The plight of the timber industry in the Huon region under the flawed forest peace deal process is being emphasised by the Huon Resource Development Group.

The group supports the warning raised by the Tasmanian Special Timbers Alliance that the areas set aside under the proposed agreement for Special Timbers harvesting do not contain sufficient Special Timbers of appropriate quality, species mix and age profile to support a viable industry.

President George Harris stated his group condemns the agreement and the Bill that is currently before the Legislative Council. “Almost all of the previous Special Timbers Zone in the southern half of the state has been sought for new reserves under the peace deal, and most of that is included in the nomination to extend the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.”

He pointed out that not only is the Special Timbers Zone affected, but a significant area of highly productive state forest that has been harvested several times and regenerated over the last 140 years. “This area includes the former timber leases of Henry Jones IXL which were active over a hundred years ago, and the Heather family leases, which were being harvested during the Second World War. The trading ketch May Queen spent many decades bringing timber from these areas to Hobart, and cable logging is still occurring in these working forests,” he said.

“However, the new reserves proposals want to claim this area right back to the shack sites and private property on the edge of Recherche Bay. The area contains thousands of hectares of plantation and regenerated native forest, and millions of dollars’ worth of investment in forestry roads. It is also home to the Ta Ann rotary veneer mill, the Neville Smith hi-tech saw mill, Forestry Tasmania’s Island Specialty Timbers depot and many smaller saw mills. This flawed deal will affect the viability of them all”

The Huon Resource Development Group and at least a dozen other groups and individuals are challenging the World Heritage Area extension nomination and have sent submissions to the Committee headquarters in Paris. The group believes the nomination has substantial errors and by the Committee’s own guidelines must be fully assessed as if it were a new nomination. The World Heritage Committee meets in Phnom Penh in June, where the nomination will be considered.

The World Heritage nomination is a key component of the forest peace deal, and a stumbling block to durability. “How can this Bill be passed when such a crucial component is unresolved? We already have no pulp mill, no activity at the Triabunna woodchip mill, no necessary outlet for sawmill and harvesting residue from the south of the state, must we also have an excessive reduction in high quality saw log and peeler log processing, a strangulation of the Special Timbers sector with no guaranteed FSC certification, and no peace on top of that?” he asked. “As well, the amount of compensation being offered is peanuts, and many in downstream processing and in our local communities will see none of it,” he added.

More pressure may come on the agreement process by the fact that one of the signatory groups has gone into ‘caretaker’ mode. The Board of Timber Communities Australia met on Tuesday April 9, and in a letter to Branch Presidents, the Chairman and Tasmanian Board Member explained the Board had accepted a proposal from AFPA (Australian Forest Products Association) to fund a wide ranging review of TCA to determine a viable future business model for TCA. A consultant will be appointed by AFPA to engage with all stakeholders including members and branches as it explores options for future structure, operation, and funding. TCA is understood to have sought funding assistance from AFPA.

While it is not possible to predict the outcome, options could include winding TCA up or proposing some new structure under a new constitution. Under the circumstances the Board of TCA sees its role in the interim as effectively that of “caretaker” for the duration of the review, which is expected to be completed by June 30, 2013.

Most Tasmanian TCA Branches and members were not happy with the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, and voted against TCA signing the Agreement at state-wide meetings late last year. These meetings and the vote took place after the Board had already agreed to sign the deal. The Board decided to meet again and it decided for a second time to support the deal. A number of Branches around the state are understood to have since moved and carried motions of no confidence in the Board. These were discussed at last week’s Board meeting.

As the review will potentially result in TCA adopting a new constitution and appointing a new Board, it is the current Board’s suggestion that Tasmanian members participate actively in the review in order to shape the outcome. It is believed none of the existing Board members will seek re-election.

There is interest around the Tasmanian Branches to understand how the current situation impacts on TCA’s capacity to participate as a signatory to the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, especially in the light of how the issue has divided the organisation and caused such strong disagreement and unhappiness, and whether the Agreement can or should stand in the light of how the process has been conducted.

The Huon Resource Development Group is affiliated as a branch of Timber Communities Australia.
George Harris President Huon Resource Development Group