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Resources – Forests and Climate

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 26 November 2020

Tags: Climate Change, Forests, Native Forest Logging, Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, in Estimates on Monday in response to questions asked by Dr Rosalie Woodruff, the Premier stated that 'our carbon sink does provide a significant net benefit to the state'. He used the term 'carbon sink' in reference to forests four times during that hearing and noted specifically that Tasmania's emissions profile is 'an accomplishment that reflects the carbon sink in our forests.' This is the first time we've heard him acknowledge the extremely important role Tasmania's forests play in our emissions profile. Do you agree with the Premier that Tasmania's native forests are a carbon sink that provides a significant net climate positive benefit, not just to the state but to the global climate?

Mr BARNETT - Thanks very much for that important question. You made some observations about our forest industry in Tasmania so let me respond.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, it's about the forests, not the industry.

Mr BARNETT - The industry is a forest industry.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, the question was about the forests.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, the minister is answering the question.

Mr BARNETT - They are involved in the sustainable harvesting of timber in our forests.

Ms O'CONNOR - That wasn't my question.

Mr BARNETT - You asked quite a lengthy question. I'm responding to the question and I'm very pleased to say that we have a sustainable forest management process in Tasmania. It's based on best practice and it's delivering for Tasmania. In fact, it's good for the climate and good for managing bushfires. The way we manage our forests is very important and the scientific evidence shows that native forest management has a vital role to play in addressing climate change -

Ms O'CONNOR - Not deforestation. It doesn't show that.

Mr BARNETT - and I know the International Panel on Climate Change recognises that sustainable forest management is a viable strategy to maintain and enhance our forest carbon stocks. As a government we support the sustainable management of our forests.

Ms O'CONNOR - That's why you can't get FSC certification.

Mr BARNETT - It's informed by science, it's informed by the importance of access to that resource and it balances conservation and timber production to provide an optimal framework for carbon pollution reduction. Trees that are actively growing absorb carbon, removing it from the atmosphere and storing it as wood, and in this parliament we're surrounded by wood and wood is good. I've said it before and I will say it again - wood is good. It's sustainable, it's the ultimate renewable and, when harvested, the wood is turned into timber which is used for building houses, boats, furniture, so it's incredibly important in terms of creating jobs but it's also important in terms of our climate.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay. You didn't answer the question, but sitting at this table I have become accustomed to you deflecting and avoiding answering a straight question. I note that. I also note that when you talk about a sustainable forest industry you don't state that twice now Forestry Tasmania has failed to secure Forest Stewardship Council certification which relates to the sustainability of the industry. I will ask you again, minister: do you agree with your own Premier that Tasmania's native forests are a carbon sink that provide a significant climate-positive benefit to the state?

Mr BARNETT - The Premier made it very clear in the parliament last week that he supports native forest harvesting, which is something the Greens do not support.

Ms O'CONNOR - That's right, industrial native forest logging, absolutely.

Mr BARNETT - You do not support it because it would put out of work thousands of Tasmanians and impact on the families of those thousands of Tasmanians. You know very well the impact of your policy.

Ms O'CONNOR - Would you just answer the question?

Mr BARNETT - You have made some opening remarks, you have made a statement, you put forward a speech, then you added a question at the end of it.

Ms O'CONNOR - A speech? I have listened to you bloviate all morning.

Mr BARNETT - Yes, you have delivered a very short number of statements and I have responded to that very clearly to say how important our native forest industry is. In fact, 40 per cent -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Chair, I ask for your assistance here. When a member asks a simple question asking if the minister agrees to something and then has to ask it again, and the minister does not answer, it makes it really hard for members at the table. This is the one opportunity we have in the year to elicit something close to information from the minister.

CHAIR - Thank you, Ms O'Connor. The minister is still responding and I cannot pre empt what he is going to say, so we will let the minister finish.

Mr BARNETT - Thanks very much, Madam Chair, I will conclude with two points. One is that as a government we acknowledge the importance of native forest harvesting in Tasmania and the jobs it supports. In fact, that makes up 40 per cent of the jobs in the entire industry in Tasmania. The Greens have a policy to throw all those people on the unemployment scrapheap.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is absolute garbage. It's a lack of imagination on your Government's part about how to transition that industry.

CHAIR - Order. The dissatisfaction with the minister's answer is noted. I will give the call to Mr Ellis.

Mr BARNETT - It is noted, so I would love to know how you do not put them out of work if you close native forest harvesting.

Ms O'CONNOR - You have a transition - read our alternative budget.

Mr BARNETT - Transition to unemployment.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, talk to young people about the state of the climate.

