24 December, 2005

LETTER: Pay a fair price

Author: Jill Redwood, Environment East Gippsland, Orbost
The Age, Saturday 24 December 2005.

The logging industry is still squealing about the unfairness of having to pay a fair price for logs from public forests (Business, 22/12). It wants to go back to the good old days when the price of a woodchip log rose from nine to 10 cents a tonne over five years — oh, and the extra one-cent GST. That's a 30-tonne truckload of our native forests for the price of a loaf of bread. Sorry boys, every other business has to pay the true cost for its raw materials. Why is your industry so special?

22 December, 2005

ARTICLE: Forest group protests over rises in timber, road costs

By Philip Hopkins
The Age (business section)
December 22, 2005

VICTORIA'S peak forestry group has demanded that VicForests scrap its timber prices rises, maintaining they are between three and eight times higher than average increases of the past 17 years.

The Victorian Association of Forest Industries (VAFI) said the 2005-06 price rises exceeded the highest previous increase by between 124-224 per cent.

VAFI chief executive Patricia Caswell said that, based on the accepted pricing formula, timber prices should have fallen by 1.5 per cent.

"We are perplexed how they came to their decision," said Ms Caswell, a former trade union and conservation leader. "If I were still in the trade union movement, I would not have thought it credible."

VicForests, the new government corporation responsible for harvesting and selling Victoria's native forest timber, raised timber charges by 12.4-22.4 per cent from July 1, which included a 2.4 per cent inflation (CPI) adjustment. These charges were subsequently lowered by 1-1.85 per cent in November.

Ms Caswell said the timber charge increases should be withdrawn and affected customers reimbursed. "The situation needs to be rectified urgently," she said, as VAFI and VicForests both wanted a robust and sustainable forest industry.

"It's a politicised decision based on the unfounded notion that native forest timber is underpriced and from pressure from those who think we should not have a native forest industry. The industry must be depoliticised to go forward."

VAFI has also strongly protested to Treasurer John Brumby and Minister for Agriculture Bob Cameron.

In a hard-hitting submission, VAFI said VicForests' approach and price rises:

  • Make Victorian sawlogs more expensive than equivalent species and grades in NSW and Tasmania.
  • Make Victorian timber products uncompetitive in domestic and international markets for timber of like characteristics.
  • Lacked openness and transparency.

Ms Caswell said the timber price rises had been compounded by similar rises for roading charges. Roading charges, introduced in the late 1980s, were normally based on CPI adjustments or not raised at all.

A VicForests spokeswoman said the VicForests board was considering VAFI's submission and would make an announcement shortly."

Link to article

21 December, 2005

ARTICLE: Logging demise creates a saw point

Mark Poynter
The Age (Business section)
December 21, 2005

The Great Otway National Park is unlikely to live up to promises, writes Mark Poynter.

PREMIER Steve Bracks opened the Great Otway National Park last week, proclaiming it would protect old-growth forests and threatened species, and be a huge step for tourism.

The park was promised before the 2002 state election, primarily to resolve decades of community conflict over logging. Its declaration depended on the forced closure of the small local hardwood timber industry.

Although activists portrayed logging as a dire environmental threat, the industry had access to just 22 per cent of the Otway forests before the Government announced its phased closure in late 2002.

Dispersed coupes totalling 250-300 hectares were logged each year, a tiny fraction of the total 160,000 hectares of forest. This produced about 27,000 cubic metres of sawlogs, a figure a government-commissioned study in 2001 confirmed as sustainable.

The remainder of the Otway forests were in a moderately sized national park, three state parks, state forest special protection zones, some water supply catchments and code of forest practices operational reserves where logging was excluded.

These areas covered the region's old-growth forests and its significant recreational, scenic and ecologically important sites.

Despite the rhetoric, the existing high level of reserved forest made the new national park irrelevant to old-growth protection. And the park is unlikely to significantly improve other already well-protected environmental values.

