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Estimates Reply - Minister Courtney

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Tags: Native Forest Logging, Forest Stewardship Council, Tasmanian Forest Agreement, kooparoona niara/Great Western Tiers

Ms O'CONNOR - I rise to speak on the Estimates for the Minister for Resources with specific reference to the forestry portfolio because Dr Woodruff was at the table and did a great job scrutinising this minister's maladministration of the minerals part of her portfolio.

It was one of those déjà vu all over experiences again when we had the minister across the table at forestry resources Estimates. I was having another look at the uncorrecteds and the bizarre situation where you have the minister responsible for forestry policy in Tasmania who every time a question about forestry policy was put by the Greens would go,' No, no, you have to ask that of so-called Sustainable Timber Tasmania in GBE estimates, which the minister knows are not coming before the House until the end of next year. It is April 2020 when this minister will oversee the opening up of 356 000 hectares of high conservation value forests.

I went back to the 2011, 2012 and 2013 budget Estimates just to have a look at forestry Estimates. There were incredibly detailed conversations across the table with the then minister for forests who was also the Deputy Premier, and Mr Gutwein who was the spokesperson for forests and they were full and frank exchanges. They went to the guts of forestry policy. They talked about Forestry Tasmania operations and there was no attempt there, for all his flaws, Mr Green sitting at the Estimates table, did his best to talk about the forestry portfolio in an informed and open way.

What a different world we are in now. We have a minister who sits at this table and every time a question came up, for example, about the forest stewardship certification audit process and how this Government's forest policy is contaminating STT's pitch for forest stewardship certification the minister goes, 'Oh no, no. You have to ask that in GBE estimates'. Then one of the Labor members would bowl up another Dorothy Dixer and we would have a full answer. 'A very interesting question, Dr Broad. I am glad you asked that; hear, hear; yes, yes; no, no'. It was cute, it was sweet. There was something about that connection, between the Liberal minister and the Labor shadow talking about forests in 2019, it was just so darn romantic, and I want to thank you for allowing me to be a part of that experience. They were just loving each other, talking about your approach to forestry policy.

What we wanted to understand was, how can this minister say she has full confidence in Forestry Tasmania's capacity to achieve FFC certification, which we know it needs in order to survive in the global market, and we got no answer. We do know that the forest stewardship auditors are very interested in that very question. They were in Tasmania on 30 and 31 May this year, and Dr Woodruff and I sat down and spoke with them and they are concerned about forestry policy in Tasmania.

It is important to remember that in 2015, the first FFC audit was handed down and it found that Forestry Tasmania was critically non-compliant in a number of areas, particularly as it related to threatened species management and the continued logging of high conservation value forests. What we know is that under this Government, the logging of high conservation value forests continues.

We have people who live along the Southern Outlet; in and around the Central Highlands, who know that. There are massive trees coming out of the forests and they are trees that are identified by Forestry Tasmania itself - by STT as you so incorrectly call it - they are trees that are identified as being part of a high conservation value forest estate. If you go into Sustainable Timber Tasmania's High Conservation Values Assessment and Management Plan 2019, it talks about a summary of identified high conservation values and this is only the land that has been described under law that Liberals brought in as permanent timber production zone land. Across Tasmania, there are more than 700 listed threatened species and in the PTPZ land, 432 threatened species that have been identified by Sustainable Timber Tasmania. It is almost 9500 hectares of landscape level high conservation forests, 98 000 hectares of old growth forest communities, and on it goes.

What we know, having engaged with forestry policy in Tasmania for many decades, is that Sustainable Timber Tasmania is desperate for the auditors to believe that the 356 000 hectares that was set aside to go into the second tranche of reserves will not be logged.

If Government policy leads to the logging of the 356 000 hectares that were part of the agreement under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, it will kill forever STT's bid for forest stewardship certification. And rightly so, unfortunately, because we have a minister who is overseeing a forestry GBE that is still logging high conservation value forests; a Government whose forest policy it is to open up to logging 356 000 hectares of some of the most exquisite, intricate forests on the planet. From the southern forest to Bruny Island, to the Tasman Peninsula, the Blue Tier, Great Western Tiers, over to the Tarkine, these forests are of global significance and they were recognised as such by forest scientists, but this Government wants to allow the loggers in there in April next year.

When I asked the minister, 'Has there been any discussions with any companies about going into those reserve forests?'. Not as far as she knows, she said. I said, 'Have there been any discussions with logging companies about going into the rainforest areas that had been set aside in regional reserves and conservation areas?' The minister said, 'Not as far as I know, no'. They are central to the struggle that Sustainable Timbers Tasmania is having achieving FSC certification.

This minister and the Premier know there has been a collision between the politics of forest policy in Tasmania and the necessary objective of the forestry GBE to achieve Forest Stewardship Council certification. It is undermining STT's endeavours, long as they are, to achieve FSC certification, which is a matter of enormous regret. One of the positive things that came out of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, apart from the moves towards protecting more than half a million hectares of some of the most beautiful forests on the planet, was a pathway forward for Forestry Tasmania to achieve Forest Stewardship Council certification. The pathway was there because there was a high conservation value focus out of the TFA, but the TFA also gave the timber industry and workers in the industry dignity and certainty for the future.

It was a compromised agreement and it was very difficult to be a part of. From a Greens point of view, many of our people want it all saved. From the industry's point of view, many people want to be able to log whatever they can. In life, in order to achieve an outcome, sometimes you have to make a compromise. We do not tell our children they can have it all straight-up. The TFA was a compromise, but it set out the path for the forestry GBE in Tasmania to achieve the certification it needs to be truly competitive on global markets and to hold its head up high as a best practice forestry company. It is a long way from that yet.

I asked the minister questions about whether there was a wood supply agreement between Government Forestry Tasmania - STT, as you like to call it - and Patriarch and Sons. The minister said that is a matter for Sustainable Timber Tasmania - well, no, it is actually a matter of public interest. As far as we know, Patriarch and Sons wants, at least in part, to access some of its resource from public forests, the forests owned by the people of Tasmania. We do not know where that resource is coming from, and it points to a lack of transparency and incompetence in the Forest portfolio.