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Native Forest Logging

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Tags: Native Forest Logging, Forests, Swift Parrot, Forest Stewardship Council

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

That the House -

(1) Acknowledges that the planet is experiencing a human-induced climate and biodiversity crisis and agrees there is no justification for native forest logging.

(2) Notes that 'Sustainable' Timber Tasmania (STT) continues to clear fell and burn old forests that are critical habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species.

(3) Recognises STT's second and most recent failure to obtain Forest Stewardship Certification is a damning indictment on logging practices under the Liberal Government.

(4) Notes SGS Global's audit has shown how far from meeting the Forrest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards STT are, with 10 major non conformities identified.

(5) Recognises ethical global markets and consumers do not want wood products sourced from old growth forests, nor do most Tasmanians.

(6) Acknowledges the audit called for all old growth forests to be protected from logging.

(7) Recognises the audit was scathing of the Government logging in swift parrot habitat, finding:-

(a) STT logged swift parrot habitat despite expert advice warning against it;

(b) even with STT's set aside area of less than 10 000 hectares, swift parrot habitat would still be logged within areas subject to the Government’s unreleased Public Authority Management Agreement (PAMA);

(c) the proposed PAMA does not apply to significant critical swift parrot habitat along the East Coast, South East and in the North West.

(8) Agrees the Minister for Resources, Hon. Guy Barnett MP's claims that STT logging practices are 'world class' is fraudulent.

(9) Calls on the Government to end native forest logging in Tasmania to protect critical habitat and forest carbon stores.

The world's forests are in extreme distress - in Siberia in the Arctic Circle, in the Amazon, in Brazil and in the Congo, and here, of course, in Australia where last summer vast tracts of forest along the eastern seaboard were torched and burnt.

We are in a climate and biodiversity crisis and the scientists are telling us we have to keep the carbon that is in the ground in the ground, and we have to sequester more carbon in the ground. The scientists are also telling us that around one million species are headed towards extinction. Among them are Tasmanian native animals like the critically endangered swift parrot, the masked owl, the Tasmanian devil and the giant freshwater crayfish. These remarkable creatures are totally dependent on forest habitats. In Tasmania their habitat is being clear felled and burned by the Government GBE, Sustainable Timber Tasmania, and that clear fell and burning regime is intensifying under the Liberal Government. We have evidence that native forest logging operations increased during the COVID-19 lockdown. We have had contacts from people all over Tasmania who say log truck movements are increasing and the size of the logs on the back of those trucks is increasing too.

The Government's forestry GBE might have 'sustainable' in its name but its native forest logging operations are most certainly not. You do not have to believe us, or the Wilderness Society, or the Bob Brown Foundation, or the scientists from Forestry Watch. Believe what the auditors are telling you in the audit report into Sustainable Timber Tasmania's bid for Forest Stewardship Certification which was given to Government in February this year, six months ago, and released late last Friday while journalists were in a budget lock up and three days after we had lodged a right to information request to obtain this audit report.

This audit report is absolutely damning of Sustainable Timber Tasmania's approach to the protection of habitat and the species those habitats sustain, most specifically the swift parrot, which is down to plus or minus only 1000 breeding pairs. Tasmania's blue gum and black gum forests are essential habitat for the swift parrot, and they are forests which Sustainable Timber Tasmania continues to log.

I will give you some of the highlights from the auditor's report. Number 10, major non conformities. The auditors say -

Observations by the audit team in the field include harvests of potential nesting trees and foraging trees within sight of an identified swift parrot nest site classified as low density by STT or determined harvestable. For example, coops BB025A and SO034A were both harvested but were observed to have had potential swift parrot habitat, which was confirmed in consultation with swift parrot experts.

