Andrew Darby, Hobart
The Age, July 25, 2011
PEACE is closer to being secured in the decades-long fight over Tasmanian forests after a $274 million government package aimed at ending most logging of native forests was agreed on at the weekend.
But while the deal hammered out between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings has the full backing of industry, it has been criticised by the Greens.
The deal puts into effect principles already agreed on by the two sides to shift the industry out of most public native forests, to protect many of those forests in national parks, and to compensate those forced to leave.
Tasmania's forests debate has been a defining national green issue since the 1980s, marked by repeated attempts at settlement that have only bought temporary truces.
Ms Gillard said the conflict had at times been "very bitter indeed", but the deal would ensure complete agreement could be be reached, she said.
Changing commercial conditions — chiefly the rejection of native forest woodchips by the Japanese — drove the industry and green groups into talks.
The package confirms the reservation of 430,000 hectares of native forest around the state.
Among areas protected will be the hotly disputed very tall forests that fringe the World Heritage wilderness, the Tarkine rainforests of the island's north-west, and a sprinkling of mountainous coastal forests around the east coast.
"People do want to see appropriate protection for ancient and iconic forests, for areas of high conservation value, and the agreement that has been struck . . . does enable us to do it," Ms Gillard said.
With the lion's share of funds to come from the Commonwealth, the package's big ticket items are $85 million for workers and contractors who lose their jobs in industry restructuring; $120 million in extra regional development money for Tasmania; and $43 million to implement the changes.
The deal ensures existing major logging contracts can be fulfilled from forests outside the protected areas, but halves the key sawlog quota.
The strategically important Triabunna woodchip mill, bought by the wealthy environmentalists Jan Cameron and Graeme Wood last week, is to keep operating.
But its chips will need certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, which means an end to the mass woodchipping of old-growth areas.
Ms Giddings called for an end to environmental protests targeting the industry, saying the agreement marked an end to debate over logging in old-growth forests. "It is clear that against the tide of changing market conditions, doing nothing is not an option," she said.
The Forest Industries Association of Tasmania said the deal delivered it certainty and security. "We do fully support the agreement," chief executive Terry Edwards said.
Green groups said they backed the governments' decision to reach an important decision. But one of the negotiators, Phill Pullinger of Environment Tasmania, said critical points still lay ahead in translating the weekend's federal-state heads of agreement into a fully operational process.
The Tasmanian Greens, who hold the balance of power in the state's Parliament, reserved the right not to support some elements of the agreement, which may need to be legislated.
And national Greens leader Bob Brown derided the agreement as a "Labor-Labor-loggers" outcome. "The popular expectation that a 610,000-hectare system of wild forest national parks would be established, as the loggers were bailed out of their failing industry, has been dashed," Senator Brown said.