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Forest Management Amendment (Minimum Sawlog Quota Repeal) Bill 2021

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Tags: Native Forest Logging, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I move -

That the bill be now read the second time.

This bill removes section 16 of the act to eliminate the mandated forest destruction quota of 137 000 cubic metres a year. The Greens are moving to end the mandated forest destruction quota because it is 2021 and we are in a climate emergency. This is not a drill. The future of life on Earth hangs in the balance.

We are moving this bill because the planet, the climate, cannot afford for Tasmania's beautiful carbon-rich forest habitats to be flattened and torched. We have to keep that carbon safe in our forests and restore forests to sequester more carbon and create more habitat. We bring this on to give the exquisite swift parrot a chance at survival and for every marvellous, utterly Tasmanian and unique wild creature that depends on our forests for existence.

We do this for young people, distressed as they are about the future and manifest lack of leadership from entrenched old parties of government. They want an end to native forest logging. That is what young people tell us, that is what they are saying at school strikes, that is what they have told the Commissioner for Children and Young People and it is what I hear they have been telling the Premier.

We also move this repeal bill in order to keep Tasmanian communities safe from bushfire because, as this House now knows, there are 11 peer-reviewed papers confirming the link between native forest logging and bushfire risk.

We do this for takayna, that glorious wilderness with its vast area of temperate rainforest that speaks to us of ancient Gondwana and its forests which are being smashed and burned by a mendicant, heavily subsidised industry, as we speak.

We do this for the beekeepers whose leatherwood trees continue to be smashed and burned in defiance of a government commitment to protect the leatherwood trees honey producers rely on. The Greens are moving to repeal the quota because its very existence costs taxpayers through the nose in the form of massive subsidies to the mendicant native forest logging industry.

The mandated destruction quota is also holding Forestry Tasmania back from ever securing forest stewardship certification as it has to cut the forests harder and harder in order to meet its legislated obligations. For all these reasons the Greens know the minimum mandated forest destruction quota must be repealed. It is, quite simply, the right thing to do.

I want to acknowledge that this week outside parliament there have been actions put on by Extinction Rebellion and Extinction Rebellion Youth. I want to acknowledge the presence in the Chamber today of Mika and Sheree who are on a seven-day hunger strike to drive governments to deliver real climate action and, of course, ending native forest logging is a very important part of meaningful climate action.

I also acknowledge the young people who greeted us outside this beautiful building yesterday morning from Extinction Rebellion Youth with their ghost prams playing that haunting music Ave Maria as they called on all of us in this place to really take on climate action. What gives young people hope is meaningful action. If we repeal the minimum sawlog quota as a path towards ending native forest logging in this state, we will give young people real hope. It is vital that we do.

I also acknowledge the presence in the House today of the former Tasmanian Greens leader and Australian Greens leader, Bob Brown, who is also the head of the Bob Brown Foundation, his mighty campaigning colleagues, Jenny Webber and Tom Allan from the Wilderness Society. These visitors to the Chamber have been working hard to protect these beautiful forests for decades. I thank them for that work.

The United Nations released a report overnight which the Secretary-General of the United Nations called a, 'thundering wake up call for humanity'. We are on track under current government policy and commitments to 2.7 degrees of warming by the end of the century. That is quite literally an uninhabitable baked planet. We cannot allow that to happen. What the UN report tells us is that we need to globally cut emissions by 55 per cent by 2030.

Of course, Tasmania is only a small island but it has vast tracts of carbon-rich forest. It is our responsibility to protect those forests and keep the carbon that is in them safely stored within them.

We would like to think that other members in this place will think very carefully if they are going to make a contribution on this repeal bill about, for example, young people who might be watching this debate. We hope they try to avoid getting up and using it as an opportunity to sledge the Greens and conservationists who are fighting to defend our beautiful forests. Let us have an informed and nuanced discussion about this policy issue.

I hope that both the minister and Dr Broad have the capacity for insight to have a look at this repeal bill and think, 'Why would we have a mandated quota?' They know full well the damage that is caused and they know full well it comes at a massive cost to the taxpayers' purse.

