails on this bill. Most of them are vehemently against it; only a small number are for it. That is what I found with the emails that came through to me, and the member for Western Tiers alluded to the extent of those. Sometimes you just glaze over when you have them coming in at 100 miles an hour; it tends to wash over you after a while. I have saved them but I have not been back to look at them, put it that way.
I am not going to go into too many quotes, although I must say I was hoping for something from me, maybe from the debate about the TFA agreement. I am hoping that in the future some quotes might come from this speech.
Mr Hall - How remiss of me, sorry.
Mr FINCH - My nose is out of joint. I agreed with you before you did your speech.
Now, let us be serious. We received a letter from GR Garrott, the chartered accountant. I want to read it into Hansard, mainly because it is a very prominent family where I live at Deviot. You might remember Garrott and Garrott, the accountancy firm in Launceston. That is the same family. I have been down there to see their operation, which I am about to allude to, and it is very special.
Mr Dean - It is the seaweed one, isn't it?
Mr FINCH - Yes, that is right.
Mr Dean - So they are destroying the coastline.
Mr FINCH - Thanks very much; yes, very good. That is quite farcical. I will read this letter from Geoffrey Garrott -
I do not normally involve myself in political issues, but I feel compelled on this occasion to do so.
I am a co-founder of The Beacon Foundation, which has affected the lives of countless young people. However, most importantly in this instance, my family owns and operates a bio-medical company, Marinova Proprietary Limited, which I founded some 20 years ago. The nutraceutical ingredients produced by Marinova are consumed by millions of people from around the globe for health purposes. Marinova is known as the 'gold standard' internationally for the production of pure fucoidans which largely depends on the image of the Tasmanian environment.
We have extreme concerns that the fall-out from passing further legislation to harvest old growth forest will damage our business, short term and long term. We believe Tasmania should be able to promote itself as a preserver of the natural environment rather than its destroyer.
It is a slightly long bow to draw to include them, but these are the feelings and emotions of a prominent Tasmanian citizen. It was to draw me to this suggestion about our image and our brand that is projected outside of this state.
Mr Dean - What I said was right: some issues have been raised about harvesting seaweed by many local people, saying it is impacting on the fish and coastline. That is another issue.
Mr FINCH - You have brought it up. I do not know. Are you suggesting Marinova is involved in that issue you are highlighting now?
Mr Dean - No. As I understand it, they use the seaweed for their product.
Mr FINCH - That is right, yes. Are you suggesting that Marinova is involved in the issue you are promulgating here?
Mr Dean - No.
Mr FINCH - I am drawing a long bow. Are you drawing a long bow as well?
Mr Dean - Not as long as yours.
Mr FINCH - That is a debate for another time. I will explore it with Mr Garrott and see whether they are involved in that issue. The member for Apsley talked about the fast-growing tourism ventures in her electorate. Those ventures have been referred to, particularly for mountain bike trails and all sorts of riding experiences through the forest.
Ms Rattray - Guess what? I have an amendment.
Mr FINCH - I realise you have an amendment, but I remember during our briefings when you put forward the suggestion that if there were only 50 000 hectares of harvestable forests, why not separate that up?
Ms Rattray - It is not as easy as I had hoped it might be, but I will get to it.
Mr FINCH - No. It was an interesting suggestion. You were the one who sowed the seed with me that 50 000 hectares are suitable for logging.
Ms Rattray - I am hoping you will support my amendment.
Mr FINCH - If you quote my speech, you are heading up the right track. The suggestion by the member for Apsley was: why not remove the remaining 306 000 hectares from the bill? That suggestion resonated with me.
Ms Rattray - I worked hard on that.
Mr FINCH - The member for Apsley understandably would like to know what areas might be logged close to tourist attractions like the Blue Derby Mountain Bike Trails. What a great success story that is.
Ms Rattray - The Enduro Series hosting.
Mr FINCH - Why are people coming from around Australia, around Tasmania, around the world to experience the natural beauty and the natural qualities of Tasmania? I have pointed out in the past that forestry operations and policies are under international scrutiny. A recent online petition against the state Government's intention to open 356 000 hectares for logging two years earlier than planned - Save Tasmania's Forests and Rare Endangered Wildlife! - received tens of thousands of signatures from all over the world. The last time I looked there were more than 157 500 signatories. Many of those signatories were from Europe to Canada, from Argentina to Malaysia. Those people are all potential visitors to Tasmania. What message is the Government sending them about Tasmania? Tourism is booming in Tasmania. It cannot be denied. Its economic importance is far greater than the whole native forestry industry.
