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Environment and Communications References Committee
31/03/2014
Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area

DUGGAN, Mr Alan Ralph AM, Committee Member, Founding Member and Immediate Past President, Huon Resource Development Group

HARRIS, Mr George, President, Huon Resource Development Group

[09:56]

CHAIR: Welcome. I understand the information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses in evidence has been provided to you. The committee reminds witnesses to keep their evidence strictly to the inquiry's terms of reference. While the committee understands that witnesses are deeply concerned about the issues raised as part of the inquiry, the committee is primarily focused on ascertaining the facts. Where a witness gives evidence reflecting adversely on a person or a committee member, and the committee is not satisfied that the evidence is relevant to the inquiry, the committee may consider expunging that evidence from the transcript and forbidding the publication of it. Alternatively, the committee may provide reasonable opportunity for the adversely affected person to have access to the evidence and respond to it in a written submission or appearance before the committee. The committee has your submissions. I now invite you each to make a short opening statement, and at the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Mr Harris : Thank you for this opportunity. The Huon Resource Development Group was formed in about 1998. It is a community-based organisation. It was established to support the passage of the Southwood development site through the Huon Valley Council. As I mentioned, Mr Alan Duggan is one of the founding members and the first president of the Huon Resource Development Group. The organisation was necessary because the Southwood development site passed the Huon Valley Council with a vote of five votes to four.

The Huon Resource Development Group fairly early on became affiliated, as the Huon branch, with Timber Communities Australia, which subsequently was one of the signatories in the process that began with the statement of principles and proceeded through the various iterations of that incredible process that resulted in what we see as a fairly disastrous situation. Members of the Huon Resource Development Group include families who have a long heritage of involvement in the timber industry and other resource-based industries, and, as I said, as an affiliated branch of Timber Communities Australia.

Our group believes that the 2013 World Heritage area extension, in its entirety, is illegitimate. We believe that it offended against integrity and proper process, and will have a deleterious and unacceptable impact on businesses, employment and the aspirations of citizens within our community. Our group believes that the impact of the extension and the manner in which it was brought about will cause international embarrassment to Australia and damage to its reputation if it is allowed to stand and if appropriate action is not taken to put the situation right.

Our group believes that World Heritage has been used as an instrument by fundamentalist green groups to attack the very existence of the native forest based timber industry. It has been achieved by misrepresentation of the facts, by the dubious application of academic reputation, and by deception by omission. We believe it trades on the perception in the community that acceptance by the international organisations of World Heritage status means that it must be right and that, once achieved, it is unassailable and beyond question. We are asserting that it is a flawed result from a flawed process driven by those prepared to deceive, and accepted by desperate state and federal governments of the same colour, who were prepared to accept a bending of the rules. It was also green lighted by larger players in the timber industry who were negotiated negotiating under duress. Some sections of the industry were misrepresented, and interests were traded by those who had no right to do so.

We believe, fundamentally, that this whole thing is wrong. We believe that people who progressed the nomination—including academics, who also seem to the green activists—misrepresented the situation and used the opportunity of a minor boundary adjustment to achieve something that could never have been achieved by any other means. It certainly could not have got legs as a conventional nomination. It certainly could not have got up if it was progressed by proper process.

There was a major seismic shift in the political landscape in 2010. In March 2010, the state government passed into minority, depending on Greens members to survive. A few months later the federal House of Representatives went the same way and had to depend on Greens member Adam Bandt and other members in order to survive. Simultaneously, the Greens had the balance of power in the Senate. I believe that a collection of people appreciated that that was an unusual circumstance, which was not going to last. They seized upon that opportunity to bring about something that would not have come about by any other means. It is illegitimate and it should not stand. Those of us in the industry cannot live with its consequences, particularly in the special timbers industry of which I have been a member for 32 years as a self-employed designer and manufacturer of furniture and timber products. I have also been involved with the Huon Resource Development Group as I became involved with Timber Communities Australia. I have been president of that for the last three years.