As we know, the beautiful swift parrot is down to an estimated 300 birds, according to the Australian National University. There are 300 of these incredible birds left on the planet. They are dependent on our forests. Without forest protection the swift parrot will vanish completely. We have to do things differently. Instead of accepting its responsibility to protect forests, to protect the swift parrot, what we have had out of government on this issue is greenwashing. We had the false claim that 10 000 hectares of swift parrot habitat was being set aside to protect the bird, which the Greens had confirmed at Budget Estimates is 9300 hectares. As we know when you look at the maps that is nowhere near enough to protect that beautiful bird. It does not cover the birds' range in Tasmania. It is unconscionable that this parliament on its watch would allow the swift parrot to go extinct. Well, Dr Woodruff and I think it is unconscionable.

There is also all the other beautiful wildlife that depend on our forests - masked owls, Tasmanian devils, Tasmanian giant freshwater crayfish. These are creatures which you will not find anywhere else on the planet apart from on this beautiful little island. This island which still has rich biodiversity, carbon-rich beautiful forests, that can be protected.

I want to talk about what young people who contributed to the Commissioner for Children and Young People Consultation told the commission about the kind of climate action they want to see. The protection of native forests was a standout issue for young people in this consultation. They want to see sustainable adaptation of agriculture and forestry. Young people recognise that we need jobs but we need to do it while we are protecting the environment. More action on climate change. On their list of asks, number three on the list after banning single use plastics in Tasmania and requiring a better level of waste protection and recycling, they want a ban on native forest harvesting.

As members in this place well know, the forest industry's own polling confirms that, overwhelmingly, Australians want an end to native forest logging, as does the Tasmania Together process which was embarked on during Jim Bacon's premiership that found 75 to 80 per cent of Tasmanians, through that extensive consultation, want an end to native forest logging. On his death bed, the former premier told a member of the press who was a friend of his, that it was one of his greatest regrets that he did not move to end native forest logging.

Victoria's Premier, Dan Andrews, has announced an end to native forest logging. We think it is too far off in the future and that date will give the industry in Victoria far too much time to continue to devastate those forests.

The Western Australian Premier, Mark McGowan, only a month ago, having seen and read the latest IPCC report on the climate, announced an end to native forest logging within three years. That is what real leadership looks like. Leadership that can cut through the politics, put aside the partisanship, listen to the science, listen to young people and listen to their conscience. When you listen to your conscience, you know there is no justification for logging native forests.

On this island, over decades, we have seen successive major party governments pump money, subsidies, into the native forest logging industry in a manner that prevents the industry from transitioning to plantations as it must. It has kept the industry on the public teat for a very long time. That has held the industry back from becoming a truly sustainable forest industry.

Without reflecting on the debate in Greens' Private Members' time last week, I will briefly talk about the evidence which is now overwhelming that there is increased risk of bushfires as a result of native forest logging. The paper that came out of the University of Tasmania about five weeks ago, which says 'fire risk and severity decline within stand development in Tasmanian Giant Eucalypt forest', is the eleventh peer review paper that draws the link between native forest logging and increased risk of bushfire.

This Government and this parliament cannot say that it has not been warned. It has the evidence before it now of that risk. It is negligent not to act on that evidence to reduce the risk and to keep Tasmanian communities safe.

We have only had from the minister and Dr Broad, on this critical community safety issue, hot air. A refusal to acknowledge to science. Before this paper came out, we had minister Barnett and Dr Broad attack scientists from the University of Tasmania including Dr Jen Sanger and Jamie Kirkpatrick, because they had to withdraw a paper as a result of flawed data that was provided to them. They acted ethically. They were acting in the public interest in undertaking this work, but they are utterly vindicated by the paper that has come out about a month ago. We are still waiting to hear an apology from either the minister or Dr Broad about the way they vilified the scientists who had been working on public good science, who had to withdraw that paper.

If we just step past that, what we have here is evidence that the forestry regime in Tasmania is placing people at risk. A minimum sawlog quota is part of that, because Forestry Tasmania has a legislated responsibility to provide 137 000 cubic metres of native forest timber every year. They are cutting those forests harder and harder.

Of course, where does most of that timber go, at a loss, because it is not FSC certified? Most of it goes to China. We export 900 000 tonnes of native forest woodchips off this island, every year. In fact, if anyone doubts that, it is in Forestry Tasmania's three-year wood production plan. That is a travesty. You cannot call an industry sustainable if what you are doing is turning these miraculous forests into chips. There is no carbon-sequestering value in woodchips. You have a multiple travesty here, where you are clear-felling, replacing a whole forest, just clear-felling it, burning it, chipping it and then the carbon that was stored in those mighty forests, soon after, is gone.

