AFTER a year of talks and despite significant progress, historic negotiations to end decades of conflict over Tasmania’s forests face collapse, with a key green group suspending its involvement.
The Wilderness Society, a founder of the forestry peace process, will announce its decision today, blaming a “lack of engagement” in the peace talks by the Gillard government.
“TWS is suspending its involvement - this is an expression of frustration at a lack of leadership and lack of action from both governments,” said Tasmanian campaign manager Vica Bayley.
The decision appears a high-stakes gamble aimed at pushing governments to commit political and financial capital to a deal to restructure the timber industry and protect 570,000ha of forests.
The Gillard government last night urged TWS to reconsider its decision, insisting Canberra remained committed to facilitating a lasting peace deal for “jobs and conservation”.
Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings urged those still at the table to continue talking, warning that with market forces devastating the timber industry “doing nothing is not an option”.
Some parties to the negotiations - the best chance of resolving the conflict in 30 years - were privately critical of TWS, accusing the society of risking all to pander to radical elements of a fractured membership.
Most key timber, union and conservation groups last night vowed to continue the process, but conceded a final deal would not stick without TWS.
The Forest Industries Association of Tasmania warned it would reconsider its involvement if TWS tried to leverage an expansion of an agreed logging moratorium.
However, TWS received support from an unlikely source: its old arch adversary, the CFMEU forestry union.
“We don’t agree with the tactic, but we share their frustrations,” national president Jane Calvert said yesterday.
“We support the call for government to get involved in this process. It’s going to unravel if they don’t, and the government will find itself faced with a mess rather than an orderly process.”
The collapse of the talks would end the industry’s hopes of a federally funded restructure package - along with the conservationists’ hopes of a generational win for forest protection.
Mr Bayley said the decision to suspend involvement followed frustration at continued logging of old-growth forests, despite the moratorium.
More broadly, TWS had come to the view that a final deal was impossible while the federal and state governments refused to be directly engaged in the talks. Mr Bayley said state and federal governments were yet to respond to an interim report handed to them six weeks ago by the federally appointed talks facilitator, former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty.
He said all parties to the principles agreement, signed late last year to guide the talks, wanted government to begin buying out sawlog contracts and assisting struggling contractors to quit the industry.
Last night, federal Environment Minister Tony Burke urged TWS to reconsider. “Now is not the time to be leaving the table,” he said.
• Andrew Darby, The Age: Green group walks from forest peace talks
TASMANIA’S forest peace talks have been rocked by the decision of a key green group, The Wilderness Society, to suspend its involvement over a lack of action.
The talks agreed on a historic blueprint to end conflict over the island’s wild forests eight months ago, but are yet to fully implement a logging moratorium, months after it was due.
It is the first loss of a central participant from the year-old talks between industry, unions and green groups.
The Environment Minister, Tony Burke, warned last night that federal government help would only be possible if these groups kept working together.
‘‘The only reason that we have an opportunity for an outcome that works for jobs and conservation is because of the goodwill that’s been shown in the community-led agreement,’’ Mr Burke said.
The peace talks have identified 570,000 hectares of high conservation value forests in Tasmania up for protection as the biggest timber company, Gunns Limited, ends native forest logging.
The Premier, Lara Giddings, said the state government had protected 98 per cent of high conservation value forests, with just 2 per cent remaining to fill legally binding contracts and to keep forest workers employed.
But TWS’s Tasmanian campaigns manager, Vica Bayley, yesterday showed reporters a logging access road into public old growth forests in the Esperance Valley. He said the road was built this year, while the moratorium was supposed to be in place.
• The Wilderness Society
The Wilderness Society suspends involvement in Tasmanian forests talks
The Wilderness Society has suspended its involvement in the Tasmanian forests talks because of a failure of leadership from the State and Federal Governments. The governments have failed to help implement the interim outcomes of the historic peace deal, signed between industry, unions and conservationists last year.
As a signatory, the society remains fully committed to the agreed principles. Spokesperson Vica Bayley today called on both the Federal and State Governments to embrace the win-win opportunities the Agreement presents for Tasmania and commit to negotiate with signatories over its urgent implementation.
“These talks began over a year ago, agreement was reached eight months ago and government appointed facilitator Bill Kelty handed down an interim report over six weeks ago, yet there is still no official response to Mr Kelty’s report and real outcomes are yet to be delivered,” said Mr Bayley.
“Signatories to the agreement are under immense pressure while both governments fail to act. High conservation value forests continue to fall, struggling timber workers have no exit assistance and neither Government has committed to leading the much needed reforms.”
