17 MARCH, 2014

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


COLBECK: I think it's a matter of reinforcing the message. We want to see an innovative forest industry that doesn't need the intervention of government over a long period of time, one that has certainty of wood supply for 100 years and beyond. We want to see an industry that is genuinely sustainable, where government can get out of the way and industry can get on with the job of investing in their businesses, innovating for new products and also providing to the broader community with a product which is the building product of the 21st century.

Timber stores carbon and is obviously a delightful product to have around your home or any building that you construct.

We're looking to construct a positive, secure base for the forest industry and one that people can have confidence in investing in. I think it's about time that on behalf of the Tasmanian community and Australia more broadly we said 'we can do forestry well so the environment can get a benefit and the community can get a benefit'. If you want a sustainable regional development policy, having a strong forest industry is a bit part of that.

GRANT: Is it special timbers, is it another sector?

COLBECK: Specialty species timber is part of what Tasmania is about, the high quality products we see in Blackwood, Myrtle, Blackheart sassafras and Huon Pine, all of those high quality, high value products that we see in our gift shops and in our tourism markets, our furniture trade, and our wooden boat building industry, they are absolutely vital.

We also have some magnificent visible timbers for flooring and decorative veneers and things of that nature which is high value. As part of that you will have a mix of lower value products that you have to have a market for and we can sustainably do that. I think we need to reinforce that message and we need to stand up for that message and continue to promote it. That's why you've heard so much from me in the last five or six weeks.

GRANT: I'm still trying to work out why these 74,000 hectares are crucial?

COLBECK: When we sat down and had a look at the area that was listed last year by the Government about 50,000 hectares of that was National Park and so we said we'll leave that where it is. There was about another 29,000 hectares that effectively we already managed as Wilderness World Heritage Area that was outside the estate, so we didn't argue about that. But when we sat down and looked at the areas that had been extensively disturbed through forestry operations over 150 to 200 years there was about 74,000 hectares of those.

We said under no circumstance could you define those areas as having outstanding wilderness world heritage values. They don't and they shouldn't have been included in the first place. I've flown over those areas, I've walked through them and I've had a good look; you couldn't classify them as wilderness.

So they shouldn't be there because they actually diminish the value of the rest of the estate by being there. We'll remove those areas but we'll retain the other area because we need to protect the outstanding wilderness world heritage values of the rest of the estate, but you don't do that by including areas that shouldn't be there in the first place.

GRANT: You say that you want to put the settings in place so that industry can get on with it. In agricultural basically the industry gets on with it based on what is a privatised resource, land in private hands, in fisheries its rivers, the seas are our commonwealth, in forestry we seem to have a mix between private and public and I wonder how much potential we've really got there with government, with its forests and its mechanisms and subsidies running side by side with privately held native and plantation timber?

COLBECK: that's a really good question and I think it's one of the things we need to balance out. The policy that we've got in place will see Tasmania have roughly 150,000 cubic metres of category one high quality sawlog available to it on an annual basis, sustainably. We would see about 50,000 cubic metres available to it from the private resource, although that is a bit sporadic and it depends on when and how that is released by the private sector. I think that relationship is something we need to work on both here in Tasmania and nationally. It's got to be part of a strategy that we'll work on over the next year or so and how we work out that supply, that's really important.

I would rather be in a position where we're not in the continuous cycle of every time there's an election we are deciding how much we're going to take off the industry and how much we have to compensate them for it. That's been the cycle over the last 15 or 20 years and I think broadly that's what the community are saying we want to stop and we want to get away from. I think that's what industry want as well, they don't want government coming every two years and saying we're going to take that bit too because we're getting pressure from over here.

If we're not continuously meddling as members of parliament and as government then the need for that continued subsidisation goes away and that's been the process. The reason that we spend so much money and the reason that we put in place policies around plantations for example was because we said we were going to take a whole chunk of native forest away. And so what do you do to retain an industry if you're going to take some of the resource away and you've got to generate a new one?

Of course that created its own controversy and we still hear people complaining today about the policies that were put in place to actually generate plantation estates. We're now starting to see in some parts of the country that plantation estate is starting to mature and you have a number of industries saying 'there is a resource over there, we can utilise that'. Now whether that is biofuel, whether that is ethanol, whether it's high value cellulose based chemicals being developed all around the world as a replacement for petrochemicals.

I've even had conversations with the major airlines that are looking for a cellulose based source of aviation fuel. So there's a whole heap of really quite exciting opportunities that are starting to pay off, we're seeing that in the green triangle in Victoria and South Australia, we're starting to see some elements coming through in New South Wales, and obviously there is a considerable amount of interest in Tasmania with proposals like an ethanol plant at Scottsdale. Those opportunities will continue to come to fruition as we see people looking to see move away from petrochemicals as the general conversation around the environment and climate change continues.

GRANT: You mentioned the Tasmanian Forests Agreement, the industry here has said 'we'll go with this, we'll do this trade off, let's get on with it now'. With your policy to change the boundaries again, how much does this perpetuate the uncertainty?

COLBECK: We've been trying to put a base under the uncertainty and we haven't supported this process from day one and we've been very consistent in that. One of the reasons that we haven't support it is fundamental timber supply.

The Tasmanian Forest Agreement only provides enough timber for the Tasmanian forest industry until about 2030 and after that the supply that is at about 137,000 cubic metres drops to below 40,000 cubic meters. That is not a sustainable industry.

What our policy will do is provide a supply that will go for 100 years and beyond. The TFA is basically about the current contracts with Forestry Tasmania and once those contracts expire that's basically the end of the industry in Tasmania and I don't want to be in the position where I put a future government in the situation of having to come back and buy out what's left of the industry and that is exactly what the TFA will do. It isn't a sustainable supply for the forest industry for the future and it doesn't provide that surety for investment and so you can't call it a sustainably based agreement. It's not just about the here and now, this is about the regional communities and business and industry in Tasmania for 100 years and beyond and that's the type of foundation that I think I responsibly should be setting the industry up for, not a short term one.

So that's why I haven't supported the TFA from the outset and why I don't support it now. I've been very consistent in policy in respect of that and I've told the industry that and they understand my perspective. If they don't want to harvest timber in certain areas of the state that's their prerogative, my responsibility is to ensure that there is a sustainable base for the industry in the long term and the TFA doesn't provide that.

170314 Colbeck - ABC Country Hour - Forestry
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