The Tasmanian branches of Timber Communities Australia were overrun in the process. The members and branches of Timber Communities Australia did not sign the Tasmanian Forests Agreement. In fact, there was a degree of conflict between the Canberra based CEO and all the Tasmanian branches and members. While we did participate in the situation, we did not see the peace deal when it appeared late one night. Our CEO did not sign it at the time. It went through the state parliament without TCA signature.

CHAIR: I do need to bring you back to the terms of reference, which is about the legitimacy of the Tasmanian—

Mr Harris : Yes. The Forests Agreement had in it—a component of the Forests Agreement was the creation of this massive World Heritage extension, which was far greater and, in fact, in contravention of the policies of both the state and federal governments, beyond anything ever called for by the World Heritage Centre. It was actually in contravention of state and federal government policy at the time. It was only this unique set of circumstances that allowed an improper and illegitimate proposal to get up. It went through prior to the Tasmanian parliament fully considering it. The Tasmanian parliament only approved the Forests Agreement in order to get access to the money that was flowing, in order to relieve people that were being sent broke. They have since said—including members of the legislative council—to me personally that if they had known the full picture and had had a full understanding of the Forests Agreement they would not have approved it. In fact, the Tasmanian Forests Agreement is already technically dead. It was dead prior to the state election, because it is a mathematic impossibility for it to meet the next durability statement. In fact, it did not meet the first durability statement on any of the three categories of timber supply, being high-quality sawlog, peeler billets or specialty timbers. But they accepted it in order to move it along and get federal money flowing. The whole process has been illegitimate, and our group calls upon—

CHAIR: It is really important that we get to questions.

Mr Harris : the state party of Australia to ask the World Heritage Centre to annul the 2013 extension in its entirety and ask that the whole issue of World Heritage extension be addressed properly—not as previously where people concealed their associations—and that it be fairly and properly assessed by genuinely independent people. Thank you.

Senator RUSTON: In your submission, you raised couple of issues that I would like to dig into. You say that there was an acknowledgement by the IUCN that there had been some letters of objection—

Mr Harris : Yes

Senator RUSTON: Your organisation obviously put a letter of objection in.

Mr Harris : Yes.

Senator RUSTON: But you have not received any response to that.

Mr Harris : Nothing, no.

Senator RUSTON: In any of the communications that you have seen through the process of the making of a determination, has there been anywhere that the objections have been noted in the assessment, whether they are attributed to you or in the types of objections that you have put forward?

Mr Harris : No. I have had no correspondence. I have seen nothing. I have two letters here that I sent—one on 27 February 2013 to the World Heritage Centre and the other on 10 June 2013.

Senator RUSTON: Perhaps you wish for those to be tabled. I notice you were in the room for the evidence by the previous witnesses. There were a couple of things in there that you also raised in your submission and I would ask for your comment. One was when I questioned the witnesses in relation to the fact that the 12 per cent area increase would not fit within the confines of a minor boundary adjustment. I note in your submission you commented that the IUCN described a 10 per cent extension as the absolute upper limit for a minor boundary change.

Mr Harris : Yes.

Senator RUSTON: Can I take it from that that you disagree with the previous witnesses in their comments?

Mr Harris : I do indeed. Further than that, the extension is completely incongruous with the rest of the previously existing World Heritage area. Quite contrary. There are two main requirements to establish wilderness: one is remoteness and the other is intactness.

I also dispute evidence given earlier of the definition of disturbed regrowth. In fact area 14 or the southern most area of the 2013 extension covers a fair portion of the Recherche Bay area and the area near Hastings. That area has been extensively logged for about 140 years—some of it is on its third rotation—and that was logged to the full extent of the technology available all the way through. At various points that level of harvesting is fully equal to the impact of modern clear-fell burn and sow in terms of clearing the landscape.

The May Queen, which is moored in Hobart as a display, the oldest sailing vessel, was built near Hobart in 1867 for the purposes of carrying timber. A lot of the early timber harvesting was done from water. They moved inland from the water. Almost all of the Recherche area has been previously logged, intensively logged—it has even had mining in it, tramways through it; there was even a fixed rail with a locomotive in it. I also have a supplementary submission that I would like to give, which has photographs and documents in that. It has evidence from some of our older members.