As we know, all of this right now is happening at the most staggering loss to Tasmanian taxpayers. According to Dr John Lawrence, a highly-respected economist, and these figures that he has put out no-one has disputed, says that:

Between 1997 and 2017 Forestry Tasmania's total operating cash losses, over that 20 years, was $454 million.

That is public money. It is a bit like getting Forestry Tasmania to fill shipping containers full of $50 notes and sending them to China. It would probably be cheaper. According to John Lawrence, who has been through FT's annual report and a 2008 report of the Auditor-General, the Regional Forest Agreement has comprehensively failed to deliver on its economic sustainability promise. In 1998, Forestry Tasmania's assets, that is roads, forests and lands, were valued at $852 million. There has been a very significant asset value right down and now Forestry Tasmania estimates its assets to be worth $101 million. That is a staggering collapse of asset value for a publicly-owned and funded government business.

If you add the losses and the total write-down Forestry Tasmania has lost value, or cash of $1.3 billion, between 1997 and 2017 -

Dr Woodruff - Shame.

Ms O'CONNOR - That's right, Dr Woodruff, it is an absolute shame.

The average loss perpetuated by Forestry Tasmania as a result of the minimum saw-log quota and government policy is around $65 million a year. This figure has never been denied by Government. If the minister wants to clarify the numbers we encourage him to do so. We have been trying to get to the bottom of these numbers for a very long time. All these subsidies mean Forestry Tasmania sells every tree it cuts at a loss. All these subsidies are pretty much hidden in contracts that roll out to 2027. So, you do not really see what the industry is paying for this publicly owned resource. Forestry Tasmania's own board is very clear that in a letter it wrote on 29 September 2016, specifically about the 137 000 cubic metre minimum sawlog quota, the Forestry Tasmania Board said to the then Treasurer, Mr Gutwein, and Minister for Resources, Mr Barnett, who are the two shareholder ministers in Forestry Tasmania:

It should be noted that Forestry Tasmania receives, relative to some other jurisdictions, stumpage averaged across all natural forest product types. That is approximately 50 per cent below the stumpage being achieved in those jurisdictions.

It would appear that this differential is structural and has been contractually embedded during previous price negotiations.

This letter is a plea for Government to reduce the minimum sawlog quota from 137 000 cubic metres to 96 000 cubic metres, which the Forestry Tasmania Board believed could be a sustainable yield. We do not support any mandated minimum sawlog quota, but I thought that was worth pointing out to the House. On that point, the board says:

Modelling suggests that Forestry Tasmania could currently provide as much as 96 000 cubic metres of sawlog and 154 000 tons of peeler logs in a commercial manner from the existing native forest estate under plausible scenarios. The supply is, however, lower than the contracted volumes and also lower than the legislated minimum required to be made available.

Under the legislative framework, while there is an obligation to make the wood available, it does not require Forestry Tasmania to make it available to industry with an inherent subsidy or on a non commercial, loss making basis.

However, as we know, that is exactly what happens. All of the wood provided under the mandated minimum sawlog quota is heavily subsidised and it is sold at below the cost of planting, maintaining, and production. It is a staggering waste of public funds.

What was the minister's response to this letter? Well, it was the failed forestry unlocking production forests legislation, where this minister wanted to allow the industry to access the future reserve forests. That is the 365 000 hectares of high conservation value forest that dots this beautiful island from one point of the compass to the next. That was set aside under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement. The Government gagged debate on that bill, jammed it through the House in the dead of night. It went upstairs, where it died a slow death and that legislation, fortunately, in 2016 did not make it through both Houses of parliament because it was partisan. It was designed to inflame conservationists and it had no justification in a time of climate and biodiversity emergency.

Those forests - the future reserve forests - are some of the most carbon rich, miraculous places on earth. You will find those places all over this island - beautiful forests. Sometimes, when I get really frustrated in here, when we are having debates about climate and forests, I do wonder how often Mr Barnett and Dr Broad go into a forest and just sit and feel it, and experience that miracle. Once you have done that and comprehended the spectacular place you are in - the absolute magic of it - I cannot understand the mindset that says, 'We're going to clear fell this, flatten every tree here, then we're going to burn it'. Those beautiful trees. You can see them when you are coming down the Brooker Highway at Brighton, in the timberyard there. Some of those trees, those trunks that are sitting there, are massive.

Yet we have a government that says it does not log forest giants. Well, there are plenty of giants in the McKays Timber Yard. They are all there as a result of a public subsidy and an ideological attachment of both the major parties in this place to native forest logging, which has kept a mendicant industry on the public teat and held it back from transitioning to plantations for decades.

