20 July, 2010

Twice-shy Labor lets forest jobs policy slide

Phillip Coorey Chief Political Correspondent
The Age (article), July 20, 2010

The Gillard government is reluctant to produce a forestry jobs policy before the election because it fears getting its fingers burnt, as Labor did during the 2004 election campaign.

Talks between timber industry players are well advanced to end or reduce old-growth logging in Tasmania, and the big parties are under pressure to unveil a jobs-rescue policy to help the timber workers who will inevitably lose out.

But the government, while watching developments closely, is staying at arm's length from negotiations and will step in with a jobs package only when it is sure there will be no backlash.

At least two marginal seats - Bass and Braddon - are at risk.

''It's not going to happen unless everyone's in the boat this time,'' said a senior government source. ''We got burnt last time.''

In 2004, the Labor Party's then-leader, Mark Latham, had his campaign badly damaged when John Howard outflanked him on forestry policy. Mr Howard put more emphasis on jobs than trees, and wrested Bass and Braddon from Labor.

But since then the bottom has fallen out of the market for old-growth products such as wood chips and there is a growing consensus to start shutting the industry down.

A worldwide glut of wood and, more significantly, a public awareness campaign in key markets such as Japan, have significantly reduced demand.

Talks are well advanced between the industry, unions and conservation groups.

''Even the native-forest logging industry in this state and Victoria and NSW is in very hard times,'' the Greens leader, Bob Brown, said in Hobart yesterday.

''It requires government involvement at state and federal level. It's a key issue. It's a test of the government's and the opposition's recognition that biodiversity is a huge economic and environmental issue.''

Labor has already struck a preference deal with the Greens in key marginal seats, including Bass and Braddon.

The Labor source said there was a level of co-operation between interested parties ''that no one would have thought possible. There's a willingness to reach a settlement.''

However, he said Labor was in no rush to step in before the election and, at best, would release ''a statement of general principles'' before August 21.

He speculated that negotiations could take another three months because of the details that need to be sorted out.

These include what constitutes high-value forests which would warrant complete protection. There is disagreement over details such as whether a forest damaged by fire is still a natural forest or could be classified as regrowth and be logged.

''The Liberals are running around, they want a Latham deal, they want to say thousands of jobs will be lost,'' he said. ''It's not going to happen.''

Asked on Saturday whether she envisaged intervening before the election, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said she expected negotiations to continue for some time.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

15 July, 2010

Loggers lash out at claims

Bryony Triggs
Daily Examiner (article), 15th July 2010

TIMBER industry representatives have lashed out at Clarence Environment Centre conservationist John Edwards over allegations lowland rainforest and old growth was illegally logged at Grange State Forest.

Mr Edwards' claims, pub-lished in yesterday's Examiner, relate to a 15 hectare area, alleged to have been illegally logged in the forest 50km west of Grafton early this month.

The NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) is now investigating.

However NSW Forest Products Association executive director Russell Ainley said Mr Edwards was “unqualified” to make the allegations.

“John Edwards and the Clarence Environment Centre are running a campaign of unsubstantiated trivial allegations to attack the good work of well-qualified and highly experienced forest managers,” he said.

Mr Ainley said less than two per cent of the available area of State Forest was harvested each year. “That is after areas of old growth, rainforest, riparian zones and other special protection areas are excluded,” he said.

He said Mr Edwards' allegations of harvesting of rainforest and old growth in Grange State Forest were “wrong”.

“Such areas are carefully mapped, checked on the ground and excluded from all harvesting activity,” he said.

Mr Ainley said the definition of lowland rainforest was “complex”.

“It involves a full description, transitional forms, sub alliances and a great deal of scientific interpretation,” he said. “Contrary to John Edwards' assertion, you do have to be a botanist to even start to understand the definition.”

Spiro Notaras, owner of Notaras & Sons Timber Mill in South Grafton, backed Mr Ainley's comments, declaring he felt the public was being misled by an “instant expert”.

Mr Notaras said more than one million hectares of State Forest was put into National Parks in 1996/1997, as per the Regional Forest Agreement.

“The industry paid dearly for the lock-up of the forest and the government did too,” he said.

“We've spent millions to stay there and do the right thing.

“It doesn't matter what logging operation you look at, you could find little things you could pick on. Cutting trees down is emotional for anybody.”

Mr Notaras said the Forestry Commission only logged 30 per cent of the actual area they mapped to log each year, “because of all the restraints”.

He said there was a “plan of management” for every State Forest block, which had to have National Parks and Wildlife Service and DECCW approval before a contractor started logging.

Source: http://www.dailyexaminer.com.au/story/2010/07/15/loggers-conservationists-claims-grange-forest/

PM's visit linked to forest deal

Sue Neales
The Mercury (article), July 15, 2010

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard is expected to fly into northern Tasmania tomorrow ahead of an expected announcement on Saturday of a late August election.

