Otways/OREN campaign destroyed the
Former Premier Steve Bracks cancelled West Regional Forest Agreement.
The demise of the West Regional Forest Agreement.
1. The RFA process.
The Regional Forest Agreements (or disagreement) (RFA) was a process that was meant to provide the final solution to the forest debate in Australia. The process was imposed on the community by both the State and Federal Governments over a five year period.
The RFA's are strongly supported by the forestry bureaucracies, native forest logging industry and forest unions in all States. These industry groups wanted the RFA’s to provide long term legislated ‘resource security'. This 'resource security' was to legally lock in guaranteed volumes of woodchips and sawlogs for at least 20 years from public native forests across Australia. Logging interests also wanted the legislation to stop more public forested land being made unavailable for clearfell logging due to ongoing community opposition and lobbying.
The bonus for the Commonwealth Government involvement in the RFA process was to free Federal politicians from the troublesome problem of setting export native forest woodchip licences each year, a process which in the 1990's always created a lot of controversy during an election year.
In Australia there were meant to be eleven RFA’s located in Victoria (5), NSW (4), Qld(1 never completed), WA(1) and Tasmania(1).
The West RFA which includes the Otway forests, was one of the last ones completed and signed by both the Federal and State governments on the 31st of March 2000. The West RFA included other forest areas near Portland and Daylesford.
The final part of the RFA process was for both the State and Federal governments to provide complementary RFA legislation to give them legal standing. The Federal Government did this but the Victorian State Government has not. Hence the five Victorian RFA's out of a total of ten completed Australia wide (half the total) have not been legislated at a State level as required by the RFA process. The State Governments that have provided complementary legislation are only in Tasmania, NSW. Huge community opposition to clearfell logging old growth forests in Western Australia in 1999 resulted in that RFA being amended and then ignored by the WA State Government.
2. West RFA process was destroyed by broad community participation.
The fact that the community stood up for their water supply by participating in the West RFA process was one of the key reasons the West RFA was later torn up by the Victorian State government only a few years after it was signed.
Every conservationist knew the RFA terms of reference were fundamentally flawed. The process prioritised continued logging over all other non-timber forest values. By the time the West RFA started, three RFA had already been signed in Victoria. In general peak environment groups (Wilderness Society, Australian Conservation Foundation, Environment Victoria etc) boycotted each RFA process in protest against the fact the RFA’s had a strong bias towards logging. For example in 1997 peak environment groups released a press release(pdf) that announced they were boycotting the Central Highlands RFA.
However by not participating in the RFA process, the peak environment groups boycott effectively gave the native forest logging industry a free arm to lobby the State and Federal governments to get most of what they wanted out of each RFA process.
The West RFA included State forest areas near Portland and Daylesford. During the West RFA process, OREN and GCF worked with other regional conservation groups including the Wombat Forest Society and Portland Field Naturalists and together set up a joint group called West Victorian Forest Protection Network (WVFPN), partly funded by a grant from the Commonwealth government. The WVFPN provided regional support to produce submissions, public meetings, track the RFA process and rally community opposition to the West RFA process across Western Victoria.
In response to growing community concern, Environment Minister Garbutt set up a West Victorian Independent Panel to review all RFA public submissions. A public presentation process occurred between 17 January and 3 March 2000, with a report made publicly available days after the West RFA was signed. The West Victorian Independent Panel recorded the fact there was significant public opposition to logging in the Otways before the West RFA was signed. (See report and extracts).
Further public opposition to the RFA was expressed on Saturday 4th March 2000 during a rally against the West RFA in Geelong at the Midway export woodchip mill. This rally was attended by hundreds of people who lived throughout Western Victoria.
On the eve of the RFA being signed, it was clear that the conflict over logging in the Otways was far from over. The RFA process had totally failed in its objective to resolve contentious forest the issues and provide woodchip resource security.
The media reported the federal and state bureaucracy that had overseen the RFA process was responsible for its failure by not providing an honest and transparent consultation process for the whole community. An article in the Geelong Advertiser by journalist Noel Murphy exposed the whole RFA process as a "fait accompli".
3. After the West RFA was signed and before it was cancelled
In signing the West RFA on the 31st March 2000, the State and Federal governments along with the native forest logging industry all foolishly thought that the debate would be over. However the Federal member for Corangamite, Stuart McArthur, a public supporter of clearfell logging the native forest in the Otways, summarised the on going problem to Federal Parliament.
For Mr McArthur, his focus was on the science of clearfell logging and growing tree crops in 60 to 80 year rotations for woodchips. However the science regarding the impact these regrowth trees(after logging) have on reducing water yields from Otways water supply catchments to Geelong and Warrnambool had not been determined.
Hence, Mr Arthur was correct, OREN would not accept the scientific basis of the RFA when hydrology scientific research was yet to be conducted, something the RFA itself acknowledged needed to be done. (See issues regarding clause 61).