Anti-logging activists have long claimed that national park expansion would spark an ecotourism bonanza with substantial economic benefits. The Otway Ranges are a well-developed part of the broader Geelong-Otway tourism region. They attracted almost 6 million domestic and international tourists in 2002 who spent more than $1.1 billion. But the region's primary attraction is its coast, where most tourist facilities are located. Visitor statistics for 2002 show that just 4 per cent of tourists visited a rainforest or bushwalked, despite an extensive network of easily accessible walking tracks and picnic facilities that have co-existed with other forest uses, including timber production, for more than 30 years.

According to a 2003 study for the Victorian Environment Assessment Council, the new national park may increase forest visits by up to 30 per cent. It also said national park tourism generates just $30 a visitor a day."

Full text of article

ARTICLE: Neighbours warned to act on illegal logging

Greg Roberts
The Australian, December 19, 2005

AUSTRALIA'S neighbours have been put on notice to crack down on illegal logging in their rainforests or face tight restrictions on timber exports to the nation.

Federal Forestry Minister Ian Macdonald, who will meet officials in Jakarta today to urge tougher action, said illegal logging was widespread in Indonesia, PNG and the Solomon Islands.

"We have to stop the slaughter of rainforests in some of these countries," Senator Macdonald said yesterday. "This illegal trade is a threat to some of the world's most unique and rare forests."

Senator Macdonald said Australia was trying to persuade the nations to agree to international standards requiring logging to be conducted sustainably.

While mindful of the difficulties faced by developing countries in enforcing forestry standards, Senator Macdonald said the Government would legislate if necessary to ban the import of illegally felled timber.

"Local villagers get little or no value or employment from the illegal harvest," Senator Macdonald said. "The failure to manage the resource properly means that the forests, once harvested, are gone forever."

He said Indonesia had shown genuine interest in reforming its industry and he would pursue the matter today with Forestry Minister Malem Sambat Kaban."

Full text of article

LETTERS: Illegal logging rolls on

Published in The Australian, 21 December 2005

FEDERAL Forestry Minister Ian Macdonald is intent on stopping the "slaughter" of rainforests in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and the illegal trade in timber ("Neighbours warned to act on illegal logging", 19/12). However, such a policy is doomed to failure. Most logging is conducted under the auspices of governments. While codes of practice are in place to minimise collateral damage during logging, they are seldom adhered to. It is too expensive for governments to monitor logging practices in remote locations, and in any case, bribery by large logging companies further reduces its possibility. To actually prove that illegal logging is happening is very difficult for the same reasons. Raw logs from PNG and the Solomons principally exported to China and Asian markets are more likely to be the result of illegal logging than sawn timber. A ban on sawn timber by Australia would likely leave the transgressors unaffected while hurting the legitimate operators.
Dr Colin Hunt
Holland Park West, Qld

I HAD no problem with Ian Macdonald's use of "slaughter" to describe the treatment of "some of the world's most unique and rare forests". But what got me is his concurrent tolerance of Tasmanian logging, which is flattening native forests at a rate proportionally four times as fast as PNG, for chips worth a fraction of the sawn timber being shipped out of PNG, with a similar lack of financial recompense to the hapless people living there. Worse, Tasmania is planning to increase the gargantuan harvest, almost wholly for the benefit of one company. While it's true that the slaughter is largely legal in Tasmania, this means only that the Tasmanian politicians are more brazen about their involvement. If Senator Macdonald is talking about sustainability, Tasmania belongs in the same basket with our northern and Pacific neighbours.
John Hayward
Weegena, Tas

14 December, 2005

NEWS: Regional Victoria expected to feel DSE job cuts

The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) has announced 70 job cuts to its land stewardship and biodiversity group.

The union representing DSE employees, the Community and Public Sector Union, says most of the jobs lost are based in Melbourne.

But the union's Karen Batt says the cuts will have a severe impact on teams working in regional Victoria.

