INTERVIEW ON ABC STATEWIDE MORNINGS WITH LEON COMPTON

MARCH 18, 2014

Topics: Forestry, Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Tasmanian state election

E&OE.......................................................................................................

COMPTON: Senator, good morning to you.

COLBECK: Good morning, Leon.

COMPTON: Nick McKim spoke with us before news and his suggestion is that the Liberal party, beyond the rhetoric of tearing up the forest peace deal, don't actually have a plan for what they want to do with the forest industry in Tasmania. Is he right?

COLBECK: Well of course he's not right. We have been opposed to this whole process since day one. I was at the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association's conference four years ago when the very first meeting around this process started and we said it was a bad idea then and we say it's a bad idea now.

What we want to do is to use the existing framework, the regional forest agreements, to provide long-term sustainable supply for the industry. That is a very good structure and served the industry well, except for times it has been tinkered with, so we want to go back to that process and we want to make it a 20 year rolling process so that after each successful five year review there are five years put on the end of it. This will create a consistent 20 year investment horizon for the industry so they can get on and have surety of investment.

We want to take away some of the destructive regulatory processes that have been put in place and the insistence of the Greens prohibiting the use of residues from the industry. What we want to do is develop some new industries in Australia like those that are being developed overseas and so there is a very strong, coherent policy from the Coalition. We prepared that during out time in opposition and I have to say I've had no difficulty making a transition from opposition to government because I'm comfortable the things I was saying before the election are the things I can continue to say now because they are based on sound policies.

COMPTON: Will there be wood supply under your plan coming out of old growth forests in Tasmania?

COLBECK: Well there may be to the special species industry, they'll be selectively and carefully logged and managed so they retain the values that we all appreciate. The best quality timbers come from old grown timber.

You need to be very careful also about the definition that we talk about in respect of old growth. The Greens regard 40 year-old regrowth as old growth forest and there is a strict definition of it which is something completely different and talks about the mature forest. So we need to be very careful about what we're listening to particularly if the Greens are talking.

There may be some timber that comes out of old forest because the best quality timber that's used in our fine furniture and veneer industries comes from older forests and that's going to have to be a source. We need to manage our forests on those long-term cycles of rotation so that we can continue to have access to them over the longer-term and some of those forests we would only selectively manage on a 200 year cycle. We won't be going in there continuously harvesting, it's about the cycle of harvest and it's about the maintenance of the values in those forests and that's an important part of the broader conversation we need to have with the community.

We're not going out there to destroy the forests; we're going there to manage them sustainably so that we can continue to enjoy access to the products they provide.

COMPTON: Where will this wood supply come from more broadly? Will it come from areas that are currently listed for World Heritage protection?

COLBECK: As you know, many of the areas that have been put into the World Heritage Area in the latest listing have been logged intensively, not just selectively but intensively. So it is reasonable to expect that we can continue to access those areas on a sustainable cycle of rotations. There is no reason to expect that we can't do this.

The thing that really makes me angry is that the Greens are still saying that we're destroying our forests and those same forests they then claim that we can lock up as Wilderness World Heritage Areas. They can't have it both ways.

What it does show is that we can regenerate our forests, that our forest management practices are good, and that we can regenerate our forests so that we do have those values. I think that's something that hasn't been put to the broader community and the industry needs to step up to the plate on.

COMPTON: The counter argument is that you've got on one side World Heritage Areas that have never before been logged, then you've got some of these areas that you have highlighted in the middle that have been logged previously as part of the forestry regime, and then om the other side of that there are areas that have never been logged. The Greens would argue that in their efforts to have one continuous World Heritage Area that you need to protect that previously logged bit in the middle and that is essentially what you and they are fighting about at the moment. Do you accept that as a fair description of where those areas that have previously been logged fit within this new World Heritage listing?

COLBECK: No I don't, Leon. If you look at the maps, these are extensions out from the previous boundaries and if you look at the conversation that was had by the World Heritage Commission in their 2008 report they said when they came and inspected these forests that they didn't need to be included. They also said our forest management practices were not diminishing the outstanding values of the World Heritage Area and in 2010 Peter Garrett said that there was no intention from the government to extend the World Heritage Area any future.

So these claims that are being made by environment groups that the World Heritage Commission asked for an extension I would dispute.

There are some areas that were outside the existing Wilderness World Heritage boundaries that we had been managing as Wilderness World Heritage Areas and they will remain within the Wilderness World Heritage Area, we think that's fair enough.

So we're not taking everything back, we're taking back areas that we believe have been disturbed and don't have those outstanding Wilderness World Heritage values that the community justifiably believe should remain in place.

What we do want to see is a sustainable wood supply for the forest industry for 100 years and beyond and that's not what the Tasmanian Forest Agreement provides and that's one of the fundamental reasons that we could never support it.

The Tasmanian Forest Agreement supplies timber to the industry until about 2030 and then the supply drops significantly to the extent where there's not enough to sustain an industry and that's not a sustainable industry in my terms, so anyone who says that really doesn't understand what the Tasmanian Forest Agreement is about.

