Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Environment and Communications References Committee
31/03/2014
Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area

DENMAN, Mr Andrew, Spokesman, Tasmanian Special Timbers Alliance

RUZICKA, Mr Pavel, Special Species Representative. Tasmanian Forests Agreement

[10:42]

CHAIR: I understand information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee again reminds witnesses to keep their evidence strictly to the inquiry's terms of reference. While the committee understands that witnesses are deeply concerned about 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 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 that evidence. 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.

Gentlemen, the committee has your submissions. I invite each of you 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 Denman : Firstly, we would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to appear today. The specialty timber sector has been a bit of a voice in the wilderness over the past few years trying to get recognition of our sector, not only through the TFA process but also through the IVG and the World Heritage processes. The speciality timber sector in Tasmania employs over 2,000 full-time employees. We have another 8,500 people engaged in either an income-earning hobby or part-time. The sector contributes over $70 million a year to the Tassie economy.

It is a very important sector, not only financially to the state, but also culturally. We have a long and proud history of value-adding specialty timbers in Australia since white settlement, from boat building in Macquarie Harbour to fine furniture making. These days we also have wood turners, instrument makers and a whole gamut of people operating within the sector, making a wonderful array of timber goods from our specialty timbers.

The 2013 World Heritage extension, coupled with the 2012 Tasmanian Forests Agreement, will devastate the specialty timber sector in Tasmania. There are no ifs or buts, that is a fact. The process of consultation behind not only the Tasmanian Forests Agreement but the 2013 Tasmanian wilderness World Heritage extension was not inclusive of our sector nor many other sectors in the Tasmanian economy. It is our understanding from the regional forest agreement that clause 40, which I would like to table today, states very specifically with regards to World Heritage extensions, under World Heritage:

The Commonwealth agrees that it will give full consideration to the potential social and economic consequences of any World Heritage nomination of places in Tasmania and that any such nomination will only occur after the fullest consultation and with the agreement of the state.

The specialty timber alliance contends that that consultation did not occur. I would like to table that.

The Tasmanian upper house Select Committee of Inquiry into the Tasmanian Forests Agreement also found that consultation involved in that TFA process which led to the 2013 extension also failed the specialty timber sector as well as other sectors of the community. The Tasmanian upper house inquiry stated that the TFA is limited to reflecting the interests and the views of the signatories and does not take into account the broader interests and views of the Tasmanian community. So again we have not only the Tasmanian specialty timber sector being left out of the process but also other aspects of our community. That was found by a select committee inquiry.

The Independent Verification Group was also meant to assess the specialty timber requirements as well as the other timber requirements for the larger members of the industry. The IVG process, as I have mentioned in my submission, failed our sector absolutely spectacularly. They could not have done a worse job if they tried. I would like to read a few short quotes from the Independent Verification Group report and then I would like to table them for the committee. The first quote is from 'Review of Tasmanian Forest Estate Wood Supply Scenarios' written by Burgman and Robinson. It states that the June 2011 report adopted supply targets outlined in the special timber strategy, which was 12,500 cubic metres a year specialty timbers. They say that the supply of specialty timbers will be sourced from the special timber zone, which was defined in the 2010 special timber strategy. They go on to say: 'The development of the scenarios for specialty timbers is beyond the scope of this report as there is insufficient data on growth and yields and we therefore cannot verify the claims regarding this resource.'

The same report goes on to say:

Of the approximately 98,000 hectares that contain specialty timbers—

from the special timber zone—

approximately 64,000 hectares, or 65 per cent, falls within the proposed new reserves. We could not assess the relative quality of the available resource in different areas or the potential for areas outside Forestry Tasmania's special timber zone to supply specialty timbers.

They could not do the work. Jackie Sherman's 'Socioeconomic Impacts of the Forest Industry Change' for the IVG states:

Any loss of access to high conservation areas of native forest is likely to substantially impact supply to the special timbers industry as many special timber areas are located in high conservation areas. Businesses are already experiencing stress due to the decline in tourism, have limited financial capacity to adapt to change as well as high reliance on a very specific wood resource that is not readily substitutable. Whilst recognising the significance of the woodcraft sector, we did not have sufficient resources to carry out a full social assessment.

Again, all too hard.

The Independent Verification Group's socioeconomic work stream program, written by Bob Smith, also states:

In addition there are considerable uncertainties as to the levels of sustainable supply for specialty timber … which can be generated for various conservation/reservation scenarios and associated harvesting and utilisation structures. Only limited modelling has been undertaken and consequently there are considerable uncertainties associated with future supply levels.