CHAIR - Order, Mr Ellis has the call.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, you have consistently and, in fact, quite illogically argued that native forest logging increase carbon sequestration. Your argument has essentially been that harvested trees have carbon stored in wood products and then the forests regrow. Have you tested this hypothesis with Australia's carbon accounts?

Mr BARNETT - The Government's policy position is very clear with strong support for the industry and native forest harvesting in particular, unlike the Greens that have an opposite policy position. The impact on jobs would be catastrophic, as it was under the Labor-Greens Government.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, it wouldn't. It is lack of imagination on your part.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, we only have about 22 minutes left. I do ask that you let the minister respond.

Mr BARNETT - The Government's policy position is based on advice and feedback from the industry and is very clear in terms of our support for a sustainably managed forest industry. I have indicated in an earlier answer about the support for our forest industry on a sustainably managed basis and how it benefits climate and our response in that regard.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, the bulk of the land use change and forestry emissions data comes from carbon stock changes, which is the balance of carbon removed, that is the harvested trees, and the carbon stored, the trees that we grow, in a given year. This is where our positive balance comes from, we are a net sequesterer, and current harvesting volumes are outstripped by regrowth from historically high harvesting.

In the latest accounts, 2018, harvested wood products, which is the stored carbon you refer to, was a relatively small sequestration of 513 kilotonnes. Carbon stock change, by comparison, resulted in 8777 kilotonnes of carbon being stored. In 2018 and indeed in every year in recorded history, direct emissions from forest-clearing activities, which was 780 kilotonnes of emissions in 2018, outstripped carbon stored in harvested wood products. In other words, minister, any carbon captured and stored in wood products is offset by direct emissions resulting from forest clearing, and of course we know there is the burning. Do you concede that Australia's emissions inventory shows your argument to be a fallacy?

Mr BARNETT - I don't agree with the basis of your question and the allegations you make are wrong. Let me make it very clear that a sustainably managed forest and the balanced approach taken by our Government which supports our industry to deliver jobs on the ground in those rural and regional areas, is essential to our future for value adding, for downstream processing and supporting our environment. They must have a balanced approach, unlike the Greens, that have a carte blanche killing off of the native forest industry altogether.

Ms O'CONNOR - What a load of rubbish. Finally on this line of questioning, it is unfortunate that you did not go to the science where the complete ignorance of the foundation of the statements you make about the contribution of logging to climate mitigation was revealed. Minister, will you acknowledge - can you bring yourself to acknowledge - that the reason Tasmania's carbon accounts for forestry are so positive, the reason that we are net zero emissions, is because there is less logging than there has been in the past? The only way to maintain that is to reduce logging going into the future. That is the science, by the way. Do you believe in science or not?

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor you have asked a question. Allow the minister to respond.

Mr BARNETT - I find it interesting that the Greens say they support these measures but yet they are not willing to support our initiatives for renewable energy or indeed water and irrigation in Tasmania.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, standing order 45, relevance.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, please let the minister answer.

Mr BARNETT - It is directly relevant to the importance and support for our climate. We are making these investments in water; we are making investments in renewable energy and it is high time the Greens reconsidered their position.

Ms O'CONNOR - Why won't you answer a simple question?

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor. Second warning.

Ms O'CONNOR - With respect, Chair, I have asked you to pull this minister into line all day. He has not been answering questions put by anyone at this table apart from Mr Ellis.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, you know that I cannot pre-empt what the minister is about to say, just like it is in question time. You have asked a question. The minister is responding. Your dissatisfaction with the minister's answer is recorded in Hansard. I ask the minister to continue, please.

Mr BARNETT - Thank you very much. The second part of the question which I was about to get to before I was rudely interrupted. You have talked about the science in your question so let us just have a look at the science. The Government accepts that our policy position is based on science and evidence and we accept the viewpoint of the experts and namely the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC.

Ms O'CONNOR - I explained to you the IPCC framework which you did not acknowledge.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, the minister is responding.

Mr BARNETT - Before I was interrupted, I was referring to the IPCC and the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the International Energy Agency that the sustainable management of forests, including a mixed strategy of conversation and timber production, is more likely to be optimal for carbon pollution reduction. To quote the IPCC special report on Climate Change and Land, which was released in August 2019, and I quote as follows to conclude -

Sustainable forest management can maintain or enhance forest carbon stocks and can maintain forest carbon sinks including by transferring carbon to wood products.

And -

Where wood carbon is transferred to harvested wood products these can store carbon over the long term and can substitute for emissions intensive materials, reducing emissions in other sectors.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is a pity that native forest logging here isn't sustainable.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, the minister is answering your question.

Ms O'CONNOR - He did not answer it again.