Breach of faith in Victorian forest shock
21 February 2002
The Federal Government today accused the Victorian Government of a breach of faith in its shock announcement today that Victorian access to industry forests would be reduced by over 30 per cent.
Federal Minister for Forestry and Conservation Senator Ian Macdonald said that the announcement by the Victorian Premier was contrary to the spirit of the Regional Forest Agreements (RFA) that had been entered into in good faith by the Commonwealth Government and Victorian Government, and which had followed National Forestry Policy Statement agreed to by all governments almost 10 years ago.
“The whole purpose of the RFA process was to provide guaranteed increases in forestry reserves and at the same time to provide certainty to the industry and security for workers in timber communities,” Senator Macdonald said today.
“There’s also an understanding that both Victoria and the Commonwealth would work together to build upon the good will generated through the RFA process.
“The extent of the impact that will flow from the Victorian Government’s announcement today comes as a surprise to the Commonwealth Government. There has been no consultation whatsoever and attempts to obtain information following rumours of this action have been met with absolute silence.”
“The Victorian Government has unilaterally slashed the available timber for processing contrary to the spirit of the five Victorian RFAs.
“Although we have still not been formally advised of all the details, I expect that in some instances specific figures that were included in some RFAs have now been changed in what appears to be a very cavalier fashion by the Victorian Government.
“Regrettably, we have been kept completely in the dark by the Victorian Government, but it has been suggested to me that the Victorian Government has adopted a whole new process of assessment which has removed from the areas available for logging a very considerable part of the Victorian forest, that was always originally intended to be available.
“The Commonwealth Government maintains its support for the timber industry in Victoria and also for the substantially increased reserve areas that followed from the RFA process.
“No amount of money by the Victorian Government can overcome the loss of livelihood and the uncertainty created in people’s lives and their townships.
“What forest workers want is the dignity of a job and a certainty that that job will be there in the years ahead.
“This action by the Victorian Government has thrown lives and families into turmoil and will threaten the closure of many small country communities.
“The Commonwealth Government will maintain its FISAP funding. We hope that with development of the industry and we’ll be concentrating on ways that the industry can increase its value adding even though it appears the resource is going to be considerably smaller.
“I’m calling for urgent talks with the Victorian Government so that the full impact of the Victorian government’s decision can be explained to the Commonwealth and so that the Commonwealth can clearly investigate whether Victoria has breached the Regional Forest Agreements.
I would hope that the Victorian Government will agree with me that agreements made in good faith between two governments should be honoured without the necessity of recourse to legal action.
Bracks Government puts regional families at risk to win city votes
The Federal Government has slammed the Victorian Labor Party for today's announcement in relation to logging in the Otways region. Federal Minister for Forestry and Conservation Senator Ian Macdonald said this is a blatant ploy to secure Green preferences at the expense of rural and regional Victoria.
The Bracks Government today announced that, if re-elected, there would be no logging in the Otways within six years.
"Earlier this year, the same Government announced that there would be no change to logging in the area and, suddenly, it's done a back flip, which I can only assume is a tactic to win city votes.
"Earlier this year, Premier Bracks indicated that the available timber for processing in the Otways area would remain at 27,000m3 under the Victorian Government's forest policy - Our Forests, Our Future - that saw a 31 per cent reduction of available timber for processing across the State.
"There is no scientific evidence to support the Bracks Government's decision as its earlier position showed. All this will result in is the destruction of the Victorian timber community in the Otways.
"As a joint signatory to the West Victorian Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) that was signed by Mr Bracks in March 2000, which covers the Otways Forest Management Area, the Commonwealth Government is concerned by this election commitment as it may breach the RFA.
The RFAs are designed to deliver a scientifically based Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative Reserve System, as well as providing for a long-term sustainable timber industry.
"This election commitment should be seen for what it is - a cynical attempt to secure the city vote at the expense of jobs and communities in regional and rural Victoria. This shows a total disregard for rural and regional Victorians."
Senator Macdonald has also called on the next Government of Victoria to introduce complementary RFA legislation to provide a legislative backing to the Regional Forest Agreements, which provides security for forest industries, regional communities and conservation interests.
Federal Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation Senator Ian Macdonald is in Melbourne this weekend to meet with industry and stakeholders from the Victorian and national forest industry.
