Tasmanian Governments Logging Plans Explained

Speech by Peg Putt - 14 December 2016

Hobart Town Hall

town hall


I acknowledge that we are meeting on Aboriginal land, and further acknowledge the Aboriginal elders past and present who are custodians of this land.

My job today is to explain what’s happening with our Tasmanian forests:

  • What the Tasmanian government has announced as their plan, which put bluntly is to log the vast majority of forests previously promised protection under the abandoned Tasmanian Forest Agreement, and
  • To log rainforest reserves.

There are complex ins and outs to this confronting scenario, including an attempt to firewall Forestry Tasmania from the blowback such logging would have for their attempt to gain Forest Stewardship Council certification.

You’ll recall that under the previous government vast tracts of Tasmanian forests from takayna - the Tarkine, to the Blue Tier, to Wielangta, and Bruny Island were identified as high conservation value forests. They were called ‘future reserve land’.

A subset of these met World Heritage criteria and officially became World Heritage forests, added to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Note that these 120,000 hectares were nominated by the national government, not the Tasmanian government, as this is their role and responsibility.

Of these, around 90,000 hectares are in reserves, albeit many are inappropriately lower status reserves and not national park. 35,000 hectares are in limbo.

Over the past 3 years since the Liberals came to power in Tasmania and nationally, we have had to fight strenuously against their proposal to log these forests regardless of their outstanding universal values – a proposition roundly rebuffed by the World Heritage Committee of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

These forests are now safe, but the Hodgman government has allocated the remaining 357,000 hectares of future reserves into a logging zone they called ‘future potential production forests’, to be logged as of 2020. They recently announced that they will legislate to bring forward logging of forests in this zone to 2018.

One reason to do this is that it has not proved financially viable for Forestry Tasmania to supply their legislated sawlog quota and other contracted wood volumes from their land. The public purse cannot withstand current logging commitments.

As it is now the end of 2016, this change to bring on logging into the high conservation value forests is very soon. These forests will then be known as the ‘production forests’.

This is completely unacceptable and must be resisted strongly, with all the will and wiles we can muster!

Remember that these forests are not high conservation value simply because we woke up one day and decided to say so – they were assessed by expert scientists in the Independent Verification Group, who delivered a series of reports that spelt out the case.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Forestry Tasmania’s operations were entrenched in their own logging zone of around 800,000 hectares. This is officially designated as ‘Permanent Timber Production Zone’. It will remain under the management of Forestry Tasmania under the government’s new plan, although the name of Forestry Tasmania will be changed to Sustainable Timber Tasmania.

Apparently this is not a joke – although I reckon that Suspicious Timber Tasmania, Suss Timber Tasmania for short, may be the title they were actually looking for.

As you know, Forestry Tasmania has been desperately seeking Forest Stewardship Council Certification, having discovered that self-generated spin claiming environmental responsibility is not sufficient to convince markets of any such thing. Their customer companies need them to gain this third party certification for forest management to in turn satisfy their customers in Japan – a particular issue for Ta Ann – and also in Australian markets – for sawmillers whose wood may then appear in outlets such as Bunnings and Harvey Norman.

Far from FSC certification being a breeze, it has proven a significant hurdle for Forestry Tasmania. They failed on protection of threatened species and old growth forest, and on economic viability.

At Markets for Change together with the Bob Brown Foundation and the Tasmanian Conservation Trust we put a huge effort into well documented reports that exposed to the FSC auditors the shortcomings in relation to threatened species such as the Swift Parrot, various others, old growth forests and landscape values.

There are 2 points in relation to this:

  • First, the companies directly receiving wood from these deficient Forestry Tasmania operations, Forestry Tasmania themselves, and the Tasmanian government are all busily telling the market that there is no problem with their product despite their FSC failure to date, because this logging was once sanctioned by the dead Tasmanian Forest Agreement and is therefore OK by all those who signed it. This claim has yet to be satisfactorily rebuffed publicly. Gullible customers and those desperate for comfort choose to believe it.
  • Secondly, in order to keep Forestry Tasmania’s bid for FSC alive, the government has formulated their new logging plans to quarantine Forestry Tasmania from the logging of the ‘future reserve land’, as such logging is unlikely to qualify for FSC.

There will be two distinct areas of public forest designated by law for logging:

  • Forestry Tasmania’s ‘Permanent Timber Production Zone’ – the same as they have now, and
  • The ‘production forests’ zone over the previous ‘future reserve land’, to be managed by an entirely different government entity – Crown Land Services.

Of course Crown Land Services have none of the expertise required to manage logging, but that’s no impediment as the logging operations and day to day management will be allocated to private companies. The privatisation of logging our public native forests is set to proceed apace.

Bring on the cronyism with which Tasmanian politics is rife. The shenanigans with fish farming regulation and kowtowing to companies involved is just a taste of what will happen with this awful logging scenario.

The government will say that Forest Practices Plans will be required so all will be OK, but of course there is no routine policing of these plans coupe by coupe, and neither are they sufficient or appropriate to protect the values of high conservation values forests that should never be logged.

There’s more! I can’t finish without telling you about the scandalous rainforest logging that the government also has up its sleeve.

They have changed the law relating to the management of reserves to open up tens or indeed hundreds of thousands of hectares of existing reserves to rainforest logging, including some that have been protected since the 1980s. They also want to log ‘informal reserves’ for these rainforest timbers. It’s as bad as killing elephants for ivory.

Unfortunately, the ‘special species’ industry is the front for this logging, although there are other ways to find resource, and a need to acknowledge that it is finite. What is needed is:

  • Better recovery from ongoing native forest logging operations – valuable rainforest timbers are still being wasted,
  • Increased recycling, and
  • A proper woodbank.

I reckon that if you opened up back sheds across Tasmania you’d find a huge supply of these timbers.

Lastly, I haven’t mentioned the expansion of logging private land to make log piles on the Hobart wharves.

As if you aren’t already reeling, we are confronted with an upcoming renewal of Tasmania’s Regional Forest Agreement – the RFA. This is intended to lock in logging our native forests for 20 years with an exemption from national environment laws that protect threatened species.

We can and must counter this orchestrated attack. Politicians need to hear your voices and we can also be very effective when we collectively take our concerns to the markets. Don’t think that Labor will necessarily be with you. When I attended Forestry Estimates last week their leader Bryan Green spent most of his time seeking an assurance that whole log exports would continue beyond 5 years.

As our dear friend Bob Brown says, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going!” Sign up to this campaign and be part of the movement that we are rebuilding to save our forests.

Save the forests!