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Transcript of a combined press conference held after Mark Latham visited the forests of Styx Valley, Tasmania: March 18th 2004: discussion of forestry in Tasmania.



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Press Conference March 18th 2004

Discussion of forestry in Tasmania.

Speakers: Tasmanian Senator Bob Brown; Federal Leader of the Opposition Mark Latham.

BOB BROWN - SENATOR FOR TASMANIA:

Before you hit woodchip, clear-fell woodchipping operations on the other

side including, on a risk side, a clear program that got away the other day.

(Indistinct) how to reach above it. Quite a substantial piece of forest and

that’s part of it, this wastefulness of the clear-fell operations in Tasmania.

Major cause of bushfires and destruction of forests in Tasmania with clear-fell burns escaping.

We then turned around and (indistinct) Mount Anne, which was detected,

as you’re aware, is included in the World Heritage area by Bob Hawke in

’82 and looked at some of our glacial lakes and waterfalls, the mountain in

the mist, that’s (indistinct) some of the deepest caves in Australia, right at

the top end of the Styx, just over the ridge from the Styx and you get a

picture of how it all fits in together.

REPORTER:

Do you want to come in, Mark or …

BROWN:

I was just talking about where we flew on the helicopter, Mark.

MARK LATHAM - OPPOSITION LEADER:

Oh, yep, right, yep, okay.

REPORTER:

(Indistinct) shall we get the press conference to open?

LATHAM:

Yeah, I’d like to say a few thing that I’ve certainly learnt a lot over the last

couple of days. I’ve been asked about this issue right around the country

and, really, you couldn’t have an informed opinion unless you saw it with

your own eyes and heard both sides of the story.

So, I thank the industry for showing me around yesterday and Bob today,

which has been very informative and, in particular, the inspiration of seeing

Mount Anne as we did in the helicopter and yesterday the Valley of the

Giants. These are wonderful resources that are protected and inspire you

about the environment and, at the same time, I’ve learnt that the industry

has got more science and technology and is doing some things and

wanting to do better for the future.

So, when I came here I didn’t want to be at one extreme end of the debate

or another. I thought it was important to examine the facts, to look at the

evidence and reach some reasoned conclusions, and that’s what I’ve tried

to do and the things that have concluded … I haven’t heard a serious

argument about the ending of logging in old growth areas, the total ending

of it and the work we see here today is evidence that you need that old

wood available for the arts and crafts industry in Tasmania and its

economic importance.

Also, I don’t see any reason to be changing the RFA in that it’s been

successful and it’s very, very important for employment security but the

things that we go forward with, in terms of a policy agenda, and the first of

those is the importance of phasing out the clear-felling of old-growth

forests and that’s obviously very good for the environment and I think it can

be managed in a way that ensures job protection and I’ll be awaiting the

report of Tasmania Together from the state government to look at the

detail and the financial consequences of that. But that’s a very, very

important priority, to phase out the clear-felling of old-growth forest.

The second priority is to add value, add value to the industry as much as

possible and I’ve had some good discussions with the Acting Premier

about that and downstream processing, of course, is a better alternative

than woodchip exports and we need to work hard and the industry’s keen,

everyone’s keen, that seems to be a very common goal that can be

realised in this debate.

I think we also need to recognise that the achievements of the last twenty

years have left significant parts of Tasmania under reserve, the native

forest under reserve, some forty per cent. That’s a great credit to Bob

Brown and the environmental movements and what they’ve achieved. But

I think anyone who just wanders around different sites, tourism sites and

the like, you realise that it’s more than just a Tasmanian question, it’s a

national responsibility to ensure that the national government’s contributing

to the cost and the good management, in particular, rebuilding the World

Heritage Funding which has been cut under the Howard government.

And the final issue I want to take up in the future in discussion with the

state government, it’s about some conservation and eco-tourism issues

that arise out of our visits to the Styx Valley this morning, and I think

they’re quite important.

