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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7133


Senator MURPHY (1:14 PM) —I rise to speak on what is a very important issue in my state: forestry. I start by referring to a letter to the editor by the Premier of the state on 1 November 2002. In that letter, the Premier said:

The truth is that the Tasmanian community has been attempting to find a balance between employment in a sustainable forest industry and conservation for years.

We had the Helsham inquiry back in 1987. There were at least 15 inquiries prior to that.

Then followed another nine, including the Forests and Forest Industry Strategy until 1997 when the Regional Forest Agreement was developed.

By anyone's standards, this represents a scientific and measured approach to maintaining investment and jobs and at the same time protecting large areas of our forests.

In large part, I do not disagree with the Premier's statement. But it concerns me that whilst we have had those inquiries and those reports, which have contained recommendations, and whilst we have a Regional Forest Agreement that sets down criteria for the management of the forests in both a commercial and preservation sense, the problem is that commitments to the recommendations are simply not there. I refer to the National Forest Policy Statement. It said:

That it is desirable to maintain and protect the extent and ecological integrity of native forests on public land.

Accordingly, the Governments will adopt the policy that further clearing of ... native forests for non-forest use or plantation establishment will be avoided or limited, consistent with ecologically sustainable management ...

The reality is that all of the forests being cleared on native forest public land in Tasmania are being turned into plantations. It raises the question of what we are doing in terms of the obligations that we signed up to in respect of the National Forest Policy Statement that was the basis upon which the Regional Forest Agreements were developed. I want to quote an extract from the Forestry Tasmania Sustainable forest management report. At the bottom of page 5 it says:

What is sustainable forest management? The National Forest Policy Statement of 1992 provides the following definition:

The integration of commercial and non-commercial values of forests so that both the material and non-material welfare of society is improved, whilst ensuring that the values of forests, both as a resource for commercial use and for conservation, are not lost or degraded for current and future generations.

That was very interesting, because last Friday I asked Forestry Tasmania exactly where in the National Forest Policy Statement that quote could be found. They were unable to tell me. I suspect they were unable to tell me because it actually is not in there. What the National Forest Policy Statement said in terms of ecologically sustainable management is this:

The Ecologically Sustainable Development Working Group on Forest Use specified three requirements for sustainable forest use: maintaining the ecological processes within forests (the formation of soil, energy flows, and the carbon, nutrient and water cycles); maintaining the biological diversity of forests; and optimising the benefits to the community from all uses of forests within ecological constraints.

That is at page 47 of the National Forest Policy Statement. At page 15 it said:

Ecologically sustainable management of native forests for wood production involves maintaining a permanent native forest estate while balancing these uses.

It is not possible to do that if you turn a cleared native forest into a plantation. It is just not possible. That is one of the fundamental reasons that forestry continues to attract significant debate in Tasmania. Of course it does not end there. I am a former member of the executive of the Forests and Forest Industry Council. As indicated at page 17 of the Forests and Forest Industry Council's 1990 report entitled Secure futures for forests and people, its mission statement said:

To responsibly and sensitively manage Tasmania's forests in a way that:

1. Protects and conserves environmental values;

2. Provides long-term job security and additional job opportunities for employees;

3. Provides long-term security of resource for industry;

4. Provides long-term prospects for competitive markets for Crown and private forest products.

Again, essentially, none of those things is really being adhered to—none of them. You might say, `What about the jobs and what about the security for industry?' The resource security is there in part but the jobs are being lost. Nobody can say that jobs in the forest industry in Tasmania are increasing. They are not. In terms of Crown forest management—that is, Crown forest; the native forest of Tasmania and public land—on pages 6, 28 and 34 of its report the Forests and Forest Industry Council's further said:

Pulpwood—

that is, woodchip wood—

for export will now be strictly limited to that surplus to domestic needs—

of which we have none—

and arising from the predominant sawlog strategy for public forests.

... it will be necessary to manage the majority of the public forest on an 80 to 85 year rotation (to optimise sawlog production) ... A combination of options mainly requiring an 80 to 85 year rotation for eucalypt sawlogs from wood production forests should be adopted with some areas identified for longer rotations for special timbers.