While in Melbourne, Senator Macdonald will speak at Friday night's Victorian Association of Forest Industries' annual dinner, which is expected to attract more than 170 people.
"Our forest industry is a very important one and is the life blood of many rural and regional centres," Senator Macdonald said.
"In 1999-2000, the forest Industry had a gross turnover of $14 billion, employment statistics for the following year show that nearly 86,000 Australian's are directly employed by the industry.
"There have been a number of hot forestry issues in Victoria over recent weeks and this is an opportunity for people to be able to sit down with me and outline their concerns."
Senator Macdonald will also attend the fourth meeting of the Forest and Wood Products Council, of which he is the Chair.
"The Council, which meets twice a year, was established in 2000 to provide a forum for the interchange of advice and information between the Government and stakeholders in the forest and wood products industry," Senator Macdonald said.
"It also promotes cooperation and interaction between different sectors of the forest and wood products industry."
The meeting will be held at the new Timber Merchants' Association in Blackburn.
Address to the Victorian Association of Forest Industries Dinner
Thanks for having this function tonight in the Melbourne Aquarium, in my new world of fishes and, as you say, I might be in there swimming with them if the party gets good later on. But ladies and gentlemen, hello to you all. Can I recognise our international guest Dr George Connor - perhaps sympathise with you in advance for having to speak later on to what looks like will be a very good party?
I was talking to someone else just prior to being introduced. I thought, are we getting Michael O'Connor to speak? I thought if that were to happen, particularly at this time, I'd gladly give up my ten minutes to allow Michael to say a few words because I am sure what he would have to say would be very interesting. It's good to see Michael here and acknowledge a fairly courageous effort taken by some of his members in recent times.
I would have to say that Michael and his members and Trevor Smith are not doing that particularly to help the industry as such. They are very conscious of the impact of recent events on their members, on the workers in country towns and they deserve every credit for trying to help the people they are there to represent and look after.
Could I also recognise Ken King, of course Victoria has Ken in charge of DNRE, as you know. And yes we have the Secretary here now and they are both very important people of course because at the moment under the Westminster convention, they are really in charge of the Government of Victoria at the very moment. The Government is in caretaker mode so I was going to suggest if they slipped out of the dinner tonight and slipped back to the corridors of power, they could do a lot of good things for the industry in the next week before anyone knew it all happened. So there is a challenge for all of you tonight.
Look, can I congratulate all of those award winners? I started to write them down to mention them singularly but there were so many, can I just say corporately my congratulations? Those awards do mean a lot and they do take a lot of effort and good on you, good luck to all of you who have won those awards, keep it up.
I was pleased to see Drouin West figuring prominently in a couple of those awards. I had the pleasure of having a look through that facility earlier on today and could I just say what potential there is there, as there is with most parts of Victorian industry, given the right leadership. Can I also congratulate Greg McCormack on his re-election as President of VAFI and congratulate his Board as well. As well as being in charge of that, he is also in charge of the National Association of Forestry Industries. And you can hear from his speech tonight why he does hold those very important positions in public life in Australia. And Greg I have listened intently to what you have said tonight, there were messages for other political paries in Government but there were some messages for me there as well and I have taken them on board and I understand them and will continue to work with you and your members to try and make a fairer Government response to the industry.
Ladies and Gentlemen, having said that I have to say to you that I believe that the industry here in Victoria has a very good future. It's had a fine history, its had a very courageous present time but I think the future is good and is one that given good political leadership and some legislative certainty would be looking at an absolutely sensational future. But regrettably, as Greg and others have mentioned, there are two prerequisites for that sensational future that are sadly lacking in Victoria at the moment.
[Some paragraphs omitted from departmental website]
Regrettably the Labor Party's election commitment to end all logging of native forest in the Otways region by 2008 and the Wombat Forest by 2009 has dealt a very serious and devastating blow to the forest industry in Victoria and to the regional communities that are dependant upon those industries.
[Some paragraphs omitted from departmental website]
In March 2000 Mr Bracks personally signed the Western Victorian RFA with Prime Minister John Howard. Now this agreement, as you all know, placed around 63 per cent of the west Victorian public forests in conservation reserves but it did ensure that around 37 per cent of those forests were to be available for sustainable harvesting. And not three years later Mr Bracks has announced a forest policy, which if implemented, will fundamentally breach that solemn agreement made between the State and Federal Governments, that he personally signed with the leader of our nation.
