20 November, 2010

Tasmanian forest industry waits for emergency funds

Sid Maher
The Australian (article), 20 November 2010

An emergency rescue package for the Tasmanian native forest industry promised during the federal election campaign is yet to be delivered.

The delay has sparked fears it could jeopardise an industry restructure that has won the overwhelming support of workers.

A ballot of CFMEU Tasmanian forestry division workers overwhelmingly supported a peace deal between conservationists, the industry and the union, with 97 per cent voting in favour of the industry restructure.

But CFMEU forestry division national president Jane Calvert said concern was growing at the Gillard government's failure to deliver the promised $20 million in emergency assistance to the industry.

Ms Calvert said the funds were to have been earmarked for about 1300 people involved in harvesting and haulage who had been hit hard by the current state of the industry.

She said that, unless the money for the emergency rescue package was delivered shortly, "there will be panic around our industry".

Ms Calvert said the government's procrastination could spark a loss of confidence in the process even though the union ballot vote had delivered a strong mandate for the process to begin.

More than 55 per cent of eligible members voted in the ballot -- about twice the normal turnout -- and 95 per cent endorsed the union's position for a just transition for workers, their families and communities.

On another question, 94 per cent voted for a future ballot on whether to endorse the continued implementation of the restructure.

The overwhelming endorsement of the "statement of principles" struck between environmental organisations, the industry and the union will spur talks on a moratorium on logging in high-conservation areas and, ultimately, a shift away from native forests and into plantation timber.

The CFMEU wants the green lobby and governments to secure the industry's long-term survival around the nation by agreeing to a dramatic expansion of plantation forestry.

Forestry Minister Joe Ludwig said the government would meet its election commitment to help forest contractors and their employees meet the challenges facing the native forest sector in Tasmania. "We recognise that contractors in Tasmania are facing difficulties. I will be making an announcement on the details of this package shortly and offers will be made to successful applicants before Christmas," Senator Ludwig said.

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