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.


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