And ladies and gentlemen could I remind you that in February just this year Premier Bracks indicated in the Our Forests, Our Future policy statement that the available timber in the Otways area within the Western Victoria RFA would remain at 27,000 cubic metres. And he said this at a time when there has been a 31 per cent reduction in available timber processing across the rest of the State. But he particularly said that the Otways would remain at 27,000 cubic metres.
Now, in direct reversal of that nine-month-old promise, there is to be no native timber industry in the Otways by 2008. The suggestion of maintaining sawlog supply yields through a transition from native forests in the Otways and Wombat Forest to plantations forest is just laughable. There are, as I understand it currently few hardwood plantations in the Otways or the Wombat Forest regions that are planted with the aim of producing sawlogs. Most of the new plantings of course are aimed at pulpwood production.
Even if new plantations specifically for hardwood sawlogs were to be planted now, the very earliest these could be available would be in 2025. That is more than 15 years after native forest harvesting in the Otways ceases under the Bracks' proposal.
Ladies and gentlemen, in February this year again Mr Bracks was also promoting, you might remember in that major policy statement again Our Forest our Future, carbon production in this state of Victoria.
But the election policy has actually ruled out the development of wastewood based carbon production capacity in Victoria. This in turn, has destroyed the plans for a multi-million dollar carbon facility and silicon smelter in the East Gippsland, as Australian Silicon Ltd has indicated it was looking at constructing.
And under this project, which was originally looked at for the NSW south coast, no forest was to be harvested specifically to access timber for the plant. Based on the figures that come out with the NSW proposal, the project would have injected something like $32 million a year into the local economy. And that would have been money going directly to the hardware stores, butcher shops, and local services stations, the workers and it would have provided something like 370 jobs in that part of Victoria.
Now, because those policies have been driven by short-term political consideration, and certainly not by good science, the people of East Gippsland are going to be denied these benefits and relegated to a poverty-stricken existence in that part of the state.
Ladies and gentlemen, by contrast the Commonwealth Government does remain committed to the 5 Victorian Regional Forest Agreements. Our Government enacted the RFA legislation as Greg just mentioned in May this year. While the passage of the Commonwealth RFA has removed any sovereign risk by a future Commonwealth Government, the inescapable reality of course is that State Governments do bear the Constitutional responsibility for forest management.
That's why I call upon the next Government of Victoria, which ever it is, to introduce complementary RFA legislation to provide legislative backing to Victoria' RFA's. And whilst I agree that an agreement signed by the Victorian Premier and the Prime Minister should not need legislative backing obviously history has shown that is absolutely essential and as I say it is essential that we have that legislative backing in Victoria to lock in once and for all the security to forest industries and regional communities and for conservation interests that the RFAs were certainly intended to provide.
Ladies and gentlemen, following the Victorian Government announcement on resource reductions in February, I tried to help lessen the impact on the industry by proposing a $3 million strategy to independently assess the resource available and to fast track data collection. I came down to Melbourne personally to speak with Sheryl Garbutt to put the idea in a non political way. There was no fanfare, there was no TV cameras there while I did that, because I wanted to work with the Victorian Government in the interest of the industry and the workers and the communities that are dependant upon the industry.
And, ladies and gentlemen, I have to say with some regret that in spite of three letters from me to Ms Garbutt asking for a response and in spite of about five calls that my office has had with her office just to get a response, even if it is a no response, I still have not heard from the Victorian Government. No response to my offer of putting one and a half million dollars towards that.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I mentioned, the importance of the industry is not lost on the Commonwealth Government. It does, throughout Australia, provide some 86,400 direct jobs; it has a gross annual turnover of around $14 billion and is working to overcoming an annual trade deficit in forest and wood products of some $1.7 billion. And of course the industry is a significant driver of the economy in regional communities in Victoria.
But no one can reasonably expect the necessary investment in the long-term future of our forest industries unless there is a positive investment environment. And that, obviously is where governments, both at the State and Commonwealth level do come in and we have to put in place a framework that creates the environment where businesses feel confident in investing and developing our forest resources to the potential that I know they can achieve.
The Commonwealth Government is helping the forest industry to become even a greater contributor and we're working very much on that. And Greg has mentioned the package of both the Regional Forest Agreements and the Taxation Laws Amendment Act, which was to encourage investment into the plantation timber industry.