Traditional supply levels of special species timber from Tassie's native forest appear to have averaged around 16,000 cubic metres per year over the last five years. I would like to say to the committee that the IVG figure of 12,500 cubic metres per annum as a specialty timber target was never the industry demand; it was a figure that the IVG took from the 2010 Special timbers strategy, and here we have clear evidence that was provided to the Independent Verification Group's work that the average harvest in the five years leading up to the TFA process and the IVG process was actually 16,000 cubic metres per annum.

CHAIR: I remind everyone that I do want to go to questions.

Mr Denman : I would like to table that as well, thanks.

CHAIR: Okay.

Mr Denman : The application to UNESCO for the 2013 World Heritage extension from the federal government made not one mention of the specialty timber sector. The specialty timber sector was not mentioned through the IUCN's paperwork either. It is almost like we do not exist. As I have said before, it is an important part of our cultural heritage in Tasmania, and any extension should also be looking at not only what forests need to be reserved, if any, and what other non-forest areas need to be reserved, but also the impact of such an extension on our intangible cultural heritage. I do not believe and I contend very strongly that that was not taken into account.

The last thing I would like to touch on very briefly, and you can pull me up short here if I am crossing the boundary, is the perceived conflict of interest, which—

CHAIR: Please be brief.

Mr Denman : I will. The Independent Verification Group's terms of reference are very clear. They talk about:

… the establishment of an Independent Verification Group of experts jointly nominated by both Governments, but independent of both Governments and all other stakeholders …

I will keep it very brief because it is in my submission, but I would just like to contend that that level of independence did not occur.

Senator RUSTON: Before I go on to the questions that are specific to your area, in earlier evidence this morning it was contended that the 12 per cent increase in area in the 2013 boundary adjustment was no big deal that it was past the 10 per cent in terms of it being a minor or a major adjustment. I suppose, and particularly in the context of the impact on your particular sector, I would be interested in your comments about this dismissive 'Well it was only a couple of percentage over 10 per cent so therefore it doesn't really matter'.

Mr Denman : I think the IUCN was very clear in one of their previous rulings that 10 per cent was the absolute upper limit. I will acknowledge that neither Pav nor I are experts in World Heritage issues, but it is pretty easy to read in black and white that 10 per cent was the accepted upper limit. The areas that were included in the 2013 extension actually took a substantial portion of the specialty timber resource in Tasmania, and certainly, given the fact that it was a 12 per cent extension, which probably should have gone for a full assessment, we probably would not have lost the same amount of specialty timber area if it had undergone a full process investigation.

Senator RUSTON: The other comment this morning which made me sit up and take note was, when questioned about whether there were additional areas that they would like to see also annexed to this Wilderness area, the gentleman said that there was and they would be. In terms of your confidence in your capacity to continue in your industry, what does a comment like that say to you?

Mr Ruzicka : A comment like that says to me that it is quite obvious that the process of pushing the native species logging to its very limits is definitely on the agenda with the NGOs. I do not think it is actually going to provide any further peace in the forest or stability in the marketplace if that sort of thing continues. It sends the wrong messages around the world in our international markets and it also sends the wrong messages to the regional people about the confidence they can get out of having an agreement that is already standing there. We need to work at it, we need to massage it and we need to get it in the right place. If that means bringing back the entire World Heritage area application into a proper process of full consultation with all the stakeholders then that is probably the most confident thing that could actually come out of this process. If they have other areas they wish to submit, to put up then they should put them up now. We should then get this on the table and get it clear where they bloody stand.

Mr Denman : Because the specialty timber industry has always been scratching for resource and floating in on the coat tails of the broader eucalypt industry, security resource is something that is the real issue for our industry. The 2010 Forestry Tasmania's special timbers strategy did give some comfort to industry. I know my own business was sitting on around $80,000 worth of timber as a stockpile to try and future-proof the business. When the 2010 special timbers strategy came in and we had a guaranteed supply from that strategy, I sold down my stockpile, employed an apprentice and invested in my business. It is recognised and has been written about in one of the main reports relied on by the IBG group that hoarding timber or trying to future-proof a business is one of the biggest impediments to the industry going ahead in Tassie. So I think any future claims would only add to the uncertainty that we face.

