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Forest Practices Amendment Bill 2018 - Second Reading

2 May 2019
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this bill. We will go into Committee because we have a few things we would like to talk about, the specifics of a number of clauses toward the make-up of the tribunal and some others. We have no problems in principle with including the expertise on the forest practices on the tribunal and the advisory council. Looking at the overall picture, you have to understand that the Forest Practices' Authority is a creature of this Government. Fundamentally, the Forest Practices' Authority is utterly governed by the principles, the policy directions and the commitment of this Government to go back into 356 000 hectares -

Mr Shelton - Are you questioning their ability to be independent?

Dr WOODRUFF - There is no doubt that bodies such as Forest Practices' Authority -

Mr Shelton - That is a disgrace.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.

Mr Shelton - That is typical of the Greens.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, Mr Shelton.

Dr WOODRUFF - that work underneath this Government are affected because of the funding, because of the lack of money available to the Forest Practices' Authority to allow them to do their job effectively. They are starved of the resources they need to do a proper job of enforcement. If we have a well-funded Forest Practices' Authority, the sorts of things I am contacted about on a semi-regular basis, with people in tears due to illegal logging that has occurred on properties and there is no-one to turn to. No-one gives a toss about that. 

We have prime land that has beautiful forests with incredible biodiversity values. There were recent cases near Cygnet and people have contacted me. Tens of hectares were bulldozed illegally and nobody turned up. People talk about the ability of the authority to undertake the high level of assessment required in order to fully assess whether there are endangered species on a block of land that people want to clear. With the extent of plants and animals, the resources are not provided to the authority to do the work that they need to do. There are not the resources to check when illegal logging has occurred, to make sure the job has been done as it was said to be done. 

The cultural direction of this Government is to go into forests and to unlock areas that were agreed under a forestry agreement to be set aside for reserves; 356 000 hectares was agreed over a three-year period. It was a long, very painful, difficult and complex process of looking in great detail at the quality of the Tasmanian forests and making independent scientific assessments, bringing people from outside the state, academics with whole careers in forest carbon, wildlife, biology and plants. Those people assessed our forest, and for the first time we had information about the high quality of forests in Tasmania and an assessment of high conservation values. Definitions were put in place that had never existed, and work was done in Tasmania that had never been done before. It gave us information about which areas were of particularly high conservation value. 

The agreement was made that 356 000 hectares of forest should be put aside into a permanent reserve estate because of their high conservation value, because they provide the place for plants and animals to live and ecosystems to remain intact. These ecosystems that provide us with water, air quality, soil, plants and animals that exist nowhere else on this planet. They are in an intact state, for the very beauty and intrinsic value they have as well as what is called ecosystem services they provide to us humans. On the basis of that, the agreement was made. Under a Greens government, the Forest Practices Authority would be able to undertake the work they do with more money toward enforcement, more money toward monitoring, more money toward the assessment process and the monitoring of what is done on properties where forest practice plans are provided.

The minister said the key objective of the Tasmanian forest practices system is to achieve sustainable management of public and private forests with due care for the environment. Looking at those words 'with due care', it is clearly an afterthought in the minister's sentence because this Government and this minister show wilful disregard for the sort of care we need to be taking of our carbon estate. We have a planet that is rapidly moving toward a level of global warming that has already tipped over to an increase of more than 1 degree in the average surface temperature since the long-term record began. According to the United Nations, we on a trajectory to be more than 1.5 degrees warmer than the long-term record within 10 years, to be 2 degrees warmer than the global record by 2030. Unless we do something very urgently and very seriously by 2050, it is predicted that we will have more than 3 degrees locked in, and this is something that is cumulative. It has a life of its own. It is like a balloon, there is only so much carbon the atmosphere can take up and the temperature rises once it reaches capacity. We desperately need to keep those carbon sinks intact for our planet. 

We are already filling up the oceans. They can only take so much heat and they are doing so, and what we are seeing is sea level rise. It is happening, and the predictions of the amount of sea level rise we will see in the next 20 to 50 years are truly concerning. The predictions of 10 centimetres, 20 centimetres talked about 10 years ago - when I did some work for the IPPC as an epidemiologist, which was about 15 years ago, I remember they seemed like comfortably far-off time frames and comfortably small numbers. People were very complacent about that. When you are talking about 10 centimetres, 100 centimetres, it does not seem like a huge amount, especially when you are talking a century away. What we are hearing now is that the Antarctic ice sheets and the rate of melt of Greenland is much greater than we ever expected. There was no idea at all that the Antarctic ice sheets were at the risk they clearly are and there was no indication that it was possible for the Greenland ice to melt as fast as it is. 