You know, I think they’re the four areas that form a logical basis of factual

conclusions and some good policy making in the future. I didn’t come here

with a dollar and cents-type announcement. I wanted to find out the facts

and I did come here with an open mind and it can … it obviously is a

contentious issue in the community but I think with good process and good

policy, good science, good consideration of all the issues, you can come

out with the right outcome and I’m confident we’ll do that prior to the next

federal election.

REPORTER:

When can we see that policy?

LATHAM:

Well, we’ve got to … in the first instance, with regards to phasing out clear-felling, wait for the Tasmania to get a report, which will obviously have

some financial recommendations. So that’s something that the state

government is working on and …

REPORTER:

2010 is the deadline as far as you're concerned?

LATHAM:

Well, that’s the goal at the moment. We’ve got to wait for that final report

to see what they come up with as their ultimate objective. But this is not

an issue where you need federal politicians telling people what to do.

There’s been a longstanding process in place and if you can add some

value to that and act on recommendations, then I think that’s the right

national responsibility.

REPORTER:

Do you think …

REPORTER:

Why are you …

REPORTER:

Could you (indistinct) Mr Latham?

LATHAM:

Well, let’s just wait for the report that’s under consideration. This is a long

running process and process matters. I mean, if you’ve got different points

of view, different ends of an argument, in a community and this is a very

fine community, good process, and factual conclusions can actually lead

you to a better public outcome, and that’s what I'm hoping to be part of.

REPORTER:

(Indistinct)

REPORTER:

What was your feeling when you were inside that coupe?

LATHAM:

Well, the coupe itself was, you know, surrounded by areas that have been

logged, and I was told yesterday by Forestry Tasmania that the significant

trees are protected and obviously they’ve laid off any plans with logging in

deference to the protesters, and I think that’s a wise course of action. But

in particular, you know, you see those tall trees and when you see them in

a much larger area, as I did by helicopter yesterday in the Valley of the

Giants, it’s a truly inspirational thing, truly inspirational to see the whole

protected area, and the politicians, the leaders that have achieved that in

years gone by have got a lot to be proud of.

So the Styx Valley itself, they said yesterday it’s fifty per cent protected

and you see from the helicopter other areas, which are plantation regrowth

or logging coups and there are some issues, particularly in the north Styx,

that I want to take up with the state government. But it’s a hard one

because there’s the fact that there’s been logging in that valley since the

1930s.

REPORTER:

You were told yesterday by John Gay that the 2010 deadline is

unworkable, that it would be a threat to business and jobs. What's your

view on that 2010 deadline?

LATHAM:

Well, I heard what he had to say but I also know he’ll be talking to the state

government and they’ll be making their own recommendations in the

report. And that’s the thing that I wait for. They’ve got a whole department

there that’s working on it and a whole process has been under way -

Tasmania Together - and I want to wait and see the recommendation

about what deadline they adopt for phasing out the clear-felling of old-growth forest and what financial and other recommendations they make.

So I'm not going to jump ahead of the process but just awaiting the final

report.

REPORTER:

Why do you (indistinct) this process …

REPORTER:

There has been some criticism of the way forestry is practised in Tasmania

and about the sort of closeness of the government to the industry. Do you

think that that is a concern in terms of developing strategies about …

you’re obviously taking the consultation from the state government as well.

I mean, how do you feel about those criticisms that have been made?

LATHAM:

Well, the you need policy made at arms length from the industry and I …

what impressed me with the forestry officials yesterday was that they were

always talking about new management practices that they're trying to

introduce, new ways of improving their performance. And you know, the

very good thing about this debate is a lot of sincerity and good intentions

on both sides. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with people saying they want

to protect the environment, so too there’s nothing wrong with people

saying they want job security.

So there are some competing goals there and good intentions and good

process can resolve them. And I thought the forestry officials yesterday

had a positive outlook about ways in which they can improve management

practices and owned up to things that have gone wrong in the past, and

ways in which they want to make it better for the future. So that’s very

encouraging.

REPORTER:

You say they …

REPORTER:

(Indistinct)

LATHAM:

Sorry?

