MEMBERS OF THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL, VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA
FIFTY-SIXTH PARLIAMENT — FIRST SESSION
12 November 2008, Page 25
Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — My question is for the Minister for Environment and Climate Change. Will the minister confirm that three logging coupes at Brown Mountain in East Gippsland — numbers 840-502-15, 19 and 20 that are mapped by the Department of Sustainability and Environment as old-growth forest — have been approved for clear-felling this season, that one is almost fully logged, and that this is in contravention to the Labor Party’s 2006 commitment to protect the last significant stands of Victoria’s old-growth forests currently available for logging?
Mr JENNINGS (Minister for Environment and Climate Change) — I will answer the question in reverse order. I can confirm that the timber allocations this year are not inconsistent with the Labor Party’s formal commitment to make sure we reserve old-growth forests in east Gippsland in the future. This is something the government is committed to doing and something that I am committed to doing, but it has not been specified in any way that there will not be timber harvesting in areas that may be described as old-growth forest in current timber allocations.
I can confirm it is not inconsistent with the commitment made by the Labor Party in the lead-up to the last election and certainly will not be inconsistent with my intention, which is to deliver beyond the 33 500 hectares of old-growth forests that it was indicated would be added to the reserve system. It is my intention during my tenure as minister responsible for the environment to beat that number and actually have a higher number of areas of old-growth forest incorporated into the reserve system. That is something I am very happy to be measured by at the end of the term.
The thing I cannot quite verify in relation to the question is the specific numbers of the coupes in question, although if the question is, ‘Is there activity currently being undertaken in East Gippsland that is a source of contention in relation to the appropriateness of it being allocated for harvesting activity and being subject to protest activity?’, I can confirm that that is absolutely happening.
I would like to put the sequence of decisions and responsibilities that have led to this time frame. As far back as August 2004 the allocation order was signed off by my predecessor, the Minister for the Environment at that time, regarding areas that would be available for harvesting from that time over a 15-year period and that were going to be considered and reviewed in five-year cycles. In the first instance, the timber allocations that were then the responsibility of VicForests and that would be subsequently the responsibility of other ministers and agencies — that is, VicForests allocation of the timber orders that relate to the harvesting schedule — were required to comply with the allocation orders made in 2004. In 2004 the areas that are currently subject to harvesting were identified as potentially being available for harvesting, subject to VicForests determining the harvesting plan that would apply from 2004 to 2009.
Subsequently the election commitment — which was that we would increase the reserve system within East Gippsland — at one level may have been interpreted to mean that there would be absolutely no logging in areas that may be seen to be old growth, but they are not mutually exclusive commitments. In fact the coupes in question continue to be in areas known as general management zones within the forest.
There are a number of categories of forest designation, which include special protection zones and general management zones, that give guidance to the way in which those forests should be managed. The coupes in question have at no stage been designated, in my understanding, as being in anything other than general management zones. On any map that had been prepared prior to my arrival as Minister for Environment and Climate Change, or any map subsequently in relation to whether the areas in question would be added to the reserve system, this area has not appeared. It continues to not exist on those maps. I stand by the commitment of the government to increase the reserve system significantly beyond the 33 500 hectares that we identified for old-growth protection in the future, and I will be measured by that and will be accountable to the Parliament and the people on that matter
Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — The minister and I might disagree on what is on the maps. One of these logging coupes has been named ‘The Walk’ by VicForests in reference to the local community’s marked and tracked tourist walk, which was also committed to by the Labor government as the ‘Old Growth Forest Walk — Goongerah’. How is this consistent with the current logging operation?
Mr JENNINGS (Minister for Environment and Climate Change) — I obviously know that commitments were made at the same time, which the member did not refer to. Commitments were made to make sure that a number of walks were generated within the East Gippsland region to try to enhance the visitor experience and hopefully be supportive of tourism activity and engagement from the community within the forests. That commitment continues to be maintained by the government and to be implemented by various agencies to try to make sure that the walks are deliver.
Again, this may be an area of contention.— It is an area of contention where people purport that there had been an alignment of a walk that had been adopted by the various state agencies. Despite the fact that there are many passionate and committed people — and good on them for being passionate and committed to environmental outcomes and sustainability in this area and generally — there has been no formal adoption of any delineation of a walking track by government agencies or the government that will define how the commitment to those walks will be delivered on the ground. That is a process and a program that the government continues to be committed to and hopes to engage with the community on. We will continue to work to deliver on that aspect of the commitment as well.
Hansard document (PDF) [link]