Senator RUSTON: Can I just take you off the track of the process and ask you: what will be the impact on the industry that you represent of these changes?

Mr Harris : It has an impact on all aspects of the timber industry—the high-quality sawlog, high-quality eucalypt sawlog industry, the rotary peeled veneer industry, the special timbers industry and the processing of residues.

Senator RUSTON: Are they sustainable under the current—

Mr Harris : Yes, they are. They are completely sustainable activities.

Senator RUSTON: Once you have taken this additional area out, are any or all of these industries commercially sustainable into the future? Is there sufficient product available elsewhere that is not included in these areas that will enable them to continue as viable into the future?

Mr Harris : No. For example, almost all of the special timber zone within the electorate of Franklin is locked up under this proposal. Almost all of that is included in the World Heritage extension, and its impact is devastating. The impact that we see in our community is of businesses that no longer exist, rising levels of unemployment and that ancillary businesses are well and truly suffering. When you look at a diesel supplier south of the Huon River, having a $1 million drop in turnover, and the amount of bankruptcies and vacancies in the township of Geeveston and around our area, the impact is devastating.

Senator RUSTON: Finally, when I asked the two gentlemen who were representing the Conservation Foundation, Environment Tasmania and the Wilderness Society as to whether they were intending to possibly seek further extensions of the boundary, they in as much as said that they were. What would your response to that be?

Mr Harris : Again, we have seen World Heritage being used as an instrument to attack the very existence of the native forest based industry. The one most at risk in all of this is the special timbers area, because that is timber that only grows in certain areas, and you cannot harvest it where it does not grow. In fact we have lost so much of our special timbers territory, our previous special timbers zone, plus other areas where special timbers grow to a lesser extent. The impact on that industry is devastating: it is an industry that should be recognised under the UN charter of intangible cultural heritage, and the heritage of this industry has been deliberately ignored. Consultants have deceived by omission.

Mr Duggan : Could I make my presentation? I knew you were going to add to some of those responses.

CHAIR: We have to be very aware of the time.

Mr Duggan : Okay. I noted that at the previous presentation. It took an hour. I am from a family that has been running a business in the Huon Valley since 1927. I was active when my father retired from the business and have been managing that business since 1998. It still exists today; it is 87 years old this year. So we have had a long experience. Interestingly, my father was a road builder as were his six brothers, his father and his uncles. We have built a lot of roads in Tasmania and have done a lot of work. One of the things my father did was he worked at Cockle Creek in the early days, and he actually realigned and reset the original track that was an Aboriginal track that went from Cockle Creek to Rocky Boat Harbour. He realigned that in 1927. When he went through Catamaran, 400 people were living there at the time. That is how huge the industry was in that area. That has changed dramatically as far as the number of people, but all of that area was extensively logged. The reason it was done so well that people object to any suggestion that we should not be clear-felling, the timber was so good they virtually clear-felled it when they took it, because it had been the result of a bushfire and it had regrown. They took such a massive amount of timber from it that it was able to regrow and regrow, and it has had as many as three cuts from it.

I am the immediate past President of the Huon Resource Development Group. What we are saying is that the process undertaken in 2013 to the Tasmanian World Heritage Area, that is current, attempts to fix. The process was the result of marked action by the Greens and the political deal was to prop up the ALP government in 2010 at both state and federal levels. I cannot be more specific about it. It was a political action. It has got nothing to do with anything else. I will say that further on down the track.

Prior to the election the government had publicly declared it had no intention of extending the World Heritage area. By doing so they wiped out almost 200 years of timber heritage in the Huon Valley that had been managed for over 150 years for timber production that has been roaded. In the roading system, I would just like to emphasise: roads are put in not at the initial reaping of a particular crop. It could be generations. I saw the length and breadth of the east coast with some 1,600 kilometres of road in one section on M Road established in 1973 onwards. A huge amount of investment has been made in Tasmania for two reasons. One is to access the forests to get timber out. The other is to protect the forest. That has been ignored by most of these things as to why they are in there. Once they are established they are there.

