24 July, 2011

PM signs historic forest peace deal

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation),  July 24, 201

The latest attempt at a peace deal for Tasmania's forests has been agreed to by both the Tasmanian and Federal Government.

Industry has backed the plan, but it has already been rejected by the Greens at both a state and federal level.

It comes after nine months of negotiations between conservation groups and the forest industry.

The agreement effectively halves the Tasmanian timber industry and moves it almost out of native forest logging.

The package highlights are:

  • $85 million in immediate assistance to forest workers and contractors to exit the industry permanently.
  • $120 million over 15 years will be provided for regional development projects to diversify the Tasmanian economy.
  • $43 million will be given to the State to buy back native wood contracts, which would include Gunns.
  • 430,000 hectares of native forest is to be put into informal reserves protected from logging.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard signed the historic heads of agreement with Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings in Hobart today.

"We have put cold hard cash on the table to get it done," Ms Gillard said.

"This is a very significant step forward in a process that is aimed at trying to end the conflict that has caused so much conflict, for so many, for decades in this State," Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings said.

Ms Giddings has until the end of the year to verify and protect 430,000 hectares of native forest from logging, which will be placed in an informal reserve immediately.

"As Prime Minister I've always said I'm all about jobs and this is about supporting jobs in Tasmania. But it is also about securing an environmental outcome," Ms Giddings said.

The deal has been forced on the industry because its markets have collapsed.

A decade-long campaign by conservationists aimed at international woodchip buyers started the rot and the global financial crisis brought the industry to its knees.

At the same time the biggest industry player - Gunns - decided to get out of native forest logging to win approval for the Tamar Valley pulp mill which will take plantation timber.

"What is fundamentally different here is this isn't Government telling people what to do. This is stakeholders coming together recognising that the industry has changed," Ms Gillard said.

The negotiations failed to mandate how long the strategically important Triabunna woodchip mill should keep operating.

Conservationists and industry are yet to sign the deal, that should be done within two weeks.

The Greens have rejected the package.

"This is not an agreement that we will go along with. It gives $148 million to the loggers in the financial year but does not permanently protect 1 hectare of what the Prime Minister calls ancient and iconic forests," Greens leader Senator Bob Brown said.

Senator Christine Milne says the agreement sells out the public expectation that there would be a breakthrough in the 30-year conflict.

"That opportunity has now been squandered. Appeasement as a strategy has never worked and it won't work in this case and now it's going to be over to the market," she said.

The Wilderness Society which was a key player in the peace talks says it supports the compensation package and will work to make sure the forests are protected.

"It is our intention to be sure that the detail that still needs to be worked through to end up in the actual inter-governmental agreement provides for the protection of the forests," campaigner Vica Bayley said.

The timber industry says it is a compromise driven by necessity.

"I don't think there's anyone that will say they got everything that they wanted. It's been a genuine negotiation process and like any negotiation process there's had to be some compromise," the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania chief executive, Terry Edwards said.

But industry wants one further guarantee.

"That there will be peace in our forests and in our markets as a result of this agreement."

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