23 February, 2011

VicForests operations condemned

Ben Butler
The Age (article), February 23, 2011

THE government-owned company that logs Victoria's native forests is running out of timber, has failed to keep track of how much forest is left to log and cannot manage its costs, a damning Treasury report has found.

VicForests has also twice breached Department of Sustainability and Environment rules by logging too much and its backlog of forest that needs replanting has nearly tripled, according to the report by forestry expert URS.

Released to The Age after a freedom-of-information application, the report portrays an industry in decline, with jobs on the line as the supply of trees dries up. Its early leak to another media outlet has embarrassed the Baillieu government, under pressure because of divisions between the Liberals and Nationals over conservation issues.

In the key forestry battleground of East Gippsland, where Vicforests has repeatedly clashed with environmentalists, the number of quality logs suitable for sawn timber is ''expected to decline significantly within about 10 years and impact adversely on businesses directly involved'', URS said.

''Assuming forecasts are correct, it may not be possible to supply sawmills located in the East Gippsland area with sufficient sawlogs from the region,'' URS said. Those mills might have to ''reduce their operations''.

The report found Vicforests wrongly logged 87 hectares in the Central Highlands and East Gippsland.

''The dispute could have material financial consequences, especially if DSE pursues legal action,'' URS said.

But VicForests spokesman David Walsh said the organisation had reached a settlement with DSE over the breaches.

URS said VicForests' estimates of still-standing timber were up to 65 per cent too high, although Mr Walsh disputed the calculation.

In addition, the amount of forest that has been harvested but not regenerated and handed back to DSE has blown out from about 5100 hectares in 2004-05, VicForests' first year of operation, to more than 15,900 hectares in 2008-09, URS said.

The organisation's inability to manage its cash flow led to what was described by URS as an ''emergency increase of the credit line'' from Treasury of $16.6 million last year.

VicForests also failed to collect money from customers quickly enough and was not fully considering the impact decisions would have on its cash reserves, URS said.

URS said it was critical that VicForests rein in the cost of harvest and haulage, which it underestimated by about $8.5 million last year.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh blamed VicForests' problems on bushfires and the former Labor government's logging restrictions. He said the government would work with the company to implement the recommendations.

VicForests chief executive David Pollard said the report recognised the company's significant achievements and it was addressing issues ''where appropriate''.

04 February, 2011

Forest region covers wider area

David Pollard, VicForests, Melbourne
The Age (letter), 4 Feb 2011

JILL Sanguinetti's letter (31/1) includes some highly misleading statistics. It points out there are 66,000 hectares of forest available for timber harvesting in the central forest management area (FMA). However, VicForests' Central Highlands region covers this area plus the North East, Benalla/Mansfield, Dandenong and Central Gippsland FMAs - which contain 210,000 hectares of available forest. Less than 2000 hectares is harvested and regenerated across this region each year.

Further, almost 90 per cent of the 7.8 million hectares of native forest in Victoria is unavailable or unsuitable for timber harvesting; some 4.8 million hectares of forest are in national parks and conservation reserves where no timber harvesting is permitted; and trees are retained in every area harvested by VicForests to provide habitat for native fauna.

01 February, 2011

Google under fire for dumping paper ad

Julian Lee
Sydney Morning Herald, February 1, 2011

GOOGLE has been accused of stifling free speech after it banned an ad attacking a paper manufacturer over its environmental record.

The Wilderness Society paid to have its ad on Google promoting a boycott against a paper manufacturer that uses wood sourced from Australian old growth forests.

When web users typed ''office paper'', ''office stationery'' or the brand names Australian Paper and Reflex into Google, a link to the Wilderness Society's website, Ethical Paper, would appear at the top of the search engine's listings.

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But after a complaint by the company at the centre of the boycott, Australian Paper, Google removed the ads saying that because the society did not own the trademark for the popular paper brand, Reflex, it could not use the name in its ads.

Google says it introduced the policy in 2002 to protect the intellectual copyright of advertisers.

But the Wilderness Society's Sydney campaigner Peter Cooper said Google's policy did not apply as his organisation was not trying to sell anything but rather to bring an issue to the public's attention.

''The internet is a very important place for debate in our society and an issue as important as this needs to discussed in a public forum and a policy such as this prevents that,'' he said.

The society's Google ads have since been replaced by one for an Australian Paper website defending its environmental policies. Turning the table on the society, the paper manufacturer has bought the search terms ''ethical paper'' in order to generate traffic to its site rather than the society's. However by yesterday afternoon the ads had disappeared from Google.

Freedom of speech campaigners said Google was using its muscle - more than 90 per cent of online searches in Australia are on Google - to prevent a balanced debate.

The president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Cameron Murphy, said Google's behaviour was similar to that of other internet businesses such as Amazon and PayPal which, in the wake of the diplomatic cables dump last year, cited violations of their terms of service to sever ties with WikiLeaks.

''I am concerned Google is allowing a trademark policy to prevent one side of the debate from being heard,'' Mr Murphy said.

Google said it encouraged disputing parties to settle the differences between themselves. ''Google is not an arbiter of these disputes,'' a spokeswoman said.