Senator RUSTON: How have special craft timber designs moved and changed over the last few years? It appeared that there were a set of boundaries on these zones that looked like they were reasonably acceptable in terms of the longevity and sustainability of your particular industry but now we have seen that the new zones look like they are probably not going to deliver you terribly much at all. Who determines these zones and how were you involved in the process of the determination?

Mr Ruzicka : Some of the people sitting behind me were involved in coming up with the boundaries and determining those zones. It is questionable how they arrived at what they would call super rich special species areas because it is quite patently obvious that they are not in some instances. That was to provide a resource for the industry by adopting the claim. I think the present green policy that was presented in 2010 for the management of the special species industry should be tabled because you would find that quite an enlightening document.

Senator RUSTON: What involvement have you had in the establishment of these zones?

Mr Ruzicka : I have had virtually no involvement at all. The only any time that I became involved in this process was through the implementation of the PFA act. When it came through, I applied to the then Deputy Premier to be the special species rep. Once having got myself into the room, I was horrified at what I found had been left as a resource to manage for the future and long-term sustainability of this industry. So that is why I am sitting here today.

Mr Denman : The prior Labor government down here were aware, through the upper house debate, of the TFA bill and that there were questions surrounding the specialty timber areas. The government did commit the signatories to provide the modelling used to choose those areas with the first durability report but it was not provided.

Senator RUSTON: Am I right in saying that you only use dead trees and that you do not actually cut down any trees?

Mr Ruzicka : No, that is not strictly correct. When it comes to the application of using Huon pine, that is quite true. That is in the management plan. The concept of cutting down green Huon pine is just not on the table; it is protected. So it is only a salvage type. There are only two little spots left that are currently providing what most of us in the industry would regard as trinket resource. But I am not saying that we are advocating we need to get into areas where we want to lift out thousands upon thousands of tonnes. What we are trying to do, through parts of the TFA, is establish an adequate special-species management plan to ensure that we can continue to maintain even that small end of the market.

Senator RUSTON: In substance, what you are saying is that you are really not having a huge impact anyway, but nobody has sought your advice in terms of how you could continue that viable industry—

Mr Ruzicka : That is correct, yes.

Senator RUSTON: If the area that we are seeking to have excluded from the zone is excluded, do you have any concerns that there will be issues with boycotting the use of timber from these areas?

Mr Denman : With the special-timber resource, our industry is based around, and trying to push our own tenure for, sustainable selective blocking. This position was fully supported by all major parties, including the Greens, as we alluded to before. I have a copy here, which I would like to table, of the Greens 2010 Forest Transition Strategy, which is actually really good policy for specialty timbers. There are some fantastic initiatives in there. I would also like to table an email from Kim Booth, who confirmed the policy is current on 25 February this year. With regard to the contentiousness of the timber harvested from those areas, or was bought out, I would also like to table some satellite imagery that shows a small selection of the specialty timber areas that were chosen in that policy. In this one I am holding up you can see the Recherche-Catamaran Bay area. The green line that you can see here is the 2013 extension. The blue areas are the Greens recommended special-timber harvesting areas. That policy also states quite clearly that there will be full support for FSC certification of any timber taken out of those blue areas as well.

CHAIR: Where do those areas lie now?

Mr Denman : Exactly the same areas. The maps referred to in the policy have been overlaid into satellite imagery and—those areas throughout Recherche-Catamaran Bay—the Weld, Styx and Florentine areas—were all chosen. And I would like to make an important point here. The policy does state, quite clearly, that they were chosen because they were not contentious areas and were outside areas that would be subject to future reservation. Yet here we see the areas are subject to future reservation.

Senator RUSTON: In the reservation, are they?

Mr Denman : Yes, they are.

Senator RUSTON: Obviously that is only the Greens policy and is not a legal document in relation to those areas. What changed apparently acceptable areas for industry to what is happening now? What happened? Who was the one who instigated that? Who is the one who requested that these areas no longer be designated to use?

Mr Ruzicka : I think you could probably ask the Greens that question. I will not go there. It is quite obvious what has happened, all right? They shifted the goalposts.

Senator RUSTON: Notwithstanding the Greens—they are a political party—what is the body that did it?

Mr Ruzicka : The process was brought about by the signatories organised to set up the TFA agreement. They put that together and that submission came as a result of an agreement to keep peace in the forests.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I just want to get on record, Senator Ruston, that I think Mr Ruzicka has actually just answered the question. The Greens were not a signatory to this forest—

Mr Ruzicka : That is right.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Our policy has—

CHAIR: Excuse me. I am not going to have this degenerate into argument. I will not have this. You will have an opportunity, Senator—

Senator RUSTON: I am not arguing.

