Image for Wilkinson fears panel bias

An Upper House MP has questioned how the partiality of the panel verifying which state forests will be reserved under the federally-funded forest peace deal might be perceived.

Jim Wilkinson says at least half of the six-man panel, including chairman, Professor Jonathan West have conservation backgrounds.

Mr Wilkinson says fellow panel member Brendan Mackey once headed a science council established by the Wilderness Society.

He says Melbourne University’s Mark Bergman in 2004 signed a statement calling for all high conservation forests in Tasmania to be reserved.

He told Parliament the Government should review the composition of the panel to ensure any perceived bias or conflict of interest is eliminated.

“Peace in our forest is only going to occur if people are happy that the people who deliver the information deliver it in a fair fashion which showed no bias, a fashion which didn’t have any perception of bias,” he said.

“And if there is any of that, people are going to question it.

“That’s why I’m calling on the Government.”

Mr Wilkinson read from a book detailing the history of the Wilderness Society in which Professor West features.

“The last line on this page says ‘Once an activist, always an activist’.”

The Leader of Government Business in the Upper House has accused Mr Wilkinson of defaming the panel members.

Doug Parkinson told Parliament he does not agree with the forest agreement but he won’t support the motion to change the makeup of the panel.

“To defame these committee members in the way that he has, by going back to their backgrounds of 30 years ago…well I always thought that people can change,” he said.

“This motion is pre-emeptive in the extreme, it’s premature in the extreme.

“It predicts an outcome and in itself is biased, it’s a biased debate.”

Independents Paul Harriss and Greg Hall supported the idea, as did Liberal MLC Vanessa Goodwin.

Read the rest, ABC Online HERE

• What Jim Wilkinson says:

Verification Group must be seen to be independent

Nelson MLC Jim Wilkinson has raised concerns regarding the makeup of the Independent Verification Group which is charged to rule on the wood supply aspects of the Forests Intergovernmental Agreement.

Mr Wilkinson said while he did not wish to reflect on the ability of the current panel members to be independent, it was apparent that some members had strong links with the environmental movement.

“I’m not saying the Independent Verification Group will do a bad job and not produce a fair and balanced outcome, but I am saying that the perception as it stands is not a good one,” Mr Wilkinson said.

“The Premier said everyone should have confidence with the process and there is a real problem if people perceive there is a conflict of interest or bias.”

Mr Wilkinson said it was akin to lining up against Collingwood in the Grand Final, only to look left and see the umpire is Eddie McGuire, dressed in black and white shouting play on.

“In order for justice to be done, it must also be seen to be done,” Mr Wilkinson added.

Mr Wilkinson said there were many who had been critical of the Forests Intergovernmental Agreement as it excluded a number of parties and processes.

“Given this, the Independent Verification Group is an opportunity to at least demonstrate some independent third party endorsement of the process, but as it stands this will not happen,” Mr Wilkinson said.

“I call for a number of further independent members to be appointed to the panel to ensure there is a balanced view on the decision making processes the group is about to undertake.”

• Rosemary Bolger, The Examiner: 10 forest advisers still not selected

KEY advisers to the group set up to assess the conservation merits of forests nominated for protection have yet to be appointed, less than two months before a draft report is due.

Since members of the six-member independent verification group were named in September, four subcontractors have been hired, including two former Wilderness Society employees, Sean Cadd and Virginia Young, and former Australian Forest Products Association head Allan Hansard.

Professor Jonathan West is leading the process that must also investigate how native forest reserve areas will affect wood supply requirements for the timber industry.

He said another 10 experts, mostly people knowledgable about industry development and timber availability, were required.

He said he was still hopeful of meeting the tight December 31 deadline to provide their first report.

“We’re doing our best. I don’t want it to take any longer on this than we have to but we don’t want to do a half-baked job.” He was unable to say how much funding the federal government would provide to cover the costs of subcontractors.

“It’s a moving feast.”

Signatories to the forestry statement of principles will meet today to discuss the outcomes of further research into Forestry Tasmania’s planned logging in an area earmarked for immediate protection under the forestry peace deal.

Environment groups asked two independent schedulers to investigate other options, after they recommended Forestry Tasmania be allowed to continue logging in 25 coupes within the 430,000 hectares meant to be in an interim reserve until the verification group completes its work.

The Wilderness Society has called for a compensation clause to be triggered if the logging can’t be rescheduled to an area outside the 430,000 hectares, but industry groups have warned they will walk away from the process if that happens.

The Examiner HERE