But it is not yet certain whether Ms Gillard will use her rushed visit to the marginal electorates of Bass and Braddon to announce a breakthrough in the decades-old and divisive Tasmanian forest conflict.

Last night forest industry insiders were denying a deal had been reached with environmentalists to end all logging of Tasmania's high-conservation native forests.

Federal Forestry Minister Tony Burke is in Tasmania and will address the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association national conference in Launceston today.

But a spokesman for Mr Burke denied the Gillard Government was ready to announce a peace pact or breakthrough affecting Tasmania's forests.

Before going to the polls the Prime Minister is keen to announce a sweeping "climate statement" addressing voter concerns about the Federal Government's commitment to tackle climate change.

Any deal to end all native forest logging in southern Australia, accompanied by an industry restructuring package and a switch to a plantation-only timber industry, would be part of the environmental or climate policy pitch.

The Federal Government has previously indicated to the stricken forest industry that Commonwealth funds are available to encourage some native forest loggers and contractors to leave the industry.

But talks appear to be stymied by debate between industry groups about how quickly and completely logging should cease in all state-owned native forests.

While an immediate end to felling high-conservation native forests appears certain, the speed with which a transition out of all native forests can be completed lies at the heart of last-minute negotiations.

It is understood the industry is also keen to get concessions from environmentalists to allow the $2.2 billion Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley to proceed, but using only plantation timber.

Tasmanian Forestry Minister Bryan Green said he was not aware of any visit to northern Tasmania by the Prime Minister tomorrow.


14 July, 2010

Gillard paves way to end Tasmania logging conflict

Tom Arup
The Age (article), July 14, 2010

The Gillard government has offered to finance a potential breakthrough between environmentalists and forestry companies to end the decades-long conflict over native forest logging in Tasmania.

In meetings in Tasmania last week, Forestry Minister Tony Burke is understood to have told negotiating parties some federal money is available for an agreement and he has asked for a deal to be presented to him by early next week.

Over recent months, representatives of the timber industry and the environmental movement have been negotiating an agreement that could end much of the native forest logging in the state.

While any deal could still fall through, the parties are now understood to be getting close. The environment movement - represented in the negotiations by the Wilderness Society, the Australian Conservation Foundation and Environment Tasmania - is understood to want an almost immediate halt to logging of high-conservation-value forests and a phased end, over a number of years, to almost all native logging throughout the state except in rare circumstances.

In return, the struggling Tasmanian timber industry - represented by Timber Communities Australia, the National Association of Forest Industries, and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union - wants a restructuring package to help industry move towards certified plantation timber.

The industry is also understood to be asking for financial help for new infrastructure and roads to ensure its long-term survival. It also wants support for Gunns' stalled Bell Bay pulp mill.

Mr Burke is understood to have asked the parties to present a deal to the government by early next week and has told them that while there is not unlimited money to get an agreement, the government would step in if an appropriate agreement were presented.

While refusing to comment on any government offer, Mr Burke told The Age yesterday ''there are genuine efforts being made by people who have spent their lives arguing with each to see if they can reach a settlement''.

''We are not there yet, but it would be a massive change from the conflict that has plagued this issue for generations.''

National Association of Forest Industries chief executive Allan Hansard will meet his Tasmanian member companies today to discuss the agreement.

Green groups have also presented parts of the deal to many of the community-based environment bodies they are representing in the talks.

Logging in Tasmania has been a vexed issue for federal Labor for years. Labor leader Mark Latham's promise to protect large parts of Tasmania's forests during the 2004 election sparked an angry campaign by the CFMEU against the proposal, which is credited with losing Labor the Tasmanian seats of Braddon and Bass at that election.

The Tasmanian timber industry has suffered financially in recent years because of a global glut of wood chips and an increased demand for environmentally friendly plantation timber from key Asian customers.


04 July, 2010

LETTER: The bones will tell the story

Sarah Rees, executive director, My Environment, Healesville
Letter, The Age, 3 July 2010

VICFOREST chief executive David Pollard claims ''all trees harvested in Toolangi had dated from 1939 bushfire regrowth and no possums had been affected'' - ''Green groups in logging case bid'' (The Age, 1/7).

We may have a different picture. Beneath a large, smashed tree in the logging zone lies the burnt remains of what looks to be a small marsupial. We exhumed some skeletal remains, bone-white against the charred soil, from the coupe burn. The skeleton is at a veterinary clinic, awaiting analysis. It may be an eastern pygmy possum, a bobuck possum, a ringtail possum or even a Leadbeater's possum.

This forest had many possums and as many gliders again - the Department of Sustainability and Environment's maps shows this. These bones may tell the story of the logging disaster that took place in this possum's home. But let us leave it for the judge to decide.