COMPTON: Jane Calvert looks at it from a workers or union member's perspective, Terry Edwards looks at it from an industry perspective and they are both still lining up to say that you're wrong on this and that you should be sticking to the deal that has been done.

COLBECK: Well I don't determine my policy based on what the union might say, I don't determine my policy based on what industry might say, and I don't determine my policy based on environmental groups might say. I look across all of the facts, I assess where we are going into the future and whether we want to have a sustainable industry for the longer term.

I believe that Tasmania should have a sustainable native forest based industry. I know the Greens don't want that, they were saying that yesterday in the Senate. I don't believe the Labor party don't want it, I think they do want a sustainable industry but they've got locked into a process where they've been in coalition with the Greens over the last three or four years both at a state and federal level and they've been locked into a process. I hope they wake up soon and we can get back to a sensible and common-sense native forest based policy across the major parties.

So I've taken a lot of time to look at the facts and I've consulted broadly across the industry. I've sat down with the environmental groups and talked to the unions and of course the industry. I've looked at a broader picture including talking to a number of forest scientists, not just picking particular forest scientist to suit my opinion, so that we get a sensible policy and a sustainable industry for the long term. Suggestions that there is no plan from the Coalition is just wrong because there is.

COMPTON: Everybody who criticises your approach to this says it doesn't matter what really anybody inside Tasmania thinks, it matters what the markets think in places like Japan, potentially the UK, and on the mainland when it comes to dealing with the major hardware chains that might stop Tasmanian timber products. Is it their view as agents for Tasmanian timber products that matters and almost nothing else?

COLBECK: That is an important perspective but having spoken to some of the players in the markets I can tell you the Australian community want to buy Australian timber. They want to buy Australian timber products and they want to buy Australian furniture. If they want to do that they need to be able to access the forest to get it.

COMPTON: That's what the consumer might say but what about what Harvey Norman say, what about what Mitre10 say, what about what Bunnings say, what about what Ta Ann's customers in Japan say? They want non-contentious wood and it seems like you want to deliver wood that might be contentious?

COLBECK: This language of wanting non-contentious wood is basically the language of blackmail because the Greens know all they need to do is to tag something as being contentious and then they can go to the market and say 'this in contentious, you shouldn't take it'.

That is exactly what happened to Ta Ann, they did not have a problem in their Japanese markets until the forest agreement got to the stage where the areas were slated for protection and once that was done the Green groups immediately went into their markets and said to the Japanese 'you shouldn't take this timber out of these particular forests because they are going to be protected and locked up'.

At that point the Tasmanian Forest Agreement became a weapon against Ta Ann and so it became a blackmail tool and that's what we're saying shouldn't occur.

We want to work with the state government, and I'm really pleased we've now got a friendly state government working down there, to put these forests into areas where we can designate them as forest access zones and we can do that in conjunction with the regional forest agreement. We can say to the markets 'these are well managed forests in conjunction with high forestry management standards and you can be well assured that's where the timber is going to be coming from'.

COMPTON: If you're going to undo the restructure, why deliver the restructure money? Most of the $100 million was promised to Tasmania as part of a restructure for forestry to try and promote development in other areas, it would seem is not necessary. So why deliver that money? Are you still planning to?

COLBECK: We made a commitment about the $100 million prior to the election and one thing I will say is that we have to repair some of the significant damage that was done to the Tasmanian economy by the Labor party and the Greens during the last four years in Tasmania, three years at a federal level and also by this disastrous forestry deal.

The damage that was done to Tasmania and its reputation by this process is quite profound and I've had a number of people who've said to me 'based on this process we can't be confident of investing in Tasmania'.

It's going to take a little while to turn that attitude around and we need to be able to demonstrate to the investment community and to the business community that we have a solid foundation for our policy that we will be supporting business and industry into the future to grow and to invest and so we've got to really big repair job to do.

COMPTON: So you will be delivering the $90 or $95 million that still needs to be delivered under the forest peace deal?

COLBECK: The $100 million we committed to before the election, we've announced I think two projects so far and a number of those are still going through their value for money assessments. We continue to talk quite regularly to project proponents about those and we intend to honour the commitment we made before the election. This forestry process is also a commitment that we made at the election.

COMPTON: Just finally, what about the money to contractors, what about the money to sawmillers to get out of the game? Are those contractors welcome to come back into the market, is that your plan? Are sawmills going to be reopened?

COLBECK: The contractors that have signed contacts on the basis of accepting money will have to honour those contracts and as I'm aware there's still a fair bit of money that the state government has that hasn't been allocated under those processes. How that is managed is something that I'll have to have a conversation with the new minister when they're appointed down in Tasmania.

What I see as occurring is those that are left and want to stay in the industry now have a wood supply to grow into so that we can start to rebuild the industry and there is obviously opportunities for new industries and businesses to start up. There's discussions at Scottsdale for example around ethanol and there's conversations around biomass, there's conversation around other cellulose based derivatives that there is opportunities for and there is opportunity for growth in the forest industry in Tasmania and we intend to work alongside the industry to facilitate that.

COMPTON: Good to talk to you this morning.

COLBECK: Thanks very much Leon.

180314 Colbeck - ABC Statewide Mornings - Forestry
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