Is that happening? No, not at all. Further it says:

Crown regrowth forests that have sawlog potential will not be clearfelled for pulpwood supply except where:

· There are no economically feasible alternatives—

and there are, and—

· It is for domestic pulp and paper production—

for which we have none, and—

· It occurs as part of a transition strategy to transfer domestic pulpwood productions for native forests to supply sourced primarily from specific plantations.

Again, all of those things are not being delivered. That is why we saw such an outcome in the last state election—despite the fact that the size of the House of Assembly in Tasmania was reduced, four Greens were elected. What does that do in terms of jobs for Tasmanians in the forest industry? It does nothing at all. Of course, we have had many promises regarding development of manufacturing or downstream processing in Tasmania. There have probably been 10 that I can think of during the course of the last 12 years, but none of them has been developed. We have seen all sorts of proposals from Forestry Tasmania, the forest managing body. The latest ones are the two proposed Southwood projects: one in the north-west and one in the south-east. They are proposed as an integrated milling process that also incorporates a biomass power plant.

I deal first with the biomass energy plant. Last Friday, I questioned Forestry Tasmania with regard to whether or not they had had any discussions with Hydro Tasmania or Aurora Energy about the purchase of the excess power that would be generated by these plants for integration into the electricity grid along with other electricity generated by Hydro Tasmania. They said that they had not. Yet all of the promotional material that you read suggests that this is a viable option; that this is part of the overall development of the Southwood projects. But the reality is that the biomass energy generated from the burning of eucalypt wood is, at this point in time, way too expensive even with renewable energy credits.

They are proposing a development that will have a power plant, generated by the burning of eucalypt as a biomass energy source, that will provide the power for the integrated sawmill, the rotary peeling plant et cetera, that is more expensive than power that could be sourced out of the power network. They also say that the additional power that will be generated by these power plants will be made available for sale in the state power network. Who will buy it? Why would Hydro Tasmania or Aurora Energy buy power that is more expensive than what they can get from elsewhere? When we get Basslink in place that will be even more the case. Why would they do that? They will not do it.

We come to the more recent practice, according to Mr Kim Creak of Forestry Tasmania, of exporting whole hardwood eucalypt logs to Korea and China. Everything in terms of the financial future of Forestry Tasmania, as Mr Evan Rolley put it, is `hanging on the Southwood projects'. That is the only way there is going to be any financial future for Forestry Tasmania.

In an article in the Mercury on 13 November entitled `Extra export value in logs with a peel', Kim Creak, the General Manager of Operations for Forestry Tasmania stated:

... the logs would go to China and Korea for rotary peeling trials as part of an export market development program.

I can remember back in 1994 reading a similar sort of statement. Here we are eight years on and Mr Creak is saying these logs will be sent there as part of a program to develop a market for rotary peeled veneer. Yet Forestry Tasmania will suddenly say in about 12 months or 18 months time, `No more logs; you have to buy the veneer.' I really do not know who they think they are kidding. The reality is that neither the Chinese nor the Koreans are going to be buying rotary peeled veneer from Tasmania when they can access hardwood logs from around the globe, including from elsewhere in Australia, and peel them in a country where the wage economy is way below ours. Their own manufacturing costs are also far less than ours.

I do not know what it will take to wake up Forestry Tasmania and the state government to the reality that this proposal for the future will just not work. We had any number of proposals prior to this, including fibre form. The pulp companies, when they were under licence conditions for the export of woodchips, developed all sorts of proposals for downstream processing. Not one of those proposals has come to fruition.

The reality is that Forestry Tasmania is selling these logs overseas because it needs the cash; it is doing it for no other reason. That is very unfortunate because what it is doing in the process is destroying the future of the Tasmanian sawmilling industry. That has to be stopped. It is at a critical stage right now, because we are talking about a very short period of time. I hope—I am still an optimist—that the Tasmanian government will take this into account and do some proper research in this area, turn this around and protect the future remaining jobs in Tasmania's sawmilling industry.