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Estimates Reply - Barnett

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Tags: Housing, Housing Crisis, Forests, Climate Change

Ms O'CONNOR - Chair, in this minister's portfolio, there is so much to talk about in only 10 minutes, so I am going to focus on two areas.  One is an area of minister Barnett's portfolio, where he, Ms Haddad, and I are in furious agreement, and that is on the need to urgently build more social and affordable homes.  Of course, I also want to talk about his Resources portfolio.

I remarked at the table, after observing the minister, Mr Barnett, in his new role, that I thought that the Housing portfolio brought out the best in him; and I believe that.  I think that the Resources portfolio brings out the very worst in him.  I can tell that Mr Barnett is heavily, personally, invested in the Housing portfolio.  He is undoubtedly daunted by the scale of the unmet need, but he is also energised by the challenges ahead.

We have some questions that remain unanswered about what form the new statutory authority for housing will take and what kind of amendments there might be to the Homes Act 1935 - which is very clear about the responsibilities of the Director of Housing to make sure there is sufficient social housing that is affordable to meet the needs of Tasmanians.  There is a very purposeful social obligation in the Homes Act.  That needs to be retained.  I am not saying the act needs to be unchanged; of course it may need to be changed.  However, if you are going to create a statutory authority that sits, to an extent, outside Government, then you need to have enough of a leash on it to make sure that it is delivering to the purpose.  The purpose is to make sure Tasmanians who need an affordable, secure home, have access to one.

There was a very frank exchange about the level of unmet need and the minister, quite graciously, took on board the representations that members opposite made on behalf of their constituents who, frankly, are getting more desperate by the day.  The reason, as Ms Haddad pointed out, that we felt we had no choice but to talk about individual cases, is because of the frustration in our offices about our inability to find homes for people who are in the most desperate of circumstances, and for whom we have been advocating for many months.  I have no doubt it is the same feeling in Ms Haddad's office as it is in ours, this causes great stress to our staff because they feel that vicarious trauma of not being able to help desperate people.

We want the minister in this portfolio to pursue tripartisanship, however possible.  We want there to be openness and transparency about the changes that are coming ahead.  We want to be included in the conversation about how you reshape housing in Tasmania into a statutory authority, and how you make sure that public funds go towards building social and affordable houses that are well spent and we are building good homes for people.

Of course, I wish that the minister showed the same level of compassion for nature, as he does for people.  He obviously has a deep, abiding concern for people.  But, it always troubles me, the glee with which he approaches the forestry portfolio, in particular.  We had a number of conversations about the fact that the minimum sawlog quota continues to not be met.  This is the quota that was cut to 137 000 cubic metres as a result of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement.  After questions at the table, we confirmed that yet again Forestry Tasmania has not been able to meet its minimum legislated quota.  This year, for example, I think 115 000 cubic metres were harvested from our native forests.

We also established at the table, that the vast majority of the timber that is harvested from our native forests ends up as woodchips.  It is in the vicinity of about 1 million tonnes of native forest woodchip that we export off this island every year.  I hope that the minister makes the time to read the latest report from Dr Jennifer Sanger which was released today, called Tasmania's Forest Carbon: From Emissions Disaster to Climate Solution.  It is referenced, not yet peer reviewed, but it is a very important body of work.  It references, for example, the 4.4 billion tonnes of carbon that is sequestered across our forest estate, from private to public.  That figure was arrived at as a result of work undertaken during the Labor-Greens government by Greens' climate change ministers to commission the forest carbon study, which determined a best guess of how much carbon is stored in our mighty forests.  This report tells us that native forest logging is Tasmania's number one emitter.  It is our biggest emitter and our biggest climate risk.  Its emissions are 4.65 million tonnes of carbon a year.  That is equivalent to the emissions of 1.1 million cars, and it is two and a half times the entire Tasmanian transport sector. 

Because of the way that emissions are reported, the emissions from native forest logging are not separated from the carbon dioxide absorbed by our forests.  Only a net figure is reported.  This means there is no easy way to tell the exact emissions from native forest logging and I note that Dr Sanger requested information from Forestry Tasmania, which did not respond or provide the information that was requested.  This report is the first time an emissions figure has been made publicly available using what I regard as a robust methodology and the latest contemporary science.  This report - and Dr Woodruff will go into more detail on this - states that if all Tasmania's public forests were protected, an extra 75 million tonnes of carbon could be drawn down from the atmosphere by 2050, which is equivalent to $2.6 billion in carbon sequestration services. 

Chair, the benefits of protecting our native forests are twofold.  We can achieve both emissions reduction and absorb carbon from the atmosphere.  This is our gift to the world as the climate continues to heat.  It is a no-brainer.  It is only ideology that stops us from doing this.  Protecting our native forests is a low‑cost, effective and immediate way to take real action on climate change.  I do not believe that the minister wants his legacy to be the trashing of Tasmania's forested lands.  I hope that is not the legacy that he wants as minister; but I do encourage him to look at Dr Sanger's report.  It says in here, for example, in Tasmania only 1 per cent of the forests' biomass gets turned into sawn timber which is used for building houses and furniture; and we got those numbers at the Estimates table to confirm that.  A further 5 per cent goes into what is referred to as engineered wood products, such as laminated veneer and plywood.  That means 94 per cent -the rest - goes into short‑lived products, such as paper and cardboard. 

It talks about native forest logging, with the obvious statement 'is not carbon neutral'.  It says:

After native forests are logged, the sites are often burned by high intensity fires, the site is then reseeded, often with a single species of eucalypt and a modified forest slowly starts to regrow.  

However, the science is clear; it would take centuries for the original amount of stored carbon to be absorbed by the regrowing forest.  What matters most, this report says are:

The short‑term emissions from native forest logging. A round 64 per cent of the forest's carbon is released within a few years.  At current logging rates, this is around 2.21 million tonnes of carbon each year.  Over these few years, when the short‑term emissions have been released, the regrowing forests have not been able to draw down much carbon.  This creates a huge carbon deficit. 

We also know that Forestry Tasmania and the native forest logging industry here has received somewhere in the vicinity of $1.1 billion in subsidies.  This is a loss‑making industry.  Every time Forestry Tasmania or a contractor chops down a tree, they might as well burn a $50 note of public money.  This is a loss‑making industry; but more importantly, Chair, it is an industry which is contributing towards climate change through the logging of our mighty carbon stores; the burning of our forests afterwards; the release of carbon from those burns; the release of carbon from the soil; and the fact that most of these forests end up as woodchips.  It is a travesty. 

Time expired.