Andrew Darby, Scottsdale, Tasmania
May 2, 2007
Prime Minister John Howard has ruled out any further protection of Tasmanian old-growth forests, leaving any pre-election bidding on the contentious issue to Labor.
Mr Howard said the 2005 forest deal struck with the Tasmanian Government over jobs and forest protection should not be disturbed. "I'm against any change to the existing deal, full stop," he told The Age.
"I think the present deal is a good deal and my worry is that you will get attempts to lock away further areas, which will endanger jobs, and I'm against that."
In the 2004 federal election, Mr Howard outbid the ALP with a proposal to save 170,000 hectares of old-growth forest and offer an industry restructuring package. When it was signed in 2005, the $250 million Tasmania Community Forest Agreement protected about 140,000 hectares of old-growth forest, missing its benchmark for some of the most contentious tall eucalypt forests.
Since then Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon has raised the prospect that some of those trees could gain protection under a federal Labor government.
Mr Lennon said if value-adding timber projects could be achieved, that would allow his Government to consider conserving forests that had been subject to political debate.
Last weekend the ALP agreed to a platform that includes further protection of Tasmanian old-growth forests, rainforests and other ecosystems.
But the industry flatly opposes further protection. "The bottom line is that any further forest reservation is going to lead to significant job losses," said Terry Edwards, chief executive of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania.
Mr Howard said it appeared that federal and state Labor leaders had reached some understanding to buy out timber workers' jobs in Tasmania.
"I don't want to hear any weasel words about undoing the compact that was reached two years ago," Mr Howard said.
The Wilderness Society said Mr Howard was missing an opportunity to make good on his 2004 promises. "He said he would save the tall old-growth of the Styx and the Florentine valleys, and instead he is destroying these forests," said the society's campaign manager, Geoff Law.
"He's also missing a colossal opportunity to deal with climate change by locking away the carbon in those forests."