It is the audit team's judgment that the low density foraging trees, as determined in these cases by the STT Forest Practices Authority DPIPWE framework, are still critical swift parrot habitat. That was the conclusion reached through the observations of the audit team. As confirmed by multiple experts when interviewed, that quote -

[TBC all]

STT is negatively impacting swift parrot habitat through harvest of these areas. Additionally, expert recommendations against harvesting in these areas were given by a swift parrot expert, as confirmed in documentation and interviews. These recommendations to STT staff and other relevant Tasmanian agencies were considered but recommendations for no harvest were not followed. Again, these areas where it was advised by scientific experts that there were former nesting trees and it was specifically recommended to retain the large hollow-bearing trees, they were advised to be the potential swift parrot foraging areas that were near identified current swift parrot nest site.

The STT approached us not to protect the critically endangered habitat as required using the precautionary approach and best available information as defined in the FSC Australia Forest Management Standard.

It goes onto say -

There was insufficient retention of either hollow-bearing trees or coarse woody debris. They noted the presence of many very large stumps some of which were two or three metres in diameter.

Burning sites, finding number 9, an observation by the editors -

This finding is regarding post-harvest and post-burning harvested sites. In several coupes, streamside buffers were unintentionally burned, either peripherally or completely, during prescribed burning operations.

It goes onto talk about STT's approach to old growth logging, old growth forests -

STT has not provided sufficient evidence to support contentions that harvesting old growth within the estate is not a threat at the landscape level.

Finding number 13, major nonconformity on the swift parrot -

In the absence of a swift parrot management plan for the STT estate or other documentation of the analysis of sugar glider predation and other threats relative to other forest management activities and natural disturbances, the audit team concludes that the requirement if this indicator has not been met. That is, we conclude that STT has not appropriately identified and acted in consideration of threats to the critically endangered swift parrot.

Finding number 15, another major nonconformity -

Interviews with swift parrot experts during the audit discovered several examples of expert recommendations not being taken under advisement or meaningfully applied within the development of strategy for the management and protection of the swift parrot within the regulatory framework of the state of Tasmania forest practices system.

Finding number 16, major nonconformity -

STT is not sufficiently maintaining or enhancing swift parrot habitat as assessed during the audit.

And that is the nub. The major issues here, and what it boils down to, is that as long as so-called Sustainable Timber Tasmania continues its current logging practices, it will not be eligible for Forest Stewardship Council certification. We are not saying FSC certification is the panacea - we do not support logging in native forests - but it is something.

From STT's point of view and from the taxpayers' point of view, securing FSC certification means access to more ethical and, in fact, more profitable global markets overseas. The GBE which is clear-felling and burning the habitat of critically endangered species and therefore cannot get FSC certification. Instead, our Resources minister trundled off to China last December to flog off cheap, publicly subsidised native forest woodchips to companies that do not care where the wood comes from so long as it is cheap.

In order to greenwash the damning report, STT announced as part of its stakeholder engagement correspondence that went out last Friday that it was setting aside 10 000 hectares of swift parrot habitat in order to protect the species. The auditors are really clear. They knew about the proposed Public Authority Management Agreement between Sustainable Timber Tasmania and DPIPWE. They knew that fewer than 10 000 hectares was set aside for the protection of the swift parrot, and they said it is not good enough and it will not save the species.

By way of example, and at risk of being pulled up for using a prop, it is really important, Madam Speaker, that members are aware of the actual extent of swift parrot habitat in Tasmania. This is in STT's own High Conservation Forest Management Report, the Sustainable Timber Tasmania HCV Assessment and Management Plan. This map is very clear. There is swift parrot breeding and foraging habitat along the northern edge of Tasmania, and into the north-west, down the entire east coast and into the Tasman forests, and into Bruny Island. What is STT proposing to set aside? This is a map of the Southern Forests. Along here you see a fragmented patchwork of yellow where STT suggests that it will not log in order to 'protect swift parrot habitat'.

There has been much talk by the minister - in fact, the Premier talked about it yesterday - the Public Authority Management Agreement between DPIPWE and Sustainable Timber Tasmania. It was referred to in the Friday media release and stakeholder engagement communications that came out of Sustainable Timber Tasmania.

