19 MARCH, 2014

Topics: Forestry, Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Tasmanian Forest Agreement


WILSON: The newly elected Liberal government is wasting no time in moving to scrap the state's forest peace deal. The premier elect Will Hodgman is preparing to meet timber industry leaders in the first step towards repealing the Tasmanian Forests Agreement. The agreement between three environmental groups, a range of timber representatives and the union extended the area of protected forests in exchange of millions of dollars in industry assistance. The Tasmanian Liberals can only undo the deal with the support of the federal government. Federal Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck is one of the key supporters in Canberra for undoing the agreement and he told me earlier why he is still committed to repealing parts of the Wilderness World Heritage Area extension.

COLBECK: Basically because it should never have been put into Wilderness World Heritage in the first place. We've stated for a considerable period of time, since going to have a look at the area, that significant areas of the extension were logged. The World Heritage Commission themselves said in 2008 that it didn't warrant inclusion into the expanded estate and in 2010 Peter Garrett said the government had no intention to expand the Wilderness World Heritage Area at all. So what we ended up with was a purely political process that was driven by Labor and the Greens at a federal level and because of that areas were put in that shouldn't have been put there.

WILSON: Why should they not have been put in? This is a process that saw the heritage values independently assessed and that was led by Professor Jonathan West, you then had the forest industry representatives and environmental groups sit down and reach an agreement and put the area forward for nomination and then that was accepted by the World Heritage Committee.

COLBECK: Well that is not correct, it wasn't assessed by Jonathan West and that wasn't the job that he had to do. These areas are simply areas that we claimed by the environmental movements.

WILSON: His job was to assess the conservation values of the area and assess the future timber supply for the industry.

COLBECK: There was no scientific assessment of these areas as part of the nomination process.

WILSON: The group looked at the claims the environmental groups were making and compiled a report that was then available to the timber industry representatives that were signatories to this agreement and the environmental groups, who then reached an agreement to then extend the Wilderness World Heritage Area.

COLBECK: It's not up to environmental groups and the timber industry to make an agreement about extension of the Wilderness World Heritage Area.

WILSON: It's up to the World Heritage Committee.

COLBECK: It's not the role of environmental groups. These forests and these areas do not belong to the environment movement, they don't belong to the industry, and they don't belong to the unions. They belong to the Australian community more broadly and it is not the role of the environment movement, the timber industry or the union movement to make decisions on behalf of government.

WILSON: What should replace the existing Tasmanian Forests Agreement?

COLBECK: That's something that the new Tasmanian government is going to have to negotiate with the industry and the federal government. Our objective for the forests in Tasmania is that we have, as I've stated, a sustainable industry that provides good forest management. It's important to have the appropriate forms of forest management in various areas because you will have different forest management regimes in different parts of the state depending on the local environment and the types of species you're extracting. You then need something that sets the industry up for a sustainable future into the long-term, for 100 years and beyond, so you can environmentally sustain the industry and manage the forests for all of their values, whether they be environmental, industrial or for community values.

WILSON: But if an agreement that took three years to reach, at least three years to reach, is going to be undone and torn-up and there is a risk that as a result of that you'll see a return to conflict in the forests. Shouldn't there be a clear plan in place of what will replace that agreement?

COLBECK: Well there is a clear plan in place for what will replace it and it was written in our policy at the federal election. We will return to the framework of the Regional Forest Agreements which sets down strong management systems, which sets down a sustainable yield for harvest of forest, for regeneration of forest and for protection of the environment.

WILSON: So what role, if any, should the ENGOs have, the big environment groups that have been signatories to the previous agreement, what role should they play in determining the future of Tasmania's forest industry?

COLBECK: The first thing environmental groups need to do is to listen to what the Tasmanian community has said. The Tasmanian community want to see their forests sustainably managed and that can happen. I've had a number of conversations with the environmental groups that have been party to the negotiations and they understand our perspectives from a federal view and they understand that we want to have a sustainable industry that looks after the environment. There was a real opportunity to do that with Gunns leaving the industry, to reduce the intensity of harvest, to extend our rotations and provide a high quality timber resource. That would have given a community benefit, an environmental benefit and an industry benefit. But they weren't prepared to listen to that and they wanted it all their own way which has been the problem all along. I can tell you this government, and I'm sure the Tasmanian government, will not be blackmailed by environmental groups who just want it all their own way. Nor will we be blackmailed by the Greens who want to see the end of the native forest industry in Australia, not just Tasmania, because that's their stated policy.