REPORTER:

How important is the green (indistinct) going to be at the next election? Is

this about (indistinct) …

LATHAM:

Well, in an election, first preferences matter and this is a close election;

second preferences matter. That’s the same in every constituency around

the country, but I'm not here on that issue. I came here answering Bob

Brown’s invitation and then the invitation of the industry to have a day

where each side of the argument can show me around and I could reach

some factual conclusions and hopefully add some value to the process.

So that’s why I'm here and I've got a position that is not going to satisfy

either extreme of the debate but I think it’s the right one. I think it’s the

right approach and it’s based on my conclusions reached from examining

the issues and trying to get to the basic facts of the matter. And that way

of conducting policy and trying to add value to a public debate is why I'm in

public life. So I'm happy with the things I've seen and heard over the last

couple of days and possibly we can go forward with some good public

policy.

REPORTER:

You say you're going to …

REPORTER:

Why do you have faith in the … (indistinct) getting out of high conservation

value forest has been missed.

LATHAM:

Well, it’s been missed by virtue of the process, stretching into 2004, but I'm

sure in the course of this year we’ll get a final report and we’ll see what

deadline they’ve got in mind and how it’s manageable. The phase-out of

course is just in recognition that in building up a plantation base and

ensuring you’ve got job protection that you need to do this over time rather

than an immediate cut off that would be costing jobs.

REPORTER:

But do you …

REPORTER:

Do you support that process or just the state government’s view of it given

that they’ve already ignored that deadline?

LATHAM:

No, I support the process. I've known about Tasmania Together for quite

some time and I'm very keen on processes of public participation in federal

politics, there should be more of it. And I'm going to be saying some

things about that in the near future. So I like the process of people getting

involved and having a say. People deserve their say in a democracy in

between the election every three or four years, so they should have their

say and there’s been a good process here. And it’s produced

recommendations in this instance and the state government mightn’t

necessarily - if it was left up to them - be doing in their own right. But they

recognise that to have public participation you’ve got to listen and respond

to people and that’s what Tasmania Together is all about.

REPORTER:

Will you be …

BROWN:

(Indistinct) time for me to comment on that. The … first of all, Mark, thanks

so much for coming. It shows a real gumption, it is no doubt a very difficult

issue we have here but it’s part of a nation on … it’s just part of nation-building that we look after our environment and it takes a (indistinct) policy

to look at what the issue is about. And I have to contrast that greatly with

John Howard not coming but signing the death warrant on these forests,

sight unseen. Unforgivable.

That said, there has been a Tasmania Together process here; it was set

up by the state Labor government. It was carried through to fruition. The

people said protect the whole conservation value old-growth forests. Jim

Bacon has indicated that he would listen to the people, on a wide range of

things. That’s the three point five we’re talking about, two hundred and

forty thousand hectares including the Styx and that’s the people’s protest

and while you have to keep the industry at arms length, you have to

embrace what the people are saying and the people of Australia are saying

very clearly protect the Tarkine, the great rainforests of the south, the Styx,

the Blue Tier, the Huon. These are a very small part of Australia, very tiny

part; they are three per cent of Tasmania, three point five per cent of

Tasmania and much more than the area protected in ’82 as World

Heritage. That was seven sixty-five thousand hectares and then again in

’89 with Richardson and Hawke, another six hundred thousand hectares.

They’re saying stage three here is two hundred and forty thousand

hectares. And it’s not the end of the logging industry in Tasmania.

Outside that is very big, lar… much larger areas of roaded forest for the

work like we’ve seen just laid here to continue and two hundred thousand

hectares of plantation.

Win-win: jobs, many more jobs coming out of protecting these forests.

We’re seeing hundreds, thousands of jobs created by those earlier

conservation decisions and it’s a case of the environment and jobs … it’s a

big winner for Tasmania. But I'm afraid it is going to … and I think it’s a bit

tough to ask Mark to draw lines and put boundaries on it today.

