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Sustainable Timber Tasmania - Forest Practices System

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 1 December 2022

Tags: Native Forest Logging

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, do all STT Forestry Tasmania logging operations comply with the Forest Practices Code?

Mr ELLIS - I will pass over to the STT team in a moment for the details. Tasmania operates an independent Forest Practices Authority. We have a high quality independent forestry practice regulator in this state. It is something of which we should all be incredibly proud. It underpins some of the reputation for quality and sustainability that forest operations have in Tasmania. They receive significant support from STT and members of our community who want to make sure they are doing a good job and have the information available to them. I will pass over to the STT team for further updates on particular coupes.

Mr WHITELEY - The forest practices system is one of the underpinnings of the forest management system in Tasmania on public and private land, in native forests and plantations, the whole range of forest harvesting and roading activities. In Tasmania, these must all comply with the Forest Practices Code via the preparation of a forest practices plan.

The code is expansive and it covers a whole lot of standards that need to be met. A plan is put together for each individual harvesting operation. All of them are somewhat different, they all have different issues and inputs, they have slightly different objectives. Based on operational assessment, each plan will deliver what is intended by the code.

Ms O'CONNOR - Through you, minister, Mr Whiteley, why was the decision made to no longer publish forest practices plans so that they are no longer publicly accessible?

Mr ELLIS - Thank you, Ms O'Connor. I will pass over to the STT team in a moment. STT regularly make forest practices plans available -

Ms O'CONNOR - No, they do not.

Mr ELLIS - I am sorry, but they do, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - They don't.

Mr ELLIS - It's an independent regulator that manages forest practices in Tasmania. You can keep saying it all you want -

Ms O'CONNOR - But they don't.

Mr ELLIS - It is available upon request.

Ms O'CONNOR - We are used to your Government's gaslighting, but they don't.

Mr ELLIS - Thanks, Ms O'Connor. I'll pass over to STT for any further comment on that.

Mr WHITELEY - The means by which we make them available has changed over time. We had a system some years ago where plans - and again this is use of technology and various other things -

Ms O'CONNOR - About two years ago.

Mr WHITELEY - Yes, stepping back before that, the journey along here. Many years ago we would make plans available, but they had to be run through a photocopier. Technology has changed. Some years ago we then decided to put all of our plans up and publish them when they are available on our website, attached to what we called our access map. When we reviewed that, we found that there were very few plans requested from that system.

With the change of the organisation, it did not have the resources to sustain that model at that time. It has worked generally pretty well, but clearly there is currently some dissatisfaction at not having the previous system in place. We're reviewing that. It is a matter of resourcing to copy those plans and put them into a form that is suitable for release that respects privacy.

We would be very keen to make all plans available. Needs are changing, we'll adapt to that.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am glad to hear that is being reviewed. To people who worry about forest practices, those plans are very important to understand the values of different coupes that have been logged. Can you confirm that Forestry Tasmania employees are still forest practices officers?

Mr WHITELEY - Yes. Sustainable Timber Tasmania and many of the other companies, whether they're land managers or service providers, have delegates from the Forest Practices Authority, so they're independently trained by the Forest Practices Authority and accredited by them. So the answer to your question is yes, some of our employees have been trained by the Forest Practices Authority.

Ms O'CONNOR - Right - cute system.

Mr WHITELEY - What's that?

Ms O'CONNOR - It's a cute system where you've got Forestry Tasmania employees who are approving their own forest practices plans, don't you think?

Mr WHITELEY - I think that's where the expertise lies, so whether it's Forico, whether it's Sustainable Timber Tasmania, whether it's some of the other companies that have expertise in that area, those people have certain skills and interests but they have to be trained, experienced and accredited by the Forest Practices Authority. Ultimately it's the Forest Practices Board that determines to their satisfaction whether they have the right attributes to represent the Forest Practices Authority in certifying a forest practices plan as being consistent with the requirements of the Forest Practices Code as applied to individual forest operations.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Whiteley - and through you again, minister - what we have here is a system where STT employees are able to certify STT forest practices plans. Can you see that that is a situation that has great potential for conflict and is problematic because it's not an independent process? You've got FT employees certifying plans that are not made public.

Mr ELLIS - Ms O'Connor, probably the thing to reiterate from the CEO's comments is that Tasmanian forest practices are independently regulated by the independent regulator, the FPA -

Ms O'CONNOR - It's not independent to have Forestry Tasmania employees certifying forest practices plans.

Mr ELLIS - Sorry, Ms O'Connor, I don't remember interrupting you while you were asking your question.

Ms O'CONNOR - I would welcome it.

Mr ELLIS - All right.

Ms O'CONNOR - I really would.

Mr ELLIS - We will see how your interesting system goes. As I mentioned, the FPA is an independent regulator - that's really important - and obviously that knowledge is passed down through the system but oversight remains at the top level.

Ms O'CONNOR - Compromised.

Mr ELLIS - I might pass over to the STT team if they have anything further to add.

Mr de FEGELY - Thank you, minister; I'd just like to make a comment. The Tasmanian forest practices system, to me, as somebody who's worked all around Australia, is the best in the country. It has worked really well for 35 years and suddenly it's now in question -

Ms O'CONNOR - It's not suddenly.

Mr de FEGELEY - No, no - it's suddenly now in question. I think that's a bit of a slight on the integrity of the individuals involved, because they are independently audited -

Ms O'CONNOR - No, it's the system.

Mr de FEGELEY - They are audited as to whether or not they are achieving what they're being asked. If they don't, then they can lose their accreditation. That has happened, to my mind, as far as I'm aware.

We'll continue to modify the system and evolve it over time. I think it has worked and we shouldn't forget the fact that it's worked for 35 years. We're continuing to improve that system, getting greater skills and getting more people involved, which I think is a good thing. There are other examples where, for instance, people fill out their own tax return and send it into the tax office.

Ms O'CONNOR - Bit different.

Mr de FEGELEY - Well, not really. They get audited too, so there is a response from government to say, 'We expect you to do the right thing. We will come and check you if you don't, and if you don't do the right thing you'll lose your accreditation'. I remember when this was set up back in about 1985 86, because I was a very young forester at the time and I came down here to find out a little bit more about it. I think it was John Quick, the commissioner at the time, who said that this will be a big challenge because individuals will learn that they have a responsibility first and foremost to the forest practices system rather than to their employer. I believe that has been upheld right through until the current time. This system is certainly better than any of the other systems in the other states. Certainly we can always improve but I think it's also been a really good system.