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Effect of Bushfires on the Honey industry


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Tags: Honey Industry, Native Forest Logging, Bushfires, Leatherwood

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I echo what the minister has passed on in terms of this parliament's gratitude and certainly the Tasmanian Greens gratitude to everyone who took part in responding to the fires, to our Parks and Wildlife Service firies, to the TFS firefighters and to the Forestry Tasmania firefighters. I also want to acknowledge that we were provided with two briefings during the fires, as we requested them, in order to understand the greater impact of those fires and the threats to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and Gondwana relics of outstanding universal value.

There are still questions to be answered about the response to the Gell River fire. I hope that those questions are dealt with very clearly by the independent assessor.

Another I sector of our community, our economy and our society that has been impacted by the fires over this summer season is our beekeepers. Some members of the House would be aware that this past summer has been the worst summer for our honey industry since 1981.

The leatherwood trees have failed to either flower or to produce enough nectar for the bees to make honey. Even before the fires had broken out, our beekeepers were counting losses in the order of some 600 hives. That is a climate-related industry catastrophe.

The industry's spokespeople make it really clear that it will take decades for the honey industry in Tasmania to recover from the drying of the leatherwood forests and then the compounding effect of the bushfires that swept through leatherwood forests in the south-west, in the north and the north-west of Tasmania. It is fair to say that if there were any climate sceptics in the honey industry before last summer, there are not any anymore. For example, Shirley Stephens from the R. Stephens Apiarists from Mole Creek, one of our most famous bee producers, producing honey for more than 60 years, said this is the worst she has ever seen:

Even last year we produced 280 tonnes of honey and this year we will be lucky to get 20 tonnes.

Then we have Mr Lindsay Burke, President of the Tasmanian Beekeepers Association, who said:

All honey producers across the state have been affected. It is really disastrous. It is the worst we have had since 1981.

He goes on to say,

I always thought that climate change would not make any difference to us. I welcomed a bit more heat but it dried everything out.

The industry is having a crisis meeting on 29 March. They will be asking for an urgent crisis response from government in relieving some of the costs they bear in accessing their hives in Parks and Wildlife-managed lands and in STT-managed lands. They will also be looking for cost relief in order to purchase sugar to keep the bees alive.

There is a path forward to protect the leatherwood resource that the beekeepers have been calling for for decades. That is to stop the clear felling, the burning and the re-sowing into monoculture plantations of forests that contain leatherwood trees. If we want to maintain a viable honey industry in this state, we are going to have to do things differently in our forests. This is not just coming from the Greens. This is coming from people who have been working in that sector for decades, who have been out in the forests and who have seen the devastation caused to leatherwoods by an industry that has been out of control and is trapped in the clear-felling, burning, harvesting models of the past.

I implore the minister, do not just pay lip service to this really important sector of the Tasmanian economy. Be open to doing things differently if you want to protect our beekeepers. There are 27 species of eucalypt in Tasmania, only five of them flower. Among them is the blue gum, which only flowers every two years, the manuka and the leatherwood. The leatherwood trees are essential to the survival of our honey industry in Tasmania. We should commit as a parliament to making sure that we are doing everything within our capacity to protect those leatherwood forests so that they can be part of a genuinely sustainable industry, an industry we can all be proud of. For example, in 2015, Mr Lindsay Burke was awarded Best Honey in the World for his leatherwood honey. In the whole world the best honey came from Tasmania.

We need to acknowledge that the beekeepers are highly distressed; they have lost hives. They are not able to go in and check their hives in some places because of dangerous trees. They are watching the leatherwood trees fail to produce the nectar that sustains their industry. This is extremely serious. I urge the minister to work with his Cabinet colleagues to be sure that we are doing things differently in Tasmania: that we are prioritising the production of honey over woodchips; and that we acknowledge climate change is having substantial economic impacts. It requires us to do things differently and we must do that. We owe it to our beekeepers.