Just looking at the forest on the air and on foot today, you can see why

people love them. You can see that people are going to have a choice in

the coming election about this issue. And it’s a bit like when it comes to

these grand … what's left of these grand rainforests and tall eucalypts, a

bit like the Franklin dam; you’re either for it or you're against it, but outside

of that, great opportunities for the logging industry. But clear-fell

woodchipping, sending more than ninety per cent of our forest to Japan,

with the jobs, with the value-added, with the money is the problem here.

It’s what's driving the roads into the Styx. It’s not the value-added

Tasmanian component and the Tarkine.

So, you know, the question’s been … has become a national question; it’s

a litmus test for the environment and I take my hat off to Mark Latham. It’s

an absolute breath of fresh air through the forest that he’s made this visit

today, and we’ll be watching in the coming months.

I’ll also be watching to see what John Howard’s response is and I'm ready

and willing to take him into the forest at any time, including those great

rainforests in the Tarkine. It’s about time he came and had a look.

REPORTER:

How do you rate Mark Latham’s green credentials, Mr Brown? Do you

believe that he’s genuine about it or is this a pitch for your preferences?

BROWN:

A political leader doesn’t come into the thick of a forest controversy like we

have here without he’s dinkum about trying to get a good outcome for

Tasmania and for the nation. And I respect that. It’s easy to talk about

green preferences; it’s easy to say, oh, the Greens are just wanting to

protecting the forest because they think there’s votes in it. It’s to miss out

the fact that I believe Mark Latham is the prime minister in waiting. I think

he’s got new things to say. I think by coming today, there is a generational

change occurring in politics. I don’t expect that he’s going to immediately

put the Greens out of business by taking our policies because we’re

coming at it from different points of view but it’s a wealthy part of the

political discourse in this country, and I think he’s to be respected for that.

It’s new, and I can tell you from my feedback from around the electorate,

and you can close your ears on this, Mark, people are excited. There’s

something new happening in politics here.

REPORTER:

Will the Greens ask their followers, their supporters to vote one for … to

Labor?

BROWN:

Let’s see the policies.

[Laughter]

REPORTER:

Mr Latham, do you think there should be a pulp mill in Tasmania.

LATHAM:

I think it’s got some potential for adding value. Much better that than

exporting wood chips in terms of value adding and downstream

processing. If it comes within environmental guidelines as a project itself,

then obviously, it’s got a lot of potential for the state.

REPORTER:

(Inaudible question)

LATHAM:

Well, I didn’t see Mr Lennon this morning, I saw him yesterday morning.

We discussed a number of good projects that could be developed for

downstream processing and adding value and, I think, the prospects are

very strong.

REPORTER:

Mark, when … Mark said he flew up in the chopper he was inspired by

what was protected and how the industry had things to be proud of. I

suspect you have a different, slightly different perspective.

BROWN:

Well, yes, because … he didn’t actually say the industry was proud of that.

No, no …

REPORTER:

(Inaudible question)

LATHAM:

(Indistinct) achieved it. It’s got lots to be proud of, including Bob Brown.

REPORTER:

What do you feel when you fly over there?

BROWN:

Oh well, I feel terrific. I mean, it’s just one of the most spectacular places

on the face of the planet, just the same as old (indistinct) and add that in

because it needs to be added in. They’re a World Heritage significance

and we’re going to have the world … our problem in the future going to be

the world coming to see this wild and scenic and spectacular place with its

forests the nearest place to the big city, to the step off place.

The forests are the introduction, they’re the door to the wilderness areas

that have been protected behind and I feel … I’ve been going to the Styx

now and seeing it being eroded, scourged by clear-fell wood chipping over

these recent years, like the Tarkine and the Blue Tier, and so the job’s not

done.

But the flooding of Lake Pedder was lost, the Franklin was on … and

twenty something other places were on their target list and I know the

government moved in and, to the great benefit of the nation, completed

that task. It hasn’t been done with the forest yet but we … and we

obviously have a way to go.