However, the State and Federal Governments were in a rush to sign off the RFA's based on the need to comply with Federal export woodchip laws rather than ensure water security from Geelong.
The Federal Government which Mr McArthur represented, had passed legislation to prohibit the export of native forest woodchips from areas not covered by an RFA. A legal Commonwealth deadline loomed for which Otways woodchips could not be exported if an RFA was not in place. Hence, the priority was to get the West RFA signed so Otways native forest woodchips could continue to be legally exported. Waiting for scientific hydrology research modelling to be completed was obviously not a priority for Mr McArthur or the rest of the former Howard Federal Government.
3.1 Water issues undermined West RFA credibility.
The bias towards logging for woodchips rather than protecting forested water supplies was raised by the RFA Independent Panel.
Over the next twelve months, hydrology research was conducted and showed that significant amount of water was being lost due to clearfell logging . The State Government tried and failed to dismiss this issue.
For more detail on the RFA and water issues, see "Regional Forest Agreement process excluded water users".
3.2 The community rejected the RFA process.
The RFA had failed to resolve key contentious issue surrounding Otway native forest logging practices in the lead up to the November 2002 State election. This failure is supported by the following facts and events:
3.3 Native forest woodchip industry failed to get RFA's legislated
3.4 VAFI 2002 pre-election campaign acknowledges RFA's under threat.
3.5 OREN challenges VAFI
The VAFI campaign was challenged by OREN.
Calendar sales money was then used to fund a radio (listen) and print advertising campaign in the Geelong region in lead up to the 2002 election.
OREN made it clear to both the ALP and Liberal MP's in the Geelong region, that OREN on behalf of the community would campaign against them if they did not tear up the RFA.
4. The 2002 Victorian State election
The announcement was strongly endorsed by OREN and the community. Read 2002 media statements.
Bracks knew public opposition to logging in the Otways was very strong and was confident enough to announce the Otway policy early in the 2002 election campaign.
The other political parties and native forest woodchip industry had about three weeks to respond to the Bracks Otways re-election policy. The Liberals and native forest woodchippers argued strongly for legislating all the Victorian RFA's and threw everything they had at the Government to try and influence voters.
4.1 RFA support split major parties during 2002 Victorian State election.
The Bracks Government decision to cancel the West RFA was based on the fact that the whole community had participated in the process and successfully exposed it as a dishonest public relations exercise that only focused on clearfell logging for woodchips and a few sawlogs but ignored non-timber forest values such as tourism, water and nature conservation.
This community sentiment was used by Premier Bracks to fundamentally justify the new ALP Otway policy position.
“We have listened to the community and we will now act on behalf of future generations to save the Otways,” Mr Bracks said. Front page, Geelong Advertiser, 7 November 2002.
Hence the ALP and Liberals forest policies were in stark contrast. The ALP wanted logging stopped, the Liberal Party supported logging the Otways under the Regional Forest Agreement. See Liberals 2002 Victorian forest policy.
Also see Labor forest policy a watershed The Age, 21st November 2002.
4.2 Liberals were electorally punished for their RFA support.
The first Saturday after the ALP Otway policy announcement, the Geelong Advertiser editorial opinion (9/11/2007) supported the Bracks ALP Otway policy and criticised the Liberals for being in a "deep sleep" in relation to community concerns.
On the actual polling day, the Liberal Party’s Geelong team was decimated. It failed to win in every local seat; including the loss of two Lower House seats (Bellarine & South Barwon) and one upper house seat it previously held.
OREN ran advertising on radio and print media, attacking the Liberals for wanting to legislate logging in the Otways water supply catchments.
An OREN opinion article was published in the Geelong Advertiser (28 Nov 2002) and summarises why the Regional Forest Agreement was political poison to all those who supported it.
During and after the election, Geelong Liberals admitted their support for Otway logging under the Regional Forest Agreement politically sank them. See Liberals support Otway logging ban.
The native forest logging industry continued to lobby the State Liberal Party to support legislation for all five Victorian RFA’s. However this was exposed again by OREN in the 2006 State election. Read more.
4.3 Logging industry advertised Regional Forest Agreement demise.
4.4 Logging industry anti Otway election campaign(2002) focused on Morwell, not Geelong.
Officials from the forestry union were furious with the ALP and campaigned to undermine the re-election of the Bracks government. Two forestry union officials were so angry with the Bracks government decision, one resigned from the ALP and both threatened to stand as an independent against ALP candidate in the seat of Geelong.
However these union officials knew they would be wasting their time. Despite all the grandstanding, neither of them stood in Geelong.
The Bracks Otway policy was overwhelmingly popular and the logging industry advertising and media campaign in Geelong was reminding the community to vote for the ALP to stop Otway native forest from being woodchipped.
The industry groups and Forestry Union conceded defeat in the Otway during the State election campaign and instead began a defensive containment campaign. This containment campaign was designed to send a warning to the State government to not repeat what was happening to the Otways in eastern Victorian forests.