"The impact that it's going to have on regional Victoria is quite severe - if you lose the knowledge and the expertise of the staff in this area, how are we going to have the staff in the field being able to deliver the services that regional Victorians rely on very heavily," she said.

Original article

11 December, 2005

ARTICLE: Larger Otways park has loggers bushed

By Claire Miller

December 11, 2005

SEVERAL years ago, the Sabine Falls were doomed. The walking track was closed and picnic tables were removed.

The waterfall was designated a star tourist attraction, but the Government had eyes only for the timber surrounding the spectacular 130-metre cascade.

That was when the timber industry swore it would not let the Government give any more ground for conservation. Now the tables are back, the path is repaired and logging is no longer an issue. Once the scene of battles between environmentalists and state foresters, the Sabine and other sites are safe in the new Great Otway National Park.

Old adversaries will rub shoulders today in celebrations at Triplet Falls, where Environment Minister John Thwaites will declare the 100,000 hectare park open. The park incorporates the existing Otway National Park, the Angahook-Lorne, Carlisle and Melba Gully state parks, and another 60,000 hectares of state forest and Crown land.

Logging will continue in the Otway Forest Park, a 40,000 hectare area where dogs and horse riding, and other activities are allowed. But logging will be phased out by 2008, when the licence expires for the last sawmill left in nearby Colac.

Trisha Caswell, chief executive of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries, had regrets. She said the Otways could have been a model for sustainable forestry. "Basically, the Otways are 1939 regrowth, they are gorgeous forests and they relate to all kinds of industries and jobs," she said.

"It is a pity we hadn't struggled through to an accommodation to have the forest and ecological views understood, and have some forestry production because everyone has wood products in every room in their house, and it is better they be sustainably harvested and produced than not."

Simon Birrell, spokesman for the Otway Ranges Environment Network, said logging in the Otways was not sustainable once water, community and other factors were considered.

He said poor stewardship was to blame for logging's demise. "The greatest adversary was the forestry bureaucracy," he said. "They were the staunchest recalcitrants who did not understand what community compromise and liaison was about.

"The loggers were constantly being the meat in the sandwich when the issue was about the Government's administration."

He said the Otways experience had big lessons for forestry elsewhere in Victoria, lessons the Victorian Association of Forestry Industries was learning. "Who is this for?" he said. "It is not really for us … it is a gift for the children of the future. They will have the benefit of it long after we have all been forgotten.""


07 December, 2005

ARTICLE: Chips are down but don’t gamble away future

The Age (article)

Tuesday 6 December 2005

This is an edited version of a speech by shadow minister for primary industries, forestry and tourism Martin Ferguson to a seminar last week.

A sustainable forest industry is crucial to the Australian economy and to help wipe out illegal logging around the world, says Martin Ferguson

Australia's forests are very important in both an environmental and industry resource context. About 10 per cent - 11 million hectares - of Australia's 155 million hectares of native forests is managed for wood production, which is less than 1 per cent harvested in any one year.

The small proportion of forests harvested annually is regenerated so that a perpetual supply of native hardwood and softwood is maintained in this country. Australia is fortunate to have some of the best foresters in the world working to maintain our assets in perpetuity

Rather than being recognised for their contribution to forestry, profession is often criticised by those who think that forests should be left to their own devices.

The withdrawal of foresters, funding and management resources from forests turned over to conservation purposes in recent decades has led to some environmental disasters in this country. I could point to uncontrolled bushfires in a number of areas, and shudder to think of the consequences of runaway fire in the vast Tasmanian wilderness areas.

We are also one of a few countries in the Asia-Pacific region with the land availability and capability to expand sustainable forestry through further plantation development over the coming decades. Demand for forest products is skyrocketing. So the sustainable expansion of Australia's forest industry is very important to meet global demand and contribute to our own economic prosperity

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, arguing that the rest of the world is benefiting from PNG's natural forest wealth without shouldering the environmental cost, recently put the proposition that perhaps the developed world should pay for the preservation of rainforests in developing countries.