Let me just say two things: firstly because Mark’s been given a lot of

information yesterday by the forest industry. The Styx is the Valley of the

Giants, they keep referring to the aberration of the … the valley to the ni…

to the north, but the Styx Valley of the Giants is the biggest trees that we

know of in the southern hemisphere.

The other thing is about the 2010 phase out; the Tasmania Together

process to protect the high conservation value forest by 2003. When you

apply that, of course, wood chipping to … to get to the integrated logging

but not … I mean, maybe it’s protection of those high conservation value

forests we’re looking at. To get to the high … to the high jobs; high returns

to Tasmania, steady state that we’re going to have the future in that

plantation banned and in native forests that are outside those high

conservation values …

REPORTER:

Mr Latham, famously, Bob Hawke stepped in and paved the road for the

Tasmanian government in the Franklin dispute. Are you prepared to do

that for the state government here as well, (indistinct) whatever colour it is,

if it’s not an outcome to your liking?

LATHAM:

Well, I don’t see the need to do that because I think they’ve had a very

consultative process, something that hasn’t been in place in the period that

you mentioned in the early-eighties and Jim Bacon, the outgoing premier

did a fantastic job for this state. I think one of his great legacies is that

there’s a real buzz about Tasmania. It’s a go forward state, whereas, you

know, five or six years ago it was very much struggling on many fronts. I

used to come here and people would talk about the brain drain to the

mainland and economic issues and problems and the state has

progressed and I think the processes of government have progressed as

well. So, I don’t see the need for further confrontation that was around in

1983, far from it.

REPORTER:

Aren’t you (Indistinct) your traditional Labor voters by standing here today

alongside Bob Brown?

BROWN:

Well, I can say (indistinct).

REPORTER:

Mark, can you answer the question please?

LATHAM:

Oh no, I respect Bob Brown as an environmentalist and as you get around

and look at the areas that are being protected, right around the state,

Bob’s leadership has been fundamental to achieving a lot for the

environment and that’s a great Labor value. It should be a great universal

value in Australian politics. So, the Senator’s got a lot to be proud of.

Someone I’m proud to stand next to and but, obviously, we’re from

different political parties and at one level, you know, Bob will have his

Green ticket, I’ll have the Labor ticket at the next election campaign but

what's wrong with people from different parties looking at issues,

examining the facts and talking about the things that need to be done in

the public interest. And, you know, in terms of the new political approach,

let's have more of that, let’s have people …

BROWN:

Exactly.

LATHAM:

… talking about these issues in a constructive way instead of having …

feeling the need to bang heads.

REPORTER:

Can I ask you both about the Keelty saga? The PM’s been asked today,

what kind of contact he had and is refusing to answer other than to say, no

improper communication. Are you satisfied with that, Mark?

LATHAM:

Well, my message to Mr Howard is, stop playing politics with the Australian

Federal Police. Let them get on with their job. Let them get on with their

public statements free of Liberal Party interference. It's not compulsory to

see that they toe the Liberal Party line. The Federal Police have got very,

very important work to do in the effort against terrorism and they should be

able to do that independent of party politics.

And the fact that the Prime Minister's office intervened on Sunday, when

Mr Keelty made his original statement, the fact that we understand today

from a news report that pressure was placed on the commissioner to

produce another statement on Tuesday, the commissioner considered

resigning, this is a huge concern, a huge concern about the integrity of the

processes we need to make Australia safe from terrorism. We just can't

have a situation where politicians think they can push law enforcement

officers around and manipulate public information for party political

reasons is just not on. It's just not on.

And the other thing it does, it weakens confidence in the other information

we hear from government agencies. How do we know that there's not

other political interference going on behind the scenes. So, let's have

some explanations from the Howard government about what's going on

and let's have an end to political meddling in law enforcement and the work

of the AFP.

So, Mr Howard needs to come clean on what happened on Sunday; why

did his office feel the need to make calls of complaint to Mr Keelty? What

happened on Tuesday in terms of putting pressure for a clarifying

statement? Is it true that the commissioner felt so aggrieved by this he

considered resigning? And most of all, let's have an end to it. This is not

the way to run the country. It's not the way to make Australia safe and

secure in the war against terror and to give us peace of mind.