It is ideological, native forest logging in Tasmania. The real growth in the forest sector is in plantations; and indeed, it is in companies like Forico which last week, on 8 October, put out its natural values report. This is a company that is so proud of looking after forests and, not only that, it is able to see a path through to creating a real value, a real dollar value, of the forests it protects. I will read from Mr Bryan Hayes media release; but, as an aside, Bryan Hayes used to work for Gunns Limited. He was very close to John Gay. I do not ever remember having a conversation with him during those years but Bryan Hayes these days, looks happy. He looks happy, because the work that he is doing for Forico has real meaning. It is creative rather than destructive. It is thinking about the future in a really sensible and empathetic way.

Bryan is talking about the release of the Australian first natural capital report. He says:

The report sets a benchmark for business and industry and environmental stewardship and corporate sustainability reporting. Natural capital reporting measures the value of natural assets alongside traditional metrics of production volumes and profit and loss. Essentially, it puts a dollar figure on how much the natural environment matters.

Forico's Chief Executive Officer, Bryan Hayes says the report demonstrates an overall net positive contribution to the environment from sustainably managed plantations and natural forests. Forico's net natural capital value for 2021 has been conservatively estimated at $3.4 billion which can be split between $400 million to business and $3 billion to society.

Here is a quote from him:

Assigning a financial value to the importance of habitat, vegetation and biodiversity is evolving fast, and leading government offset schemes would value our natural forest areas at more $7 billion. Using the social cost of carbon derived by the US Environmental Protection Agency which is estimated at A$68 a ton of CO2 equivalent, the value of carbon sequestered on Forico's estate could be as high as $9.2 billion.

This is surely the path that Tasmania's forest GBE should be heading down. It is Greens' policy, in fact, to turn Forestry Tasmania into Forests Tasmania,; to turn that entity into a carbon farmer and restoration agency which would be fantastic in the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which is where we are now.

We know that this repeal has the support of young people, thoughtful Tasmanians. It also, of course, has the support of a number of key stakeholders in the conservation movement. Scott Jordan from the Bob Brown Foundation has urged parliament to vote for this bill. He says:

This anachronistic law forces regulators to ignore science, ignore economics, and ignore community concerns and, instead, forces them to meet an arbitrary quota. It is one of the biggest legislative impediments to the transition to a sustainable plantation based forestry sector.

Under section 16 we have seen Tasmania lag behind on the transition out of native forest with Tasmania's native forest harvest almost double the national rate and yet we score lowest on our financial returns per cubic metre of native forest logged of any state. Section 16 forces us to log beyond our environmental capacity and then sell beyond the market's capacity. It is a fool's paradigm.

He concludes with:

The long term market trend is to plantations, and the climate emergency we face means there's no time to waste. Section 16 should go and it should be followed by an end to all native forest logging.

From Tom Allen at the Wilderness Society:

Removing this government-mandated quota is important to reduce the amount of high conservation value forest destroyed by Forestry Tasmania, for example, all swift parrot habitat, which should be protected from logging.

The Liberal Government claims that private enterprise and free markets are the best forms of economic management but this government-enforced logging quota is Soviet-style economics.

The Government says it prefers privatisation but is using taxpayer funds to interfere in the market, enforcing a mindlessly destructive logging quota that destroys this island's remaining high-conservation value forests for commercial loss.

Civil society here, organisations like BBF, the Wilderness Society, the Tasmanian Conservation Trust, Extinction Rebellion and the Greens will not allow that to happen. We have to stop smashing these incredible forests and turning them into chips to send to China at a massive loss. They are such places of wonder.

Both the Victorian and Western Australian premiers have seen the light and announced an end to native forest logging. They have listened to their communities who see this logging as a devastating and expensive travesty. They have listened to the science, listened to their conscience and they have listened to their children.

We have to start looking at the real value of these beautiful forests, their intrinsic value, their value to the planet, to the climate, to young people and to every living thing. This morning, without a shred of irony on the day we are debating legislation that will consign generations of Tasmanians to gambling addiction and profound life-limiting harm, Mr Barnett started in answer to a Dorothy Dixer with the statement that, 'The Government will always act in the best interests of Tasmania'. If that was true, the Government would support this repeal bill. It is the ethical, rational, empathetic, scientific course of action. It is quite simply the right thing to do.

I commend the bill to the House.