I would argue that any foreign aid directed in that way should come with reciprocal obligation, and that obligation has to include stamping out unsustainable forestry practices in those countries.

There are claims that illegal logging in Indonesia destroys about 3 million hectares of forests every year. That's about three times Australia’s legitimate harvest each year.

With the world facing significant problems in managing global demand for forest products and maintaining a sustainable forestr resource, I find it difficult to understand the campaign being run by the Greens against Australia's and particularly Tasmania’s forest industry.

The Labor Party knows full well that the key to a better Australia is jobs and economic prosperity for all. Australia and Tasmania's forest industries are part of the key to achieving that.

Tasmanian forestry is conducted in accordance with the Australian Forestry Standard, the development of which was initiated by the Commonwealth Government and based on internationally agreed criteria.

The AFS was developed through a three year process where community, expert scientists and government representatives came together to draft the standard. It holds global mutual recognition under the Endorsement of Forest Certification, which is the largest international sustainability recognition framework for forestry in the world.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation has recognised Forestry Tasmania's AFS-certified forests for exemplary forest management as part of its In Search Of Excellence program. This puts the AFS and Tasmanian forestry in the world's best practice

Let me also say that, at a time when industrial relations and the protection of our most vulnerable workers are top of mind for many of us I am pleased to see the collaborative work of the CFMEU forest division and the industry, includes key ILO (International Labour Organisation) conventions in its provisions.

Labor supports changes in forest industry practices to end clear-felling and restructure the sawmilling industry. The move away from dear-felling to more selective logging practices comes with the need for retraining. The campaign being run by the Greens, however, has nothing to do with the environment or sustainability.

The result of the Greens' actions could well be to scare international customers away from sustainable forest resources in Tasmania to countries where illegal logging in forest products leaves a trail of devastation, but where ignorance is bliss.

This will cost jobs and ecomomic prosperity in Tasmania, and our forest resources will be the poorer. Australia’s deficit in forest products - already a massive $2 billion - will grow, and the products demanded by the global market will still be supplied, but by countries and producers who don't care about sustainable forestry standards and who don't care about trashing Thirld World forests forever.

More of Tasmania's land and forests are protected than anywhere else on earth – four timees the benchmark set by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and 40 per cent of the state.

The realitv is that we have to be part of the solution to the environmental impact of economic growth in our region. Part of that solution is to continue to grow a sustainable Australian and Tasmanian forest industry.

It is estimated that almost 10 per cent of timber products imported to Australia are of suspicious origin. The trade in illegal and unsustainable timber distorts trade, suppresses prices, and causes damage to the environment.

Dubious importing practices are already contribute to job losses in Australia, where local producers are arguably being unfairly undercut.

Our own economic and environmental future is in jeopardy if we don't adopt measures to control importation of illegal and unsustainable timber products and if we fail to set the example world’s best forestry forest industry practices with our trading partners. That’s why the Australian Labor Party supports the development of a worldclass-pulp mill in Tasmania. Our high standards could add around $100 million to the cost of the mill compared to less stringent standards for our competitors in this industry.

Despite the cost impediment, we required the development of Australian manufacturing industries, which we require to operate on a world's best practice basis with respect to environmental and greenhouse emissions, and not drive them offshore to countries with lower standards.

The Federal Labor platform commits a future Labor government to encourage moves away from woodchip exports by promoting greater value-adding and downstream processing.

The Tasmanian pulp mill be an important step in this direction, quadrupling the value of Tasmania's woodchips and going a long way to reduce Australia's, trade deficit in pulp and paper products. It is up to us as a nation to ensure that our imports and exports of forest products are certified to give us confidence about the origin of the products, the legality of their acquisition, and the reputation and forestry standards of the producers.