Legislative Council Wednesday 24 May 2017
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, it will come as no surprise to anybody that I am not going to support this bill. I have been consistent since this bill was tabled. As soon as it was tabled in the other place, I made it my business to contact the key employers in my electorate involved in the forest industry.
I support a sustainable forest industry. I always have and I always will. Any suggestions that I do not are false and disingenuous. In my election campaign there were a number of comments that said I was a 'green', that I wanted to destroy the industry, that I did not support it and I did not care about the jobs associated with this industry in my electorate. They are lies. I care more about the jobs in this electorate than I believe others did.
When I consulted it was made clear by major employers in this sector that this would damage jobs in my electorate. For me, this is about jobs. This is about the future and it is about jobs in the timber industry. As other members have alluded to it is also about jobs in tourism and in other industries that flow off the back of the image Tasmania tries to maintain of being clean, green and innovative in many ways. I care about the employment in my region. My region has taken some significant hits of late. The most recent news from Murray Goulburn is another example of that. I do care about jobs in my region and I suggest I care more about the jobs in my region than the minister does. I do not know who he has been talking to up there.
I took the advice of those major employers and considered the views of others who have expressed concern, such as the special species timber industry. There are members of my community in my electorate who are very active in this space and I accept and acknowledge, as FIAT do, that there are issues with the special species timber access. I had a meeting with the minister yesterday about this. If the Government and the minister were serious about this, they would not be bringing legislation forward that potentially undermines the whole industry. They would be bringing in legislation to deal with the challenges facing the small sawmillers we have heard from and our special species timber sector, where there are issues, yes. Opening up this area like this now will not fix their problems.
The member for Western Tiers, who unfortunately has left the Chamber, commented about the specialty log processor at Elizabeth Town not being provided with any additional access as a result of this bill. That is not true. They have had this access since October. It is already in the act. No new areas are provided to special species timber access. He said that the big mills do not want sawmills around. That is simply not true. It is not a 'them or us' thing. As the member for Western Tiers said, if you focus on one section of the industry at the expense of the other - and he was suggesting that if you focus on the big timber industry players, the big sawmillers and the bigger operators, you do so at the expense of the smaller ones. If you turn that around and say you focus on small sawmillers and the special species timber sector, which is smaller than the bigger producers, you do not think it applies. You undermine and take down the whole big end of the industry. The special species timber sector is an important sector. It does employ a significant number of people. But we have to put it in context too. For example, last year Forestry Tasmania's production was 1.5 million tonnes. The special species timber sector was 10 000 tonnes. Blackwood was 90 per cent of that. Virtually all the blackwood comes from Murchison. The operators using the blackwood in that area do not want this legislation. The special species timber sector represents one-tenth of 1 per cent of the industry.
Yes, they are important. People employed in that sector are important. There are people in my electorate in that sector who are employed and are important. But we cannot afford to risk the rest of the industry when we can, if the minister was serious, address the issues facing the special species timber directly and specifically. That is what I call on them to do. To side with one sector, whether it is the smaller sawmills and special species timber sector or the large sawmillers and operators in the industry, potentially does so at the expense of the other. Do not pit one against the other.
This legislation does not pass the commonsense test in many ways, because it would actually set up a process where small processors have to compete for that wood with Forestry Tasmania. That does not make sense either, at the same time to put at risk the broader forest industry. Why would we do that? The member for Western Tiers also suggested I supported ongoing and continuing subsidies to Forestry Tasmania relying on some comments during my election campaign. These were fuelled by an inaccurate media release that came from my opponent which made false claims about me. Then The Advocate, in its wisdom, misrepresented what I had said about the subsidies to Forestry Tasmania.
I did correct that via social media. That is the easiest way to get the message out there. They suddenly realise that perhaps they should have talked to me properly first and had the story. I said it was clear that when the former government was in power, FT either had to run at a massive loss or be subsidised. Provision was made in the forward Estimates to subsidise Forestry Tasmania. The new Government comes in, stops all the subsidies and Forestry Tasmania will stand on its own two feet. They pretended to remove the subsidies. I said I believe the subsidies must stop to Forestry Tasmania. It must stand on its own two feet, but it clearly is not. The Government's dishonesty is breathtaking in this regard, saying it is not subsiding Forestry Tasmania. If you channel money via the back door to Forestry Tasmania from TasNetworks, that is a subsidy. If you sell hardwood plantations earmarked for the future for a fraction of the government grants used to establish them, that is a subsidy. If you borrow from the future by venturing into forest set aside for our children just because harvest costs are lower because of geographic location or whatever, that is still a subsidy. Do not tell me we are not subsiding Forestry Tasmania - we are. We are just not doing it by one transfer of money from here to there in the budget papers.
