Image for Abbott ignored Joyce, Hunt and departmental advice over failed Tasmanian forest policy: FOI document

*Pic: of Tony Abbott

Prime Minister Tony Abbott ignored senior ministers Barnaby Joyce and Greg Hunt as well as ministerial advice in steamrolling ahead with his 2013 election commitments to tear up the historic Tasmanian forest peace deal, axe part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA), and stop the creation of national parks, according to government documents obtained by the Wilderness Society under Freedom of Information.

Before the election, Tony Abbott and his forestry spokesperson, Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck, repeatedly committed to these policies[1][2][3], despite advice on the dangers from key industry stakeholders[4][5].

The FOI documents detail:

•      Departmental advice[6] immediately after the 2013 election[7] that unwinding the forestry agreement in Tasmania   supported by “both industry and environmental stakeholders”  had “high sensitivity” and would “have implications for the Government’s ability to successfully negotiate an extension to the Tasmanian RFA in a timely way”.

•      Immediately post-election[8], the responsible ministers, Environment Minister Greg Hunt and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, wrote to Prime Minister Abbott seeking time to “examine the implications” of commitments to “suspend further lock ups” and seek the removal of the TWWHA extension:

In light of the complexity of the issues surrounding Tasmanian forestry, we have come to the view that it would be appropriate to have a six-month review of the Tasmanian forestry package that would enable us to consult more broadly with a wide range of stakeholders on our election commitments.

In particular, the review would enable us to more fully examine the implications of our commitments [Redacted] and on our capacity to negotiate successfully the third five-yearly review and extension of the Tasmanian RFA.

•      Announcements on the review appear to have been delayed because of concerns from the Tasmanian Forestry Minister that the RFA process could cause ‘confusion and unnecessary tension’ amongst stakeholders regarding the state-owned forestry company Forestry Tasmania’s efforts to achieve gold-standard Forest Stewardship Council certification[9].

From other available documentation[10], it is clear that the Prime Minister ignored both the review proposed by the responsible Ministers Joyce and Hunt, and departmental advice, writing to the Tasmanian Liberal opposition leader (now Premier) Will Hodgman on December 19, 2013, to confirm the commitments to election policies, stating:

I am writing to confirm the Australian Government’s intention to honour its election commitments regarding Tasmanian forestry. These commitment include no further lock-ups of Tasmanian forests; revision of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) boundary extension; and extending Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) commencing with the Tasmanian RFA[11].

These commitments relating to no further lock-ups and proposal to revise the TWWHA extension effectively unwind the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) and the National Partnership Agreement entered into by the former government and the Tasmanian Government.

“Tony Abbott’s ill-considered commitments to end the negotiated Tasmanian forest peace deal have been a spectacular failure.  It is a classic case of his crash-or-crash-through style and he has crashed again,” said Wilderness Society Tasmanian Campaign Manager Vica Bayley.

“The Abbott Government deliberately sabotaged the historic forest peace deal for ideological reasons, and then ignored advice from Ministers and departmental staff on the consequences.”

“This has been a policy disaster. Australia was internationally embarrassed after its ham-fisted efforts to remove 74,000 hectares of old growth and wilderness forest from the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area where rejected in minutes by the World Heritage Committee in June 2014, with the Portuguese delegation calling Australia’s attempt ‘feeble’[12].”

“The review to determine the future of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) – the State-Commonwealth agreement that legalises logging in Tasmanian forests - is now 2 and half years late,” said Wilderness Society National Forest Campaigner Warrick Jordan.

“Industry, conservation and union stakeholders negotiated the forest peace deal because the RFA had failed to ensure industry viability, protect the environment, and secure a social licence, with 3500 jobs being lost in the Tasmanian industry over the past five years.”

“Terminating the peace deal prevented stakeholder-created solutions to decades-old problems from being implemented. It’s no surprise that civil servants warned that this would cause problems for revising the RFA framework.”

“The Government has clearly ignored departmental advice that axing support for the Tasmanian forest peace deal would ‘have implications for the Government’s ability to successfully negotiate an extension to the Tasmanian RFA in a timely way’.”

“Now, 18 months later, after the same announcements being wheeled out every few months, the RFA review process is still being developed.”

“Clearly the Government is concerned about the RFA process in the aftermath of its decision to sabotage the peace deal. Announcements on the RFA review have apparently been delayed because of concerns from the Tasmanian Forestry Minister that the RFA process would cause stakeholder ‘confusion and unnecessary tension’ regarding Forestry Tasmania’s efforts to achieve the gold standard Forest Stewardship Council certification required for market access and profitability.”

Appendix 1. – Tony Abbott Tasmanian forestry statements

Letter – Prime Minister Abbott to Liberal leader Will Hodgman, December 19, 2013


I am writing to confirm the Australian Government’s intention to honour its election commitments regarding Tasmanian forestry. These commitment include no further lock-ups of Tasmanian forests; revision of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) boundary extension; and extending Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) commencing with the Tasmanian RFA[13].

These commitments relating to no further lock-ups and proposal to revise the TWWHA extension effectively unwind the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) and the National Partnership Agreement entered into by the former government and the Tasmanian Government.