REPORTER:

Senator Brown, if …

REPORTER:

(Indistinct) has said that any (indistinct) America should be destroyed, or

whatever it was, do you think the government's doing enough to keep

(indistinct)?

LATHAM:

Well, I wish the Indonesian government would do more and the comments

that he's made from a convicted criminal indicate why he should spend a

much lengthier term in jail than some of the speculation we've seen in

recent times.

REPORTER:

Are you …

REPORTER:

Can I ask Senator Brown … Senator Brown, can you just … if the Prime

Minister won't answer our questions about this … what happened with

Keelty (indistinct) the Senate?

BROWN:

Absolutely, I think Australians, including a lot Liberals and Coalition voters,

will be horrified that the Prime Minister on the face of it may have had leant

on a senior police officer. There's a very clear dividing line between

politics and the administration of the law in this country and it's highly

respected, and if that line's been crossed then people have got a right to

be upset about it and if we can't get a clear explanation about that and a

much clearer statement of what was said in communications between

anybody in the government and Mr Keelty or anybody in his force, then it

warrants an inquiry by the Senate as early as possible, just to clear the air

on it, because I think there shouldn't be … the Prime Minister shouldn't put

the police in that position.

REPORTER:

(Inaudible question)

BROWN:

Well yes, and you're left with the question mark not just as to whether

people have to withdraw or qualify statements, but it’s … clearly, the

implication is that you have to think about any statements you're going to

make, and it’s qualified by political pressure. And that’s something that a

healthy robust democracy doesn’t allow for. We encourage law

enforcement officers to make their decision on … based on their best

information and to base their comments on what they know, not on who

might be leaning on them politically.

REPORTER:

Mr Latham, are you aware of threats being made against Australia by Al-Qaeda?

LATHAM:

No, I'm not. It’s some time since I've had a briefing from any of the

agencies so I'm not aware of that …

REPORTER:

It was reported …

LATHAM:

… in any shape or form.

REPORTER:

It was reported today that Australia was named as one of the US lackeys

by Al-Qaeda and they would be targetted.

LATHAM:

I haven’t seen that report and I've been here in Tasmania so I haven’t had

the chance to receive briefings but obviously when we’re back in Canberra

next week there’s several briefings I’ll be seeking about what's been going

on not just on this matter with the AFP but these other reports which

you’ve mentioned.

REPORTER:

But would that concern you, if that’s true would that concern you?

LATHAM:

Oh, of course, look (laughs), Australians are always concerned about the

threat of terrorism, and that just makes the point that we need independent

agencies that are dealing with it in the public interest, rather than the

suggestion that these agencies have been pushed around and statements

have been compromised for the sake of party politics, the sake of Liberal

Party intervention. So I'm very, very concerned, as all Australians are, not

just about the threat of terrorism, but our best national interest in dealing

with it and the assurance that we’ve got an independent Australian Federal

Police and other agencies that are organisations that are being meddled

with for the sake of Liberal Party politics.

REPORTER:

Just back in the forest for one more question, Mr Latham, you’ve seen the

quality of Tasmanian wood craftsmanship in the past couple of days. You

might be aware that Prime Minister Howard had removed from his offices,

Tasmanian desks and chairs. If you became Prime Minister, would they

go back?

[Laughter]

LATHAM:

Yes, absolutely, with pleasure. I met an old school mate of mine at the

Wooden Boat Centre yesterday and to see John and his handiwork here is

a great inspiration and I’ve met others who are in the arts and crafts

industry using old wood. And if that’s in storage, I’ll be tracking it down

and I think it was replaced by the Chesterfield chairs, is that right? Yeah,

well, that’s not my style, I’ll be back into the good Tasmanian gear.

[Laughter]

REPORTER:

Thank you.

REPORTER:

Good on you.

LATHAM:

Okay, thanks very much.

BROWN:

Thanks everybody.

END OF SEGMENT