WILSON: This program was in Tasmania last week looking at this issue and it was made very clear by Vica Bailey and others that if the existing agreement is wound back or repealed then there is a risk of return to the forest conflicts. We also heard from Dr Jackie Sherman from the University of Canberra who has studied this extensively, that having the environment groups on side and endorsing the future of Tasmania's forestry is essential if the industry is to have high value markets going forward. Don't you have to as a Liberal party, and the state Liberals, have to work with the environmental movement?

COLBECK: Yes we do and as I've said I've met with the environmental movement every time they've come and knocked on my door to have a discussion, I've always been prepared to do that. But I'm not going to be blackmailed by people like Vica Bailey. His view is not the only view of the world and he needs to respect the view of the Tasmanian people. That's something he needs to clearly understand. We will sit down and work out a process whereby the industry in Tasmania has a sustainable future that provides benefits for the community, benefits for the environment and benefits for the industry. That can be done and its actually demonstrated by the fact that significant areas within the new Wilderness World Heritage boundary have been significantly logged and the Greens claim they can be regenerated which is an endorsement of the forest management practices in Tasmania. I actually agree with them that they can be regenerated which demonstrates that there is no need to lock all these areas up. We need to manage them well so we get a result for the environment, the community and for the industry.

WILSON: How important do you think an independent third party certification of the industry's products will be to the future of the industry?

COLBECK: We already have one independent third party certification system in the Australian Forestry Standard, which is globally benchmarked to PEFC and there is work being undertaken for the development of a Forest Stewardship Council standard here in Australia which I fully support. Both of those are important to elements of the market globally and in fact I've had that very conversation with Forest Stewardship Council and their board.

WILSON: If the extension of the Wilderness World Heritage Area is partially repealed there is a risk there will be some areas of native forest available for logging again and that in turn will put at risk any Forest Stewardship certification. How will you overcome that?

COLBECK: The environmental groups don't have a veto over Forest Stewardship Council certification, they might claim they do but they don't. The Forest Stewardship Council and any certification system is a system of assessment and measurement of the forest management practices that occur in any particular forest that are covered by those systems.

WILSON: And if more native forest is opened up for logging then that certification is at risk.

COLBECK: Not necessarily, I don't think you actually understand how it works. Forest Stewardship certification was actually designed for native forest logging, it came out of Canada and was designed for native forest logging so it doesn't prohibit native forest logging. That's a misnomer that the Greens have put around their marketing campaign against the forest industry, particularly the native forest industry. Forest Stewardship certification doesn't prohibit harvesting in a native forest but what it talks about is the way you go about that and it checks your forest management practices against the certification system to assess that you're doing what you say you're doing. It's the forest management practices that are very important to the gaining of Forest Stewardship Council certification, as it is with the Australian Forest Standard.

WILSON: The single biggest timber operator in the state, and some say the most important, Ta Ann, and also the head of the timber industry's association, Terry Edwards, have asked that the existing agreement remain in place. Why won't you listen to them?

COLBECK: Industry doesn't design government policy, I know that's what we're often accused of but Ta Ann know what our policy is, I've spoken to them lately and I've spoken to Terry Edwards lately. Our policy is about providing a sustainable timber supply for a sustainable industry into the long-term future.

WILSON: But these are people who know what the industry needs, they're right there at the forefront.

COLBECK: Well excuse me for knowing my policy but I can tell you because I've looked at the supply charts for this industry, that were done by Jonathan West, and the Tasmanian Forest Agreement leaves the Tasmanian forest industry without a timber supply by 2030. Now that leaves a future government in a situation of having to mop up a complete mess when that timber supply runs out. I am not going to put a future government in a situation like the one which I have inherited from the previous government, which is to clean up a significant mess that's been left in Tasmania.

WILSON: Tasmanian Liberal Senator, Richard Colbeck. You're listening to Bush Telegraph.

190314 Radio National Bush Telegraph - Forestry - Colbeck
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