At 9.23 a.m. this morning, the Public Authority Management Agreement between DPIPWE and STT was gazetted. We sent our policy and parliamentary adviser, Thomas Whitton, out into the world to try to obtain a copy. He started on the telephone, and this is his contemporaneous file note of his effort to obtain the PAMA:

I called the State Service hotline to request to speak to the Threatened Species Unit. They could not get through and gave me the direct line. I called the direct line and it was disconnected. Then I called Natural and Cultural Heritage Division. The person who picked up the phone said they did not know about it and would get the document to send through to me. I never received it.

I then called Minister Jaensch's office, and was transferred through to the Parks adviser. The Parks adviser tried to send me to Minister Barnett's office, stating it was an STT matter. I then said the act is administered by the Environment portfolio. I was advised the Environment adviser would call me back.

I then went to the Threatened Species Unit page on the Government Directory. I called three numbers that were disconnected. Then I found a number I could get through to. I was told I would have to speak to the officer's supervisor and they would call me back.

Finally, the Environment adviser from Minister Jaensch's office called me back and told me the PAMA would be released after 3.30 pm and 'after it was gazetted'.

It has already been gazetted, and coincidentally 3.30 p.m. is when our Private Members' time would conclude.

Section 60 of the Threatened Species Protection Act of 1995 requires that:

The secretary must make available for inspection of the principal office of the department and at such other offices as the secretary considers appropriate, without charge, during normal office hours, a copy of the Public Authority Management Agreement.

Since it became clear that the documents would not be published until after the Private Members' time debate, I went to try to inspect the documents in person. I went to DPIPWE's offices at 1 Franklin Wharf, listed as their address on the Government Directory. I was advised it had nothing to do with them and I was referred to 134 Macquarie Street, the Lands Building. There I was advised to go to 59 Liverpool Street, where the Natural Heritage Division is located. There was no reception desk and the elevator would not allow me to go up to the 8th floor where the office is located. I went back to the ground floor and called the number listed on the wall for the Threatened Species Unit. The number would not connect. I then called the Business Services Unit. I was advised I would have to speak to the acting manager and that they were in a meeting. I was advised I would be called back within an hour. Almost an hour later, approximately 1.30 p.m. I called back and was advised the meeting was running over.

I then explained that section 60 of the Threatened Species Protection Act of 1995 requires that the document be made available for public inspection. I was told there was nothing they could do and that they would pass it on to the acting manager. Shortly afterwards, the acting manager called me. He advised the documents would be made available online later today. I explained I needed them before 2.30 p.m. for a parliamentary debate, and that the documents would not be published online until after then.

I advised that section 60 of the Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 requires that the document be made available for public inspection during normal business hours. I was told they have never done that, and he was not sure if they could do that now.

We still do not have the Public Authority Management Agreement, which was gazetted at 9.23 a.m. this morning. What a farce.

Tragically for the swift parrot, the masked owl, the Tasmanian devil, giant freshwater crayfish and every living thing that depends on our forests, the whole management of this portfolio is an absolute farce. We can tell how poor STT's approach to forest management is by the fact that they have twice failed to secure FSC.

It is a damning indictment of the Government's GBE. For members of the community who went up to the Styx Valley last Sunday, or the Sunday before, as we did, if you want to see a graphic example of the reason Tasmania's publicly funded forestry GBE cannot secure certification, have a drive to the Styx, go into the clear-felled coupe that we went past the other day on our way through to the beautiful forest that so-called Sustainable Timber Tasmania thinks of only as Coupe TN034G. When you go past that clear-fell, what was an exquisite carbon-rich, life-filled wet forest is a moonscape, full of charred sticks and muddy, boggy hollows. It is a scene of utter devastation.

Too rarely do Tasmanians really see what is happening in our forests. Too rarely do Tasmanians understand that when STT or its contractors go into forests such as this, the extent of the smashing, the burning and the death and devastation is extreme.

I have spoken to forest activists who have been in shortly after a clear-fell logging operation in the Tarkine, where native animals are screaming on the ground because a bulldozer has gone in there and flattened some trees, and habitat trees come down, and every living thing in those trees is hurled to the ground. This is the reality of what is happening in our forests.

