Tasmania's new Liberal government tables bill to repeal forest peace deal, says legislation will halt reserve-making process, pledges to work with industry to achieve capacity to supply sawlog, veneer log volumes 'consistent with market requirements'

HOBART, Tasmania , May 8, 2014 (press release) – Madam Speaker

The Tasmanian Government went to the recent State Election with a clear statement of what its views were of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement and how it would proceed if it formed Government.

At that election, we received an overwhelming mandate to deliver our policy, particularly from rural and regional Tasmania.

There was no ambiguity, there was no confusion.

The people of Tasmania knew exactly what our intention was regarding the TFA, and they overwhelming endorsed it at the election,

The Government is very serious about meeting its election commitments, and its commitment to the forest industry.

It will come as no surprise to anyone in this chamber that the Government is tabling legislation to repeal the Tasmanian Forests Agreement (TFA) Act.

It is time to step back from the brink, reassess the events of the last four years, and plot a new course for the native forest industry that provides the basis for a strong and sustainable future for the industry.

A new course which importantly is based on science - not politics.

Putting a stop to the TFA is an important first step. But it is just that, a step.

There is much more to be done, and the industry of the future will not evolve in weeks or months.

The native forest industry has been hit with coincident events that have dramatically reduced the industry's international markets, as well as the confidence of those in the industry.

But, as we said at the time the former Labor-Green Government signed up to the TFA: You don't deal with a short-term demand problem by permanently reducing supply.

The Tasmanian Government has said enough is enough.

Enough to additional reserves made through a process that has alienated so many in the community.

Enough to Government-funded initiatives to wind down the forest industry.

And enough to governments failing to provide a forest policy that supports investment and growth in the industry and in regional Tasmania.

We understand that repealing the TFA Act alone is not a magic solution.

Markets have been affected, the industry workforce has shrunk and the industry has much to do to restore the faith of investors and lenders.

However, the Government believes it is important to make an immediate statement with regard to the TFA, to begin to restore the confidence of the markets, the community and the industry itself.

That is why the main role of the Forestry (Rebuilding the Forest Industry) Bill is to halt the reserve making process established through the TFA and thereby ensuring that future possibilities and opportunities remain available to Tasmania.

The Bill establishes a moratorium on native forest harvesting in the Future Potential Production Forest Land that will be in place for at least six years.

This will provide the industry and the wider Tasmanian community time to reassess, take stock, and determine exactly how Tasmania's forests can best contribute to the economic and community development of this State.  

Industry consultation

The Governments next step will be to establish a more open, and inclusive, consultation process around native forests.

The Government will not cede the role of decision making to interested parties.

However, the Government does intend to ensure that in representing the interests of the Tasmanian community, it will be properly informed of the broad range of views regarding management and use of our forests.

In consultation with stakeholders, the Government will develop a strategic forest industry growth plan. This plan will address critical issues relating to both wood supply and future demand for native forest products.

That will be achieved through the appointment of a high level Ministerial Advisory Council. I am currently giving consideration to the membership of the Advisory Council, but we have made very clear that it will involve people who are prepared to work with us to grow the industry and to create jobs.

Workplace security

The Government is committed to ensuring that working Tasmanians can go about their lawful business without unnecessary, costly and dangerous interference from protest action.

The Government will be introducing new laws to deter protest action where it impedes or obstructs lawful business activities.

These new laws will impose significant penalties for invading or impeding access to a workplace, with imprisonment for repeat offenders.

It will also make offenders liable for the damage or economic loss they cause.  

Regional Forests Agreement

Until it was sidelined by the TFA, the Regional Forests Agreement signed by the Tasmanian Liberal Government and the Commonwealth Liberal Government underpinned certainty in the industry.

The Tasmanian Government is committed to updating and renewing the RFA, and to implementing rolling extensions every five years.

Discussions have already begun with the Commonwealth Government.

Funding

There remains critical work to be done to rebuild the industry's future in Tasmania.

The Tasmanian Government has made clear its intention to work with the Australian Government with regard to funding for programs to support industry development and land management.

The Tasmanian Government has no intention of walking away from funding that can encourage growth, when so much has been wasted in encouraging the industry to shrink.

With the abolition of the Special Council, it is the Government's view that administration of those programs and associated funds under the control of the Council will be undertaken by the Department of State Growth.

