A DEAL to end 30 years of conflict in Tasmania’s forestry industry could be announced as early as today.
Timber groups and conservationists negotiated late into last night to protect up to 500,000ha of forests and retool the industry towards plantations in an attempt to wrap up the long-awaited agreement ahead of a federally imposed deadline of June 30.
The Australian understands agreement is close on the final stumbling block—the supply of veneer wood to the Ta Ann mill, south of Hobart.
Agreement is understood to have already been reached to cut the annual harvest of sawlogs from native forests from 300,000 cubic metres to less than 150,000.
This would be the starting point for a gradual transition out of native forest and into plantations, with exceptions for some ongoing high-value furniture and craft use. It would allow the inclusion in national parks of up to 500,000ha of forests regarded by conservation groups as being of high conservation value, including areas of the Styx and Florentine valleys.
However, industry was still pushing in the talks, overseen by federally appointed facilitator Bill Kelty, for a proportion of the new reserves to be delayed. This would allow time for confirmation that sufficient quality and quantity of logs could be sourced from outside high conservation areas to sustain the bulk of current timber supply contracts.
The plan, which the parties would put to state and federal governments for funding, would include a taxpayer-funded buy-out of sawlog quotas and further help for struggling contractors to quit. However, sources last night cautioned that the deal had not yet been finalised.
Earlier this month, federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said Labor stood ready to embrace a once-in-a-generation deal to end Tasmania’s forestry wars. Mr Burke said Labor was no longer haunted by the ghost of former leader Mark Latham’s failed 2004 federal election forest policy, widely seen as contributing to Labor’s loss to the Coalition that year.
Gunns, which would qualify for compensation as the largest sawlog contract holder, sees a final “peace deal” in the forests as vital to securing its $2.3 billion plantation-based Tamar Valley pulp mill.
The Australian, HERE
Yesterday on Tasmanian Times: Contract signed to turn forests into pellets: Is this true?
• Gunns Ltd Share Price, HERE
• Councils win seat at future forestry talks table
Tasmanian councils have welcomed a commitment from the Federal Environment Minister to include them in future forestry discussions.
A delegation from six councils has travelled to Canberra to meet Tony Burke to voice anger over not being included in the forestry peace talks process.
They say communities have been ignored in the process which involves signatories from industry and green groups.
The Dorset Mayor, Barry Jarvis, says Mr Burke promised to include councils in discussions, if a deal is struck.
“He could understand our frustration and basically feeling helpless,” he said.
“He gave us a fair hearing, and took it onboard, and he’s promised we’ll be engaged in any further discussions regarding the forest industry or the social economic outcomes which affect local government areas.”
“We’ll be at the table so that’s probably a fantastic outcome for us.”
The Launceston Mayor, Albert van Zetten, says it is not just timber towns that will suffer from an end to most logging in the state’s native forests.
“We’ve seen it already with the industry starting to suffer and if it goes any further there’s going to be significant impact.”
Councils will meet the facilitator of the talks, Bill Kelty, in Melbourne on Friday.
• APRIN ASKS STATE FOR FUNDING
Taxpayer Funds Should Not Be Used to Export High Conservation Value Woodchips
Tim Morris MP
Greens Economic Development spokesperson
The Tasmanian Greens today exposed, through parliamentary questioning, that the Department of Economic Development had been approached by Aprin to assist with funding for its proposal to purchase the Triabunna Woodchip Mill from Gunns Ltd.
Greens Economic Development spokesperson Tim Morris MP said that taxpayer funds should not be used to prop up native forest woodchip industry, and the Minister should reject the request on those grounds.
“The Greens strongly urge the Minister for Economic Development to reject any proposals that will use vast quantities of our high conservation value forests to be clear-felled and exported at lower then ever prices,” Mr Morris said.
“The fact that it is now known that a funding request is currently before the Minister is only due to questioning by the Greens. This should have been disclosed up front.”
“It seems that Aprin wants funding to purchase the Triabunna woodchip mill so as to export high conservation value forests as woodchips, or wood pellets, to be used as pulp or boiler fuel and that all of this now appears to rely on a loan or grant from the State.”
“If the Minister decides to provide financial support to further prop up the ongoing destruction of the high conservation value forests in Tasmania, this would actively undermine any repositioning of the forest industry into a high value low volume industry, and will see the conflict of the past 30 years continue.”
“We now learn that the Tasmanian Development Board (TDB) had received an application from Aprin to financially assist them, and the TDB has made a recommendation to the Department of Economic Development, but the Minister has not yet made a decision,” Mr Morris said.