Inquiry into the Forest Industry

The government is holding an inquiry into the Forest Industry to ascertain how to better the industry on a number of levels including profitability, environmentally and social benefits. One of the inquiry’s submissions calls for an end to government subsidies for the plantation timber industry and allow market forces to determine demand and supply thereby allowing better use of the land and to end the “forest wars.”

Dr Judith Ajani
Economist at the Fenner School of the Environment and Society at the Australian National University.

Story Researcher and Producer
Kate MacDonald

Podcast, transcript, HERE (eventually)

Greens clash over Tasmanian forests protection

Matthew Denholm, Tasmania correspondent
From: The Australian

THE Greens are divided on the totemic issue of old-growth forests, with the party’s Tasmanian and federal leaders adopting markedly different stances on the historic forestry peace deal.

Tasmanian Greens leader Nick McKim yesterday welcomed the agreement between conservationists and the timber industry to resolve 30 years of conflict over native forest logging as offering a “major step forward”.

The party’s federal leader, Bob Brown, has been highly critical of the landmark deal, which was announced on Thursday, warning that it threatened to entrench “industrial logging” of wild forests.

Mr McKim pledged to push his power-sharing state Labor partners to back the deal, while Senator Brown’s Senate team could potentially frustrate legislative changes to implement the deal.

Senator Brown vowed to oppose compensation being paid to loggers under the deal, unless the full 572,000ha of native forests sought for national parks were protected, while Mr McKim urged people not to rush judgment.

The Tasmanian Greens leader, the nation’s first Greens minister, denied that the differences represented a split in the party, which has its origins in the struggle to protect Tasmania’s wilderness.

Late on Thursday, Senator Brown issued a statement critical of the forests deal, brokered with the help of federally appointed talks facilitator Bill Kelty.

Senator Brown echoed some activists’ concerns that the deal guaranteed protection of only 360,000ha of forests, with the fate of another 212,000ha sought by conservationists unclear.

“We will not adopt it if it entrenches Malaysian logging company Ta Ann in our forests until 2042, or sets future forest destruction by industrial logging at levels making protection of the 572,000ha impractical,” he said.

Mr McKim said the Tasmanian Greens would “work constructively” to turn the agreement, which halves the state’s sawlog quotas and shifts the industry to plantations, into a final package.

“It does provide the opportunity for a major step forward for the forests, for the forest industry in terms of the restructure that has to happen, and for regional economies in Tasmania,” he said.

Asked if this stance put him at odds with Senator Brown, Mr McKim referred to previous commentary in The Australian that it was not unusual for state and federal leaders to occasionally differ.

Read the rest HERE

Forest ump: Bill Kelty’s peace plan not out of woods

Matthew Denholm, Tasmania correspondent
From: The Australian

AFTER 30 years of bitter verbal – and at times physical – conflict, key protagonists in Tasmania’s forestry debate this week finally agreed on a road map to peace.

You might have expected such a long-awaited and truly historic deal between greenies and loggers to have been announced amid fanfare, backslaps and jubilation. Instead, Thursday’s announcement – revealed in The Australian that day – was confirmed to the world via a 28-word email and attachment from former ACTU leader Bill Kelty.

The white-haired forest peace talk facilitator is naturally taciturn, but on this occasion he was not alone.

You may think that having apparently ended the forests wars and achieved the protection of up to 572,000ha of native forests, the two green signatories may have been more effusive.

Instead, Environment Tasmania – an umbrella of local green groups – and the Australian Conservation Foundation weren’t returning calls and issued a bland four-line statement. It was a long way from previous forest deals, announced by state or federal politicians in a blaze of cameras in the middle of a lush forest, generally during the heat of an election campaign.

The main reason for the lack of hoopla this time around is that the agreement is not yet a done deal. And unlike all its predecessor agreements, which have patently failed to resolve Tasmania’s running sore, it does not yet have political or financial backing.

The Signatories Agreement June 22, 2011, is essentially an agreement to make an agreement. It was released by Kelty apparently by accident – attached in error to his statement announcing the breakthrough – before negotiators had time to obtain final blessings from their memberships.

To seal the deal, two vital ingredients must be conjured. Key groups on both sides, including the Wilderness Society, must get on board; and state and federal governments must find the political will and cash to implement it.

More fundamentally, no deal can work without the industry’s largest player, Gunns, agreeing to surrender – in return for compensation – its rights to 210,000 cubic metres of sawlogs from native forests each year. That wood is needed to free up sufficient resource to protect the forests sought for conservation, while at the same time honouring contracts held by processors.

Gunns wants out of the contentious native forest industry, to focus on its proposed plantation-based pulp mill. However, it won’t just give away that land central to the peace deal. The company wants, and is entitled to, compensation. That compensation – up to $100 million, but probably $30m to $40m – must come from the federal government.

Tasmania, facing $1.4 billion in state budget cuts, can amend the sawlog quota in line with the agreement, but does not have the cash to compensate or buy out contracts.

Gunns has increased the stakes by linking the sale of a vital woodchip mill at Triabunna on Tasmania’s east coast to “satisfactory progress in the implementation of” the forest peace deal. “Satisfactory progress” is code for “satisfactory compensation” for surrender of Gunns’ rights.

If Gunns does not get a signal from Canberra by Wednesday – the Triabunna mill sale completion – that it is willing to cough up sufficient compensation, the company may pull out of the mill sale. This would throw the industry into further turmoil, since Triabunna is vital to the profitability of sawmills by taking their wood waste.

The other barrier to turning this week’s breakthrough into a lasting deal is the withholding of support by the Wilderness Society, which did not take part in the final stages of the negotiations. Similarly, it is possible one of the timber groups that negotiated the deal, such as Timber Communities Australia or the forestry union, may fail to get the support of their memberships.

TWS suspended its involvement in the Kelty process last month, believing

Read more HERE

State will stay splintered

25 Jun, 2011 12:00 AM

THE forestry agreement released on Thursday is far from the solution needed to fix Tasmania’s forestry industry’s woes, according to industry and political observers.

Political commentator Tony McCall said the agreement meant nothing without much more input from the broader community, “not just self-interested members of the roundtable group”.

“This process has been another example of government policy incompetence here in Tasmania,” Dr McCall said.

“The government needed to be front and centre of these negotiations at the start, not drawn into the process with the sole purpose of funding its outcomes without any capacity to do so and hence needing to yet again add to Tasmania’s reputation as the mendicant state in Canberra.”

The agreement would offer immediate protection of up to 430,000 hectares of high conservation forests and provide compensation and support for workers.

Launceston-based financial analyst Tony Gray said timber giant Gunns had been dealt a raw deal by the outcome.

He said the company’s decision to exit native forest logging had made the deal possible, but a “social licence” for its Tamar Valley pulp mill was no longer at the centre of the agreement.

As recently as March, facilitator of the forestry peace talks Bill Kelty acknowledged support for the pulp mill was critical to reaching a lasting agreement.

But the final document makes it clear parties had agreed to disagree, stating only they “accept that a viable industry requires value-adding and downstream processing”.

“It is further noted that the Gunns pulp mill at Bell Bay has generated considerable community concern,” the agreement adds.

Mr Gray said environment groups had made it clear there was nothing Gunns could do to win support for the mill.

“All it seems to say is that forests have been locked up and there’s still no support for the pulp mill,” Mr Gray said.

Economist Saul Eslake doubted the deal would have any impact on the company’s ability to secure the finance to build the $2.3 billion mill.

Read the full story HERE