The Coalition’s Economic Growth Plan for Tasmania[14], August 2013

We will not support further lock-ups


The Coalition has never supported Labor’s recent rushed and political World Heritage extension, which was put in place against the will of the Tasmanian people, and will seek to have it removed.

We will establish a 20-year rolling life to each Regional Forest Agreement and provide resource security and a stable investment environment to the forestry industry.

This objective will be achieved by extending Regional Forest Agreements for five years following the successful completion and implementation of each Regional Forest Agreement’s five year review.

The process will commence with the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement.

Tony Abbott Address to the Forest Works annual dinner, April 2014

We don’t support, as a Government and as a Coalition, further lockouts of our forests. We just don’t support it.

We have quite enough National Parks, we have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact, in an important respect, we have too much locked up forest.

One of the first acts of the incoming Government was to begin the process to try to get out of world heritage listing 74,000 hectares of country in Tasmania, because that 74,000 hectares is not pristine forest. It’s forest which has been logged, it’s forest which has been degraded, in some cases, it’s plantation timber that was actually planted to be logged.

Now I’m all in favour of protecting pristine wilderness in proportion – I am all in favour of that. But why should we lock up, as some kind of world heritage sanctuary, country which has been logged, degraded or planted for timber? Why should we do that? Frankly, when this Government comes across examples of actions which are contrary to common sense, we do our best to reverse them. That’s what we do – we try to ensure that government does not do that which is contrary to common sense.

You know, getting that 74,000 hectares out of the world heritage listing is still going to leave half of Tasmania protected forever, but that will be an important sign to you, to Tasmanians and to the world that we respect the timber industry and we want the timber industry to have a vigorous and dynamic future, not just a past. We want the timber industry to be a vital part of Australia’s economic future, not just something that was a relic of our history. That’s what this Government wants.

Appendix 2 – Excerpts – Ministers Hunt and Joyce letter to Abbott[15], before September 25, 2013

Dear Prime Minister,

    We are writing to seek your agreement to our proposed approach to implementing our election commitments on Tasmanian Forests. As you would be aware, we have committed to suspending any further lock-ups within the first week, to exploring avenues to seek the removal of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area boundary extension that was approved by the World Heritage Committee on 24 June 2013, and to progress the five-yearly review and extension of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (RFA).

In light of the complexity of the issues surrounding Tasmanian forestry, we have come to the view that it would be appropriate to have a six-month review of the Tasmanian forestry package that would enable us to consult more broadly with a wide range of stakeholders on our election commitments.

In particular, the review would enable us to more fully examine the implications of our commitments [Redacted] and on our capacity to negotiate successfully the third five-yearly review and extension of the Tasmanian RFA.

[Redacted]

We look forward to your confirmation of this approach as a measured and considered way forward on the future engagement of the Australian Government on Tasmanian Forests.

Yours Sincerely

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Minister for the Environment

The Hon Barnaby Joyce MP
Minister for Agriculture

Refs:

[1] Correspondence, Abbott to Terry Edwards August 2013
[2] Address to the 2014 ForestWorks Dinner, Canberra _ Prime Minister of Australia
[3] http://lpaweb-static.s3.amazonaws.com/The%20Coalition%E2%80%99s%20Economic%20Growth%20Plan%20for%20Tasmania_.pdf
[4] CFMEU Media Release Wednesday 5 March 2014 – Winding back Tasmanian Forest Agreement will destroy, not
create, jobs
[5] News.com.au Tas timber industry figure warns Abbott by: David Beniuk From: AAP August 30, 2013 4:31PM
[6] Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
[7] 25th September 2013
[8] Prior to 25th September 2013
[9] Attached Document 3. Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement Review Minister Harriss to Sen Colbeck 18.10.2014
[10] Attached Document 2 – Abbott to Hodgman TFA 19.12.13
[11] Document 2: Abbott to Hodgman TFA 19.12.13
[12] http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/unesco-rejects-feeble-abbott-government-bid-to-wind-back-protection-of-tasmanian-forests-20140623-zsjhz.html
[13] tas letter – Abbott to Hodgman TFA 19.12.13
[14] http://lpaweb-static.s3.amazonaws.com/The%20Coalition%E2%80%99s%20Economic%20Growth%20Plan%20for%20Tasmania_.pdf
[15] Attached Document 1 Tasmanian Forestry Election Commitment Brief. DAFF briefing for Minister Joyce, 25 September 2013

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• Kev Rothery, in Comments: Have Forestry Tasmania failed their recent FSC Certification audit I wonder? According to SCS Global Services, the auditing body, the results were due to be communicated to FT within February ( see http://au.fsc.org/newsroom.257.185.htm ). The announcement also states the following:- “The results of the audit team’s assessment of FT’s conformity to the FSC/SCS Interim Standard for Forest Stewardship as well as the FSC Controlled Wood Standard will be made publicly available only in the event that FT were to achieve certification.” So if the results are out but we’ve heard nothing, is it now safe to conclude that certification was refused? If so, when we will find out about the non-conformities, or will FT keep the audit findings under their hat?

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