Thus the safe ALP seat of Morwell (Latrobe Valley) in Eastern Victoria was targeted by the union who stood their own independent candidate.
Within the electorate of Morwell there is a strong pro-logging community centred around the Australian Paper Pulp mill and its associated native forest logging industry. An anti-Otways campaign in Morwell had a better chance of applying some political leverage over the State Government to not extend its Otways policies to other areas. Of particular concern to the loggers is a possible future ban on logging in the Melbourne State forest water supply catchments, a ban similar to what had effectively been announced for the Otways.
A "lavish" advertising campaign played out in the Latrobe valley during the last two weeks of 2002 Victorian State election campaign and was heralded as a successfully warning by the native forest logging industry.
5. OREN / Otways campaign a “Watershed”. Loggers pay tribute to OREN.
The OREN / Otways campaign impacted half (50%) of all the RFA's signed in Australia. Of the ten RFA's that have been signed, five are in Victoria. Of these, the West RFA was cancelled outright and the other four Victorian RFA have not received the complementary legislation from the State Government that would lock them in.
The National Association of Forest Industries(NAFI) newsletter (27 November 2002) acknowledged that the Victorian State government had walked away from the five Victorian RFA's.
Government decisions on the Otways and Goolongook forests are in breach of the harvesting zones agreed to in a series of State Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs). Download NAFI newsletter.
Similarly at the same time, the Federal Liberal Forestry Minister publicly acknowledged the demise of all five of the Victoria RFA's in 2002. At a VAFI dinner the Federal Forestry minister gave the following speech that warned the Victorian State government was fundamentally not meeting its RFA commitments.
Hence the OREN / Otways campaign has been recognised as a “watershed” by both academics and the native forest logging industry in turning around the march to native forest 'resource security' through the Regional Forest Agreement process.According to Wikipedia, 'watershed' is defined in this context as “Any moment or event separating two distinct periods of time, a momentous event that alters the course of time.”
See Labor forest policy a watershed, The Age, 21st November 2002.
In what can only be described as a 'tribute', a report prepared for the Victorian Association of Forest Industries in March 2006 by Allen Consulting titled “Victoria's Forest Industries, An Economic Impact Assessment”, reported that the native forest logging industry regards the Otways campaign outcome as a “watershed” that had a sever impact on State wide native forest logging industry.
In conclusion, the following Hansard from 2004 articulates the fact that the legislated RFA resource security agenda being pushed by native forest woodchip companies in Victoria was crushed largely thanks to the Otways campaign.
Victorian Parliament Hansard, 5 October
2004, Page 593
Mr RYAN (Leader of The Nationals) -- My question is to the Premier. Is the government going to honour the remaining regional forest agreements in Victoria, or is it going to destroy the timber industry, just as Mark Latham proposes to destroy it in Tasmania?
Mr BRACKS (Premier) -- I thank the Leader of The Nationals for his question. I indicate to this house that the policy referred to by the Leader of The Nationals -- the policy announced by the Leader of the federal Labor Party, Mark Latham, when he said he would have a scientific examination of the future of the regional forest agreement and a significant compensation package -- is something that I support.
I indicate to the Leader of The Nationals that when we came to office we had an unsustainable position in our forests whereby there were contracts signed up for timber which was not there. We had to face up to the science and to what was there to provide for those contracts. As a consequence we had to reduce logging in Victoria by some 30 per cent across the board. We have done that with Our Forests Our Future. We have raised compensation of about $80 million for communities, for workers in the industry and for companies in the industry, and that compensation has been completed -- and completed successfully. We now have a much more honest, open and transparent system in our forests here in Victoria. We took action to cancel one of our regional forest agreements here in Victoria, which I committed to at the last election when I committed to creating a new national park in the Otway Ranges. We know the National Party is opposed to the new national park; we think the Liberal Party is opposed to it.
Mr Ryan -- On a point of order, Speaker, the Premier is debating the question. He should at least say that he is after the Greens preferences, just like Mark Latham is in Tasmania!
The SPEAKER -- Order! I believe the Leader of The Nationals is debating the issue! The Premier, to continue.
Mr BRACKS -- In relation to the regional forest agreements, we cancelled
the agreement associated with the Otway National Park, and we are proceeding
with the national park through a reference to the Victorian Environmental
Assessment Committee. It is interesting to note that we know the National
Party is opposed to that national park but we are not sure about the Liberal
Party. What we do know is that the local federal member for Corangamite,
who said he was opposed to the national park, is now running at 250 miles
an hour to say he is in favour of it! It is interesting to see how he
wants to get on board with a good environmental policy from our government.
We know where the National Party stands: it is opposed to it, and we know
it has a different view to us. We are not sure where the Liberal Party
is, but we are committed to a much better, transparent process in our
forests and committed to a new national park for the Otway Ranges.
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