You, Madam, lost your seat at the last election and you lost it because the government of Australia was changed, they rejected the policies that had been put forward by the Greens. You are still in lock step with the Greens in federal parliament right now to stop—

Senator Milne: A point of order, Chair. We are an inquiry investigating the World Heritage boundary adjustment. The rules say you are not to reflect on people in the process or, indeed, the chair. I object.

CHAIR: Please continue and try not to be too personal.

Mr Duggan : The personality goes a little further to this extent. What has happened is that there has been a change of government. What is sitting in parliament right now is objection by the Senate to this happening. If that is not a miscarriage of justice then I do not know what it is. I do not rejoice in the fact you lost your seat, Senator, but please recognise what happened. There was an election. There was an election on Saturday a fortnight ago here in Tasmania and that is what happened. Have we asked whether the new minister for forestry is going to be invited?

Senator Whish-Wilson: A point of order. We have got very clear terms of reference and a short period of time we need to cover.

CHAIR: I appreciate where you are coming from, Mr Duggan, and there has been a lot of talk in the media about whether people have a mandate or not. But it is the role of the people's place and the Senate, the state's house, to make sure that we look at all the important issues that are confronting our community. This is one of them and we are hearing arguments from right across the spectrum. We really would like to hear from you what your problems or issues are with the actual Tasmanian wilderness heritage extension.

Mr Duggan : To move on: it is not a minor boundary adjustment. The only reason we are doing this is to satisfy a deal done between the former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, and ex-Senator Bob Brown. That is the only reason we are doing. When is enough enough?

I believe that we have muddled the whole situation to such an extent that the people of Australia are absolutely sick to death of what is happening in Tasmania. But I can tell you: some 3,000 or 4,000 people who have lost their jobs in recent times are sick to death of it too. They have moved out. The reason that Tasmania is doing not quite as bad is that they work elsewhere. We have to return to a sensible solution to this. It is not by bullying and it is not by threatening the markets, as we saw yesterday. Markets for Change wanted to go out and again they have attacked these markets. That is the objection of it.

We are not in the timber industry. We have been associated with it for a long time. Our business is concrete. But what I cannot stand is people being put down because of, supposedly, their way of earning a living. It has been an honest living for a long time. That is one of my real objections. That is why I represent the Huon Valley as such and that is why I have the recognition I have from that Valley. Thank you.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could you give us a brief background of the number of members in both of your organisations—ones that you are specifically representing here today?

Mr Harris : The Huon Resource Development Group.

Mr Duggan : There are something like 150 members that we can have in our group when we want to have them.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could you provide the details of that to the Senate?

Mr Duggan : The same as I would be provided the details of your membership, Senator, I would not provide you with anything.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I beg your pardon?

Mr Duggan : I would not provide it, for the same reason you would not provide your membership of the Greens party.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could I just clarify, Mr Duggan: is that because you do not have those details? It is a simple request. You said there are 150 people, if you felt like it. You might want to repeat that. I am asking you to say how many members are in your organisation and could you provide—

Mr Duggan : I would not provide those names to be bullied.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Perhaps, Mr Harris, you might be more cooperative. Are you prepared to provide the numbers?

Mr Harris : I would like to make an explanation of the evolution of the Human Resource Development Group. We have recently—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Very specifically, Mr Harris, this is just a yes or no question: can you provide the details for the Senate?

Mr Harris : I believe I can.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That is great. That is all I want.

Mr Harris : The membership details that I have are not current.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Perhaps you could just provide a memo—some sort of explanation. You could take that on notice. That is fine. Mr Harris, you mentioned that the industry is under duress. It interested me. Senator Milne and I were both at the Senate inquiry into the payouts for forestry contractors that were attached to the TFA. Mr McCulloch and Mr Padgett made it very clear that the peace deal, including the World Heritage extension, was not caused by the deal itself but by a whole range of conditions relating to the industry, and the peace deal was a response to conditions in the industry. Do you accept that the lack of competitiveness and the high Australian dollar—these sorts of issues—are part of the reason that we are here having this discussion today?