Government failure is demonstrated by:
• the lack of a moratorium across the entire high conservation value reserve proposal
• the absence of implementation funding in the Federal budget
• the lack of interim funding for worker and contractor exit assistance
• the lack of funding for sawlog buyouts to reduce logging pressure
• the fact there has been no formal response to Bill Kelty’s interim report
• the lack of strong public commitments to implement the principles agreement, including legislated protection for forests
Mr Bayley said that the society will return to negotiations when both governments show they are serious about the peace process and commit senior government ministers to negotiate a concrete plan and timetable for the implementation of the Statement of Principles.
“This agreement presents a once in a generation opportunity for governments to oversee the resolution to a long running, divisive issue. It offers a win-win for Tasmania, protecting forests and restructuring the ailing industry towards a new future.”
“Governments can’t be allowed to squander this opportunity. They must commit senior ministers and negotiate with signatories to deliver the outcomes of the principles agreement.”
• Environment Tasmania: Governments Need to Act
Statement from Environment Tasmania calling on the State and Federal Governments to act.
Environment Tasmania confirms that it is committed to the Tasmanian forest peace negotiations and has urged the State and Federal governments to demonstrate their support for the talks by responding to the interim Kelty report urgently.
“We share their frustration of the Wilderness Society and other signatory organisations at the lack of government action,” said Dr Phil Pullinger Director of Environment Tasmania.
“Clearly the need for governments to act is now, all parties to the agreement are under increasing pressure and the failure to act is putting at risk this once in a life time opportunity” said Dr Phil Pullinger.
“Environment Tasmania is firmly committed to achieving a positive outcome via the current process and looks forward to continuing discussion with the remaining signatories and the State and Federal governments” he said.
The statement of principles is the result of months of discussions, undertaken in good faith, on the future for the forestry industry and the protection of our native forests in Tasmania.
• SENATOR THE HON RICHARD COLBECK
Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries & Forestry
Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation, Industry and Science
Wilderness Society stunt is no surprise
Tasmanians should not be surprised the Wilderness Society has withdrawn from the forestry negotiations, Tasmanian Liberal Senator and Coalition forestry spokesman Richard Colbeck said.
“This is a transparent tactic and is part of a carefully planned Wilderness Society campaign,” Senator Colbeck said.
“It’s a tactic the Wilderness Society has used many times before, including in the final stages of the Regional Forest Agreements when it couldn’t get its own way.
“The Wilderness Society needs to remember it signed up to a negotiation process, and it can’t dictate.
“Some ENGOs involved in these talks have been making threats since the outset. The Wilderness Society is just continuing the theme.
“It is clear the Wilderness Society is only about advancing its own agenda and it will sacrifice the current process to do so.
“The Wilderness Society and the ENGOs have been running a carefully coordinated campaign from the start.
“They have designated negotiators upfront, like Vica Bailey, but behind the scenes they are backgrounding media with misinformation, orchestrating protests and generally sabotaging the negotiation process and the Statement of Principles they claim to support.
Senator Colbeck said the Wilderness Society and protest groups continue to mislead the community about the moratorium on 560,000 hectares of native forest.
“The moratorium agreed to by industry and ENGO signatories is not about ceasing logging en masse in those forests - it is about assessing over a period of six months and determining which areas MAY need protection,” Senator Colbeck said.
“As well as the moratorium, there are 17 other components to the Statement of Principles which are on the table for negotiation.
“All of the ENGOs involved in this process must decide whether they are about negotiating or dictating.”
• Nick McKim
Wednesday, 18 May 2011
The Tasmanian Greens today reiterated their support for the Forest Principles of Agreement process, saying that all effort needs to be made to ensure that this historic opportunity delivers for Tasmania’s forests and economic future.
Greens Leader Nick McKim MP said that the frustrations over the implementation of the moratorium on the logging of High Conservation Value forests were shared amongst conservation groups, and that much good faith is risked by Forestry Tasmania’s persistence in logging and roading into identified forest areas.
Mr McKim reiterated that while the Greens support the Forest Principles process they are not participants in the Kelty process or signatories to the Agreement.
“The Greens have consistently applauded the good faith by industry, conservation and union representatives involved in the Forest Principles of Agreement and the subsequent Kelty process, and we believe that with continuing good faith this process can still deliver peace in our forests, and secure much needed Federal assistance to restructure our timber industry and invest into regional communities already in transition.”
“We share the frustrations held by the Wilderness Society and others about concerns over insufficient progress regarding both the promised moratorium and the Kelty Interim Report, and I will raise this matter with the Premier in the near future to discuss measures that could be taken to further facilitate delivery of the Forest Principles agreement.”
“In particular the activities of Forestry Tasmania needs to be addressed to ensure that the fundamental good faith amongst the signatories is restored.”
“The bottom line remains that the historic opportunity to protect approximately 560, 000 hectares of high conservation forest, and restructure the timber industry onto a sustainable footing presented by the Forest Principles process remains a once in a generation win-win opportunity for Tasmania,” Mr McKim said.
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