The world has changed, and Sustainable Timber Tasmania and the Government need to change too. Young people no longer accept native forest logging. In fact, an increasing number of Tasmanians understand that native forest logging is madness. It does not pay for itself. It never has, and it never will.

The forestry road we took into the Styx the other day would have cost in the order of some millions of dollars. It was a high-quality forestry road, better than Jefferys Track through Lachlan. Better in fact, in terms of its maintenance and construction, than Nubeena Back Road. Those are two thoroughfare gravel roads that I know of that did not have the same quality of construction as a publicly funded forestry road through to Sustainable Timber Tasmania's logging operations.

Critically, what young people understand is that in a time of climate emergency, there is no justification for clear-felling and burning forest habitats. There is zero. Particularly since here in Tasmania, as a result of a shift towards plantation resources that started happening in the 1980s and through to the 1990s, by STT's own estimation, there is enough timber in the plantation estate to meet all of the industry's needs. All of them.

What we are dealing with here is sheer bloody mindedness on the part of government - an ideological mindset on the part of an industry that has always access to cheap, publicly subsidised timber.

Mr BARNETT - Point of order, Madam Speaker. I just draw the member's attention to the use of her language with respect to directing certain views and associating certain attributes to the Government.

Madam SPEAKER - Are you referring to bloody-mindedness?

Mr Barnett - Yes.

Madam SPEAKER - I do not think that is a point of order.

Ms O’CONNOR - Just a tiny bit bloody-minded of you, Mr Barnett, to get up and make a point of order about that.

This Government is overseeing a forestry GBE that in fact wrote to it. The board wrote to the Government back in 2016 and put to it an alternative to the increase in native forest logging. It put to them a proposal that the minimum sawlog quota, legislated as it is at 137 000 cubic metres, could be reduced - I think it was to about 96 000 cubic metres. The board of Forestry Tasmania at the time went to the Government and said there is another way here, but this Government, through sheer bloody-mindedness, took no notice of the board's correspondence and carried on regardless.

It is overseeing the destruction of habitat of critically endangered species. It is overseeing the release of masses of carbon into the atmosphere; as we know, that logged coupe in the Styx that we went past the other day will take a century or more for the carbon that was lost in that clear-fell and burn to be replaced. The animals that were there before - well, if we keep logging the forests at the rate we are, the swift parrots will not come back and the masked owls will have nowhere to go.

That might not matter to some people, but it matters to a lot of people. In fact, in last summer's bushfires, what broke people's hearts, almost more than anything else, was the loss of an estimated billion native animals. That diminishes us as a country. It diminishes us and it makes young people terribly sad. We have a responsibility to make sure that the swift parrot does not go the way of the thylacine. We, this generation, in this parliament now, have a responsibility.

We also have a responsibility, as does government, not to expose communities to fire risk. The science from UTAS, the University of Melbourne and Australian National University, which reflects science undertaken by other institutions around the world, was very clear that logging native forests increases bushfire risk in intensity and severity. That is a fact. Established scientific fact.

As this Government continues on its unsustainable logging of native forests, it is exposing communities to risk. There is an argument that it is potentially exposing taxpayers of the future to risk as well, when communities that face these fires after logging operations decide they might take civil action for compensation, given that government knew and had the evidence of increased risk.

I am reasonably interested in hearing what the shadow spokesperson for Labor and the minister have to say about this issue, but I will just make it really clear in closing: we met with the auditors. We met with them last year as part of their consultations around Tasmania as they went through the process of determining STT's eligibility for Forest Stewardship Council certification. We were very straight and clear with the auditors. In fact, I am certain they heard the same story, just slightly different language, from a whole range of stakeholders, and that partly why they have rejected STT's FSC certification bid.

I promise the minister and the Government this: on behalf of the Greens and the Wilderness Society, Bob Brown Foundation, Tasmanian Conservation Trust and Forestry Watch and every Tasmanian who wants to see a better path forward for our forests, we will continue to talk to the auditors and continue to ground truth= the facts of what is happening in native forest logging in Tasmania. We will not let up on making sure our forests and the life they sustain are protected.