The sorts of predictions that we are seeing now are far greater than tens of centimetres, they are more like tens of metres. Those sorts of figures are a wake-up call for the planet, Madam Speaker, and it is a wake-up call for us in Tasmania. It means we have to respect the value of the carbonate estate that we are custodians of and that 356 000 hectares - the World Heritage Area and the reserve forest that we protect - are so valuable, not only for their intrinsic value and the beauty of the plants and animals that live there and nowhere else on this planet, but because they provide us with a very important service that we are coming to understand is really essential for human life and survival, and that is locking up carbon.

Madam Speaker, 'with due care' really has to mean the care of the carbon in the trees that we manage, the care of the biodiversity in the forests that we manage and the care of attending to how a forest practices plan is signed off, how it is checked, on what basis it is made, and how much money goes to the appropriate experts who can do the work in the right time, to the right level of detail and take enough samples. When you go to a block of land where a person or a business is proposing to clear it, there is much work that needs to be done to ensure the unintended consequence is not going to be the loss of significant habitat for birds like the swift parrot, which we know need not just nesting trees but trees that flower at the right time for food.

What we understand now is that on the east coast of Tasmania those trees do not all flower at the same time in the same place. Some flower in the south-east in one year and parts of the northern east coast will flower in other years, and some of them will only flower in the southern forests in other years. There is a patchwork around the state; it is a mosaic. Trees are not ordered in a way that humans can predict. You only have to look at what is happening with leatherwood flowers. The leatherwood trees have been reducing their flowering in recent years and only 10 per cent of leatherwood trees flowered last summer - a very small number - and we are bumping along the bottom of a sustainable honey market because of the loss of trees through bushfires and increasing temperatures. What this says is that we need to pay real attention to supporting the bodies that do the science, monitoring and assessment to make sure that the decisions being made are being made with the right people, at the right time and in the right level of detail.

I want to make a few comments about Dr Broad's contribution. It is clear that he has a pretty unusual idea about the forest industry. I agree with his snapshot of history. It certainly was the case that the forestry agreement came on the back of a sustained period of downturn in the global woodchip market and the reason for that - there are many reasons for that - is that it nose-dived at the end with the global financial crisis but fundamentally the quality and quantity of Tasmanian woodchips is not good enough and big enough relative to other exporters in the market. 

The space for Tasmania in every area, including the forestry industry, is high quality, it is not high volume - we can never be that player. We cannot compete with Norway on salmon, we cannot compete with South America on woodchips, and we should not want to. It is beyond our ability and it demeans the very values we trumpet as things we love and celebrate. Those values are about being clean and green and those values are as a state about humanity and community.

Dr Broad was right in talking about that, but I am not comfortable with the fact that Labor has not made a strong statement about continuing their support for the forestry agreement. It is not good enough for such a significant agreement, an agreement as Dr Broad said that was made with great stress and a lot of pain. Hard decisions were made. It is not okay for the Labor Party to hide from their real position. We need a strong statement about the 356 000 hectares, because at the moment Labor is doing what Labor always does, which is use weasel words so they can sit on the fence and go whichever way the wind blows them. 

The people of Tasmania want to know about not just any new reserves but those forests, the 356 000 hectares that the Liberals have committed to knocking down as soon as they can get their hands on them. The Labor Party has to make a strong statement about those forests, because those are the forests that people worked so hard to make the hard decisions about, where all that scientific assessment was done, and they were determined to be the forests with high conservation value. These are the forests of the Styx, the Weld, the Florentine, Middle Huon, Picton, Butlers, Mount Field, Bruny, Tasmania Peninsula, parts of the east coast, parts of the Great Western Tiers, parts of Dove River, parts of the north-west and parts of the far south. 

The Tarkine is a beautiful place. I had the joy and privilege of spending a week walking there a couple of weeks ago over Easter and it showed to me how little we value the things that are the most precious in the world. This is an area which, of all parts of Tasmania, deserves to be reserved on a permanent basis for the planet to enjoy in perpetuity. It is an extraordinary part of Tasmania. It has the wildest beaches, the wildest coastal landscape, I have ever seen. These are the sorts of places that the Liberals should be valuing if they really want to take due care of the environment because that environment is like no other.

There are quite a number of questions I would like to ask about the process in the -

Quorum formed.

Dr WOODRUFF - We will ask some questions in the committee stage about the composition of the proposed changes to the Forest Practices Tribunal and the advisory council. 

We have no problem with any attempts by this Government to improve their management in any part of forestry because it is, in most areas, abysmally low. The shining light has been the Forest Practices Authority. That is something we would continue to support, provide resources for and provide a structure which enables it to do the work it does, free from political interference, and free from a culture which endorses going into prime high-conservation-value, high-biodiversity, high-carbon-rich forests for logging potential. That is the sort of thing the Greens are here to try to achieve.