I cannot understand why the Government wants to pick another bunfight when I am hearing very strongly from my electorate they have had enough of this, as the member for Rosevears was alluding to. We do not want to fight anymore; we want to get on. We want to have a sustainable forest industry. Forestry Tasmania said it is not going into this area anyway and it will all be up to other contractors. Forestry Tasmania told us quite clearly in the briefing that it does not need the timber in terms of volume. We had a briefing today from a smaller sawmiller in Westbury. When someone asked them whether they had approached Forestry Tasmania for the timber resource, they said they had but were required to pay $10 000. That is a bank guarantee they have to pay. The big sawmills pay much more than $10 000. It is up in the millions. That is the way it is, rightly or wrongly. They said Forestry Tasmania wanted them to take five B-doubles a week. That says to me there is not a problem with supply. If Forestry Tasmania could offer that, provided the customer could pay for it, it tells me we do not, at this stage, need to go into additional areas.
Mr Valentine - They said they have enough to supply the 137 000 cubic metres.
Ms FORREST - Forestry Tasmania said it in the briefing in terms of volume. The economics of it are a challenge.
Mr Valentine - That is why it is five B-doubles because it is cheaper.
Ms FORREST - So they say. We did hear it was cheaper to go in a semi than a B-double but that is something I do not understand.
Mr President, I started out in my contribution talking about the views of the major employers. I will read one letter that came on 4 April this year from Ta Ann Tasmania, a major employer in my electorate. It says -
You will be aware of the concerns that our company has to ensure the long term sustainability of our investment in value adding to the Tasmanian timber resource. We employ significant numbers of employees and through our contractors and services purchases employ many more local families in the Circular Head region. We are significant exporters of products through the Hobart and Burnie ports and add significant wealth to the local economy.
While we have always supported State government policy to protect and build the forestry sector, the current legislation poses significant risk to our business. We have been assured that the 'pedigree of our wood supply contract with Forestry Tasmania would be maintained' and this has been helpful in gradually rebuilding market confidence.
As members of FIAT we have worked hard to support a constructive approach to Forestry Tasmania's challenges that arise principally because they do not have access to markets or infrastructure that allows them to profitably market hardwood native forest pulpwood from the southern region of Tasmania. Forestry Tasmania needs FSC certification -
I know that some members question the value of that but the customers of Ta Ann demand it. I know they are facing ever-increasing threats of cheaper imports from China that are FSC-certified. It is a serious risk. Back to their letter -
Forestry Tasmania needs FSC certification for native hardwood timber products if it is to succeed in international markets.
You cannot deny that is what the markets are asking for -
We support the FIAT position to work constructively with the State government to solve problems with the so-called 'uneconomical harvesting coupes'. We will not breach our Wood Supply Agreement that stipulates that we are to be supplied with logs from State Forest areas in the PWPZ.
We support the FIAT position outlined to Legislative Council members on the current Forestry legislation and urge you to support the long term future of our investment in value-adding in Tasmania.
Yours sincerely, Robert Young, General Manager.
It is very clear. There was no ambiguity in that letter. This became another big issue. Forestry was one of the key things in my election campaign. I wanted to focus on things such as education and health and infrastructure. No, we had to go back down the old forestry fight path again. I had to go back and think about the basis for my well-formed decisions on my stance on this legislation. I was reminded that back in 2014, the Premier and the Deputy Premier visited Japan on a trade mission. They met with Japanese customers. They assured them that for the foreseeable future these areas would not be gone into, and the Japanese customers could be assured these contentious areas would not be part of Tasmania's forestry operations.
Ta Ann told me that they have told their Japanese customers that even if it was opened up, they would not take timber from it. They said, 'We do not care about that, it is the image. If the fight starts again, we do not want to be part of it'. I do not want to put all those jobs at risk. I will not put all those jobs at risk. I cannot understand why the Government seems willing to.
We could go back over those again and have the same debate. I am not going to do that. I want to focus my attention on the current approach being taken by the Government. I cannot see any justification. There are some challenges in sectors of the industry and they need to be addressed. This is not the way to address them. You potentially take down a whole industry with you if you go about it the wrong way. The Government should work with the special species timber sector and the smaller sawmillers to assist them in maintaining a viable, sustainable industry. It can be done; it should be done. This is not the way.
I encourage other members not to support this legislation. It is fraught; it could be potentially harmful. If it is supported and we end up losing a lot more forestry jobs in my electorate, I will be very sad. It is going to be a really difficult time for that community if that should happen. I do not want to see it happen. I know that I will have done everything I could have done to prevent it.