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Leatherwood Logging

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 7 May 2020

Tags: Leatherwood, Native Forest Logging

Leatherwood logging: Cassy O'Connor MP, 7 May, 2020


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, the leatherwood tree is found only in Tasmania. It grows in cool temperate rainforests that occur in mossy forests along the north west, the west coasts and down into the south west of Tasmania, that is the wetter parts of Tasmania. The hark back to the time when Tasmania was part of a super continent called Gondwanaland, more than 65 million years ago. The leatherwood tree takes more than 70 years to grow to nectar-bearing maturity. The bees that feed off the leatherwoods in Tasmania's native forests are essential pollinators for this island's, fruit, cereal and vegetable crops. They are central to the leatherwood beekeeping sector in Tasmania.

At the Liberal State Council meeting in 2019, the north-west primary industries branch put up a motion which was clearly endorsed that says:

To ensure the retention of the remaining stands our state's leatherwood tree resources, we request an immediate moratorium (halt) to any clear felling of any future timber coupes areas in our Tasmanian rainforests that have 10 per cent or more of the leatherwood tree species within them. This State Council recommends also the re-establishment of leatherwood populations within previously harvested forest coupes in Tasmania.

The motion in its rationale bells the cat.

Even to sustain the present level of beekeeping and thereby pollination, beekeepers are already stretched and unable to meet present pollination requirements because the forest resource of leatherwood is diminishing due to wood harvesting methods in areas where beekeeping is permitted.

As we know, in the summer before the last one, those devastating fires that scorched so much of Tasmania, vast tracks of rainforest that contained leatherwood species were burned. This had a devastating seasonal impact on the beekeeping industry in Tasmania.

Six months ago, a memorandum of understanding between Tasmania's beekeepers, the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council and Sustainable Timber Tasmania was signed. At the time, Resources and Primary Industries minister, Mr Barnett, was in the photo opportunity. It was said that this memorandum of understanding would ensure that beekeepers have the maximum practical access to leatherwood trees on Sustainable Timber Tasmania managed land.

Unfortunately, as is the case with so many memoranda of understanding, they are rarely worth the paper they are written on. Here is the Sustainable Timber Tasmania, Australian Honey Bee Industry Council memorandum of understanding. Despite the provisions within, which commit no party really to anything, it certainly does not commit Sustainable Timber Tasmania to retaining 10 per cent of rainforests for leatherwood, it talks about close and ongoing communication and cooperation.

Enter Mr Rodney Smith, a beekeeper from the north west, the Smithton region, whose father was a beekeeper and was hoping that that beekeeping tradition would go on in his family. Mr Rodney Smith is at the end of his tether. For a beekeeper from Smithton to come to the Greens for help, you would have to be pushed a fair way. Mr Smith is at the end of his tether because Sustainable Timber Tasmania was logging coupe number ME008B which contained vast tracks of leatherwood. They are so important to the honey industry because they flower every year. Despite the conversation back and forth between Sustainable Timber Tasmania and Mr Rodney Smith, the logging continued.

I got in touch with the minister, Mr Barnett, and pointed out that the MOU had been signed and it placed an obligation on Sustainable Timber Tasmania to look after the leatherwood stands. I urged Mr Barnett to step in and protect the leatherwood for the beekeepers of the north west and Mr Rodney Smith. The media release put out by the minister of the time said -

Beekeepers not only produce iconic leatherwood honey, a premium and exclusively Tasmania product, they also provide bees to pollinate many of our highest value fruit, cereal and vegetable crops.

You talked, Mr Barnett, about pollination services making a critical contribution with a higher economic value than honey production, which had a 2017 farmgate value for honey and bees wax of more than $8 million and exports worth $2.4 million.

Despite Mr Rodney Smith's concerns, despite the obvious presence of leatherwood in the coupe I cited earlier, Sustainable Timber Tasmania made it clear to Mr Smith that they were going to proceed with the logging. Mr Smith sought a meeting with Mr Barnett, who apparently told him he was disappointed that Mr Smith had made contact with the Greens. We thought perhaps there would be a path through here for Mr Smith and that some of those leatherwood trees, which grow only in Tasmania, only along that west coast strip, might be protected.

A small portion of the coupe I am talking about has not been logged and will not be logged, but leatherwood trees in the wider coupe are being logged, despite the meeting with the minister and ongoing conversation with Sustainable Timber Tasmania. Sustainable Timber Tasmania wrote to Mr Smith last week and told him that it was its intention to continue to log in that coupe.

This is madness. It undermines the brand. It makes it clear that this Government is engaging in rainforest logging. It is logging rainforests because leatherwood only grows in rainforest. It is prioritising TaAnn over Tasmania's beekeeping sector.

These forests, these rainforests are being logged for TaAnn. It is unsustainable. It is unjustifiable. It is undermining Tasmania's honey industry. There was a memorandum of understanding signed where the Tasmanian Beekeepers Association felt that finally they had made a breakthrough. They had made government listen and there would be some real efforts to protect leatherwood stands in Tasmania.

As far as we can tell, that MOU is not worth the paper it is written on. It is lip-service to allay the concerns of beekeepers and to satisfy those members of the Liberal Party who stood up at their state conference and called for a better deal for honey producers.

Mr Barnett, you can do better by beekeepers.