01 March, 2011

Forest talks unravel

Matthew Denholm, Tasmania correspondent 
The Australian (article), March 01, 2011 12:00AM

TALKS to fix the conflict over Tasmania's forests appear to be unravelling, with splits over the timing of a moratorium in key forests.

The Tasmanian government and sections of the timber industry are defying conservationists' demands that the moratorium be in place by March 15.

State Resources Minister Bryan Green yesterday said his government was not prepared to implement the moratorium until a final deal was in place to restructure the timber industry. This is despite the state and federal governments on December 15 endorsing a moratorium on logging in high conservation value forests within three months.

Conservationists warn that if this moratorium is not in place by March 15 - three months from both governments endorsing it - the talks will collapse.

"On behalf of the green groups, if the moratorium is not there (by March 15) these talks -- which we all support -- will collapse," Wilderness Society campaign director Lyndon Schneiders told The Australian.

But Mr Green said the state government did not support a moratorium on logging in all high conservation value forests until it was part of a comprehensive industry restructuring and regional development package.

Timber industry groups last night insisted the moratorium deadline was three months from last Friday, when independent negotiator Bill Kelty held talks with industry and green groups.

This would provide a deadline of May 25, but green groups say this is completely false, and that March 15 is the deadline as "clearly" outlined by federal Environment Minister Tony Burke and then-premier David Bartlett on December 15.

Mr Green said he had not instructed the state-owned forestry company, Forestry Tasmania, to implement the moratorium at all, let alone by March 15. Mr Green said the government had shown "good will" by taking an initial 39 logging coupes out of production and was "thinking about" how to protect the remaining high conservation value forests.

However, he insisted this would only be done "on the back of an agreement" including an industry restructure and regional development package.

"We can't do anything in respect to a moratorium unless forest becomes available to be reserved, if people hand back their contracts," Mr Green said.

"The amount of area that we're talking about is a significant area and it requires us to think about regional development opportunities (and) to have a package so that we are not putting people on the scrapheap."

Mr Schneiders said there was unlikely to be a future for the peace process, designed to end 30 years of conflict over forestry, if Mr Green was reneging on the moratorium deadline.

The moratorium was the "first test" of the interim "principles" agreement last year that set the parameters for the current negotiations, Mr Schneiders said, and it was difficult to see a future for them if it was not met.

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