The Government also believes that the work of the Ministerial Advisory Council should be supported from funds previously set aside for the running of the Special Council.

Residues program

High on the list of priorities is addressing the continuing issues associated with the production and sale of harvesting and processing residues.

The reality is that harvesting and processing residues constitute a critical part of the native forest harvest by volume. Until recently, these residues generated a sizeable proportion of income of Forestry Tasmania, private land holders and sawmills.

While the loss of Triabunna was a grievous blow, from which the industry has not yet recovered, we cannot dwell on the past.

The Tasmanian Government will continue to support the work being undertaken by the Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources to investigate alternative markets and value-adding uses for residues, and will work with industry to determine how to transfer ideas and opportunities into actions on the ground.

The Government believes that the best investments are those that create jobs and build durability into the economy.

The Government will work with industry in assessing and implementing solutions that can make best use of our natural advantages.

Meeting wood production targets

From initial discussions with industry, there remains a critical shortfall in contracting capacity to meet even the reduced forest harvest provided for under the Tasmanian Forests Agreement.

The Government will work with industry to determine the contributing factors to this shortfall, and what can be done to rebuild capacity and confidence in the sector.

The Government will work with Forestry Tasmania to help it to achieve the capacity to supply the legislated sawlog and veneer log volumes from the permanent timber production zone land, consistent with market requirements.  

Special Timbers

The Government will also continue to support the work that is under way on special timbers. In spite of its flagship status, the industry and its markets remain poorly understood.

It is essential to planning future supply that the needs of this sector, and opportunities for growth are better understood, both in terms of supply and demand.

In addition, speciality timber will be accessible from FPPF land if it is required during the six-year moratorium. This will be subject to a demand study and harvesting to a standard no less than demanded by Forestry Tasmania certification.

Plantation timber

Research and development - particularly in plantation timber - remains critical to Tasmania's wood production.

The Tasmanian Government will continue to press the Australian Government to honour its commitments to invest in plantation innovation and research.

Within the regrettable budget context that we have inherited, the Government will be seeking to maintain the funding commitment to plantation management, to ensure our plantations can reach full commercial potential.

In addition, the Tasmanian Government remains strongly supportive of the pulp mill at Bell Bay. We remain hopeful that the permits will be sold and the mill constructed.

It is far preferable that our plantation timber be processed here in Tasmania, creating and supporting local jobs, rather than being exported as woodchips.  

FSC Certification

The Government fully supports Forestry Tasmania's application for Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification. The Bill strongly reflects this position.

The Government recognises that FSC certification could bring significant benefits to the native forest industry.

The change in status of the current future reserve land, and the termination of the reserve making process for that land, is a deliberate action by this Government to give the wider Tasmanian community the opportunity to take stock, and determine what our priorities are for Tasmania's forests.

While that process occurs, there will be no harvesting on Future Potential Production Forest Land, with the exception of strictly limited access for special species where the need can be demonstrated.

In the absence of market demand and industry capacity, there is no need to immediately open up this land to broader harvesting.

If markets are re-established and if demand is demonstrated to exist, then the Bill provides the process through which the competing priorities can be assessed and a determination, ultimately requiring the decision of the Tasmanian Parliament, can be made.

At that time, the requirements around any certification held by Forestry Tasmania that has assisted the re-establishment of markets will clearly be a relevant consideration, and a market advantage not readily surrendered.

Conclusion

So many elements in relation to the native forest industry remain uncertain:

Forestry Tasmania's application for certification

Future opportunities for wood fibres

Special timbers markets and supply, and

Development of the plantation resource.

It is difficult to comprehend how the essentially irreversible course of action to which the TFA sought to commit all Tasmanians could be entertained before answers were available to these questions.

The Government sees the need to reverse the order of events.

Let us better understand the future need, and demand for, native forest products.

Let us properly understand our markets and our resources.

Before deciding the long-term tenure of such a significant area of public land.

We will continue and improve the industry development work commenced by the previous Government.

But we will also ensure that once concluded, that work can be used to inform a process through which the future status of the Future Potential Production Forest Land can be determined in a transparent way by duly elected representatives as provided by democratic parliamentary processes.

In conclusion, I reiterate that the Government is determined to deliver our election commitment to rip up the TFA, to rebuild our forest industry to support and create new jobs, and to build a forest industry which all Tasmanians can be proud of.


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