As well, we are working with the State agencies on the National Forest Inventory to have an authoritative source of information on all Australia's forest, monitoring, reporting and decision making purposes.
We also support the commercialisation of research outcomes and we have doubled funding to the Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation to match industry contributions dollar for dollar. And two new Cooperative Research Centres the CRC have also been established for forest products and more are under consideration.
These actions, along with broader initiatives, such as imposing national competition policy, reducing business taxation and other wide ranging reforms of the tax system, are I hope from a federal level creating the framework to support an internationally competitive and sustainably managed forest and wood products industry.
We want to, ladies and gentlemen, regularly speak with you and not only speak at you or to you, but we want to sit down with you and listen to what you have to say and to talk through any problems and solutions the industry might have. And that's why we do have regular meetings of the Forest and Wood Products Council. I am pleased to say that the next regular meeting of that Council which involves not only industry but science, education the unions others will happen here in Melbourne on Monday.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are aware of the Australian Forest Standard and its desire to work to achieve greater returns and advances in the industry in Australia. And of course I'll be working very hard to see compatibility of that with the Pan European Forest Standard.
Ladies and gentlemen, can I just pause here, I am almost finished and you have been very patient, but I just want to whilst talking about the Australian Forest Standard, take up something that Barry O'Shea said about dealing with the conservation movement. And I haven't given up with the AFS in trying to get the Australian conservation movement to look at ways of perhaps we can get the Forest Stewardship Council criteria involved. I know people think I am silly and naive and I accept that but it won't stop me trying, because if we can work with the green movement to try and get a better result for these standards then it is worth my while and the effort I've made. I have had some productive meetings with the WWF and the Australian Conservation Foundation.
[Some paragraphs omitted from departmental website]
If you ever have the time to really worry yourself have a look at some of the speeches [the Green Senators] have made. You will see it is very little about conservation but a a lot about ideology. And that's why the Howard Government will never be dealing with them. That's why I told or rather John Howard told Richard Court and we have told our colleagues in Victoria that trying to do deals with this group is not going to achieve anything. I think those warnings have been honoured here in Victoria and I understand the Greens are putting the Liberal and National parties last on their how to vote cards. And I hope those of my colleagues in all of the States understands the lessons of Western Australia, Tasmania and now Victoria.
Ladies and gentlemen, I do want to conclude by again saying that despite the turmoil that you are looking at and in spite of some of the difficulties you see in the short term future, I do think there is a future for the industry. There is a very good future for sustainable native forest harvesting in this state and this country. We have to work together to make sure that future happens. We have to think of better ways of doing more with less, we have to think of better ways we can use residual wood and plantation timber and we have to look at ways of more and better silviculture in state forests to help with the industry and to avoid job losses.
As you know there is talk around of large scale pulp mill investment in this country and I've spoken to a number of overseas investors who are looking at that so there is a future and it can be bright if it is given a bit of leadership from government levels. I certainly look forward to the continued partnership with the Australian forest industry, to overcome the challenges you currently face. I strongly indorse Greg McCormack's comments calling for a cohesive long-term national industry campaign to educate Australian's about the benefits of the national forest industry, one that does in fact have very clear and incontestable environmental advantages including energy efficiency in structural material.
I was delighted to see your advertisement. I have seen them before, I think they are just the sort of thing that is needed. They are not an aggressive advertisement, they're not overtly politically orientated and they do clearly tell Victoria that 75 per cent of their forest are in conservation reserve to care for habitat plants and animals and less than 1 per cnet is harvested annually and regrown for natural timber. I have said on many occasions and I repeat here that it is high time the forest industry promoted in a factual way the many positives benefits that sustainable forests and their products can bring to a community. You do have those sustainably managed forests, you have the industry participants, the employees, the communities who have proven they can adapt to change and succeed. And I certainly encourage all of you as representatives of the Victorian industry to show your support for a strong native forest industry in the immediate future by doing something at the polls on Saturday and in the longer term by more clearly and confidently promoting the many pluses of the forest industry.
Finally ladies and gentlemen, can I again thank VAFI and Graham and his staff for the assistance they have given to me and the Federal Government over the years. I want to pay particular credit to Greg again and his Board, to your CEO and the staff for the good work that they do do on your behalf and the support they give to forest industry in Australia.
Ladies and gentlemen thanks very much for having me here today
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