CHAIR: Here, I am talking about; not you, Senator Ruston. Could you wind your questions up an I will give Senator Whish-Wilson an opportunity.

Senator RUSTON: Is the Special Timbers Alliance a signatory of the TFA?

Mr Ruzicka : No.

Senator RUSTON: Is there any suggestion that they should have been? Have you ever sought to be a signatory?

Mr Ruzicka : We sought to be, at the table, at the beginning of these first Round Table talks—and the door was quite firmly shut.

Mr Denman : I will just add to that very quickly. The Tasmanian Special Timbers Alliance was actually formed in 2012 after these discussions had actually started. It was formed out of concern that there was no peak body for the specialty timber industry. It is still in a fledging stage. We are representing about 65 businesses and individuals at the moment but we are hoping to encompass the majority of the 2,000 full-time employees and the 8,500 part-time and income-earning hobbyists at the end of the day. It would have been nice to be at the table. We would not be having this discussion now if we were.

Senator MILNE: A lot of what has been said about the industry in Tasmania is not relevant to the issue of whether or not an area should be withdrawn from World Heritage listing. The World Heritage Committee last year in response to a submission by Australia, the state party, declared the area to be of outstanding universal value and approved the boundaries, recognising within those boundaries there were areas that were degraded but listed them on the basis that the boundaries gave integrity to the property. Are you saying that you want access to high-conservation value old-growth forests to log?

Mr Ruzicka : In answer to your question, Senator Milne, the concept of what we would perceive in the general public arena as logging is not the concept that the Special Timbers Alliance or the special species people wish to continue, and that is clear-felling.

What we want to do is actually maintain the outstanding universal value of special species timber, and I contend that in the areas in the Recherche Bay right out through to the Styx Valley—some of those areas are on their second and third rotations—if anything is of outstanding universal value, it is how well those forests have been regenerated for future use, harvesting and management. That is what we are about.

Senator MILNE: What you are saying though is that you want the area to be taken out of World Heritage for the purpose of logging. It is not about contesting the values of the forests; it is about taking them out to log. Isn't that what you are saying—you want access to those forests that are of outstanding universal value to log?

Mr Ruzicka : What I am actually saying to you is that those areas that are currently in that World Heritage area extension were never properly assessed under a proper management plan with full consultation to an industry that has been pushing for years to actually end clear-felling in some of those areas. We are looking for those timbers. Yes, we would like an old-growth myrtle tree, because we don't want to cut down the children.

Mr Denman : Can I please add to that: although there are some issues with federal legislation, Tasmanian state legislation, the TFA Act 2012, which was supported not only by the Greens but by Labor and Liberal and passed unamended through the lower house, does actually already allow for timber harvesting in the World Heritage area and not just the 2013 extension but any land in the state. That is law.

Senator MILNE: Yes, but what I am trying to say here is: the proposal put forward by the state party, Australia, last year was to list an area as an extension of the World Heritage area for its outstanding universal values. There was an assessment of those values. Part of it was past; part of it was landscape; part of it was forests—a whole range of issues—and it was accepted as of outstanding universal value. What you are doing is sitting here saying to us that it should be delisted as World Heritage for the purpose of providing access to you to cut those trees down.

Mr Ruzicka : It is very good to look at it in a black-and-white situation when you are sitting over there, mate. But the fact is that what we want to do is go back to a proper process. The World Heritage area extension did not consult the regional communities adequately. Most people in the street realise that. They also do not want to see the continued industrial-type logging that you talk about in some of those areas. They want a proper assessment and they want to be able to hold their heads up high, look at people on the World Heritage Committee and say, 'We got it right,' because currently it is not.

Senator MILNE: So which of the universal values do you say isn't there?

Mr Ruzicka : I would suggest that if we go back to the proper concept of undergoing an adequate process of consultation, you will be able to ascertain what are the universal values that you need and what the universal values are that we need. By dialogue, we can arrive at that.

CHAIR: Thank you both very much. Is there anything else you wish to add?

Mr Denman : There is one more thing I would like to table in regard to a point I made earlier about assessment of the special timber needs through the IVG process. I have a letter here from the former Tasmanian Premier, who states quite clearly, 'The IGA intends that the guaranteed supply levels for special species numbers need to be verified. I understand that, as you have identified, the independent verification group led by Professor West did not directly address this issue in the reports released in March.'

CHAIR: Thank you both very much for your contribution today.