Mr Harris : They are only part of the reason. The other reason is that the industry has been under sustained attack for 30 years and under unprincipled attack, and it has been under attack by people travelling overseas telling the most massive lies. There has been physical sabotage, market sabotage, intimidation, invasion of workplaces—disgraceful behaviour.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You do accept that there are other conditions and the timber industry is in a lot of trouble?

Mr Harris : Yes, there are, but the thing is that you have to put it in perspective. The other thing is that we have been in a situation where Gunns was a major player in the industry in Tasmania. They were under massive and sustained attack. Other sectors of the industry have not been well organised and well represented. My colleagues are here from the Special Timbers Alliance. That is a relatively new organisation that has come about because of the fact that the special timbers sector in particular is so fragmented and has been poorly represented in the past. We are like the ant that gets trampled when the elephants are stampeding to save themselves. We have not been helped by some of our other friends in the industry.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: In talking about fact and fiction, do you accept there are World Heritage values in this area that you would like to see rescinded—any at all?

Mr Harris : I believe there may be some small pockets that could possibly be of that consideration, but I also suggest that there are other values which must be considered, and those include the cultural value and heritage of the arts based special timbers manufacturing sector, which is completely dependent on timber which can only come from certain areas and which there is no capacity to substitute. It is an industry that is of the very highest value-adding. It is an industry that is almost completely contained within Tasmania. It does not have markets that require FSC certification, for example. In fact, we have been led to believe—and this was in evidence given under oath to the select committee of inquiry by the Legislative Council—that people from the ENGOs would actively seek to deny—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I do not think anyone disputes your expertise in the area of specialty timbers, but would it also be true that the Special Timbers Alliance and human resource groups support, for example, the burning of native fuel for biomass electricity?

Mr Duggan : If I may answer that, I am also chairman of Huon Valley Diversified Industries, which is a group that is looking to set up ethanol plants in Tasmania, one in the Huon Valley and one in Dorset. We are also looking very seriously at a heat and power plant which is using biomass for the same reason. At the moment, we have three weeks supply of fuel in Australia—that is how serious Australia's position has become. We have to depend on refineries outside. Not only do we need to get back to refining in Australia; we also need to add to that. Ethanol will immediately remove about 90 per cent of the bad emissions coming from exhaust by the introduction of an ethanol blend.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Sorry to cut you off, but we are—

Mr Duggan : If I can just finish what I was saying, from that point of view we are very, very strongly in favour of biomass. One of the cruellest things was done, again by Senator Brown, when, as part of the deal, he removed biomass as a renewable energy credit.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: If I can clarify—through you, Chair—would you be happy to see native forests and high-conservation forests go into biomass from this extension?

Mr Duggan : No matter what forests we look at, there comes a stage where there is a residue that is of no value to anything else. There is no sense in leaving it there. When I look at the apple industry, which I know something about, or the quarry industry, which I know something about, it is important that the whole range of that product can be then marketed so that then you can make your money, because the costs are spread over it. That is particular to the apple industry, but there is none greater than the forest industry—and it gets to the stage of residue. In my own district, in 70 years there has not been a mill in our district. The reason there is not a mill left there is the gathering of timber for making cases. The apple industry shipped six million bushels of apples outside of Tasmania, transported in wooden cases. What were selected were trees 20 inches apart—or half a metre if you would like to put it that way.

CHAIR: I will have to draw you to a close, Mr Duggan.

Mr Duggan : What I am saying is that all that was taken out. The best was taken and the rest was left, so we have a degraded forest in here that would benefit from renewal by biomass.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, gentlemen. We are running particularly late. We will resume with the Tasmanian Special Timbers Alliance, which provided submission No. 96.

Mr Duggan : Can I remind you, Chair, that you have taken half an hour of our time and you took an hour with the first two witnesses.

CHAIR: I beg your pardon, sir. If you look at the timetable, you and the Tasmanian Special Timbers Alliance were together allocated 45 minutes. You have taken half an hour of that, which is more than the time that was allocated to you. Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 10:29 to 10:42