Mr Hall - Through you, Mr President, tourism and forestry operations are not mutually exclusive. In many parts of the world, as I explained before, if you do it properly, it does not matter.
Mr FINCH - That is right; let us get the balance. Let us not keep it one-sided. Let us recognise, while we go down this track of tourism, the arguments, debates and discussions I had in this place trying to tell people how important tourism is to the Tasmanian economy. I was pooh-poohed when I first came into this Parliament, 'Oh, no, tourism?' They chortled away. 'Where do you think it is? It is about fifth or sixth as far as the economy of Tasmania is concerned.' I knew then it was rubbish and it is rubbish now. The importance of tourism to Tasmania's economy is so high, it has to be up around first or second in what it brings in for Tasmania. It is just huge.
I hark back to the trip we had to New Zealand to explore tourism. We learned in New Zealand that primary industry and tourism juggle around for the first and second spot as far as the New Zealand economy is concerned. When we were there, who was the minister for tourism? The former prime minister, John Key.
Ms Rattray - You told us that a number of times.
Mr FINCH - Yes, about 20 times now. What a revelation that was. He is proof positive of how important tourism can be to a destination.
Mr Hall - They do their agriculture and tourism beautifully because they do not have the resources we have in Australia, nor the industrial heartland, and they have done their forestry.
Mr FINCH - They do not have people talking tourism down. I have heard that since I have been here but it has changed now. Tourism is right up where it should be in recognition and acknowledgement, but it took a long time for people to become positive about tourism.
Ms Rattray - And a very good select committee.
Mr FINCH - It was a beauty.
International eyes are on us. That is what I am highlighting. If this bill becomes law, Tasmania's image, in the eyes of the world, could be jeopardised. In his latest scare campaign, the Minister for Resources spoke of small sawmillers considering moving to the mainland.
Ms Rattray - Do you mean a media release?
Mr FINCH - Where would they go? The last we heard, a big Victorian sawmiller was considering moving to Tasmania because of the lack of resource in Victoria.
Ms Forrest - They were not going to go near the native forest. They are only interested in plantation.
Mr FINCH - Yes, thank you for that fact.
Mr FINCH - Another Victorian miller was reported to be about to shut down. The minister speaks of the little guys who will be threatened if this bill fails. In any case, there is no extra native forest resource for small Tasmanian sawmillers if they go to the mainland.
The Tasmanian Sawmillers Association, which represents Mr Barnett's little guys, sees the legislation as a problem. The minister studiously seems to avoid mentioning the large hardwood resource on private land. This is well managed and sustainable. Most private forest owners live on their holdings. We heard from the member for Western Tiers about private forest owners. I want to repeat some of those figures because they are important. For decades they have struggled to find markets in competition with the subsidised and loss-making Forestry Tasmania. Unlock that resource, I suggest, and there will be no need to log the former reserves.
Of the 50 per cent of Tasmania's forest cover, as we have heard, 31 per cent is privately owned. In total Tasmania's private forests cover more than one million hectares, approximately 15 per cent of the state's land mass. Private forestry is a significant contributor to Tasmania's economy and a large employer. Private forests contribute more than 50 per cent of Tasmania's forest production. As mentioned by the member for Western Tiers, there are approximately 5000 private forest owners in Tasmania.
The Tasmanian forestry industry growth plan was quietly released a few weeks ago. The Government had apparently been sitting on it since March. The Ministerial Advisory Council on Forestry's report seemed an embarrassment to the Government and the Minister for Resources. It recommends what it calls - an understanding of the environmental, social and economic implications, prior to any decision of Parliament on changes to the production forest estate (increases or decreases).
The ministerial advisory council plan stresses community expectations about forestry management and environmental practices must be met -
… the commitment of current and future governments to an agreed and stable approach to industry policy is essential in establishing an operational environment that is conducive to investment and development.
I have mentioned numerous reasons why this bill does not stack up and there are not many more. I will not take up any more of the members' time. The most telling argument about this bill is that most of the forestry industry does not want it. I do not support it.