Published: 24 April 2017

The message to me has been clear and unequivocal. 

Major employers in the sawmilling industry in my electorate of Murchison fear job losses if the Government’s plan to unlock currently protected forest proceeds.

Major employers, Ta Ann and Britton Brothers, have indicated their opposition to this move by the Government. Genuine concern has been expressed that jobs are likely be put at risk.

Existing employees too have made it plain they fear job losses. 

I have recently been accused of following the dictates of the Salamanca set and voting against the wishes of my electors, so I’m doubly conscious of doing what’s best for my patch as I always seek to do. I am even happier if it coincides with the interests of all Tasmanians.

The timber industry is gradually gaining confidence after the collapse of Gunns and the last thing we need at this stage is for any more setbacks or risk to jobs.

Forest Industries Association of Tasmania who represent the majority of users of native forest timber reminded all Members that Premier Hodgman and Minister Rockliff gave assurances to Japanese customers that the six year agreement with environment groups not to supply timber from contentious areas would be honoured. This plan risks a breach of this agreement. For reasons known only to the Government, the Bill hasn’t proceed despite all briefings having concluded. 

We has also heard from Chair of Forestry Tasmania, Rob de Fedgely who said adequate volumes of timber exist in current production areas to meet contractual agreements. Under FT’s modelling, timber wouldn’t be needed from currently protected areas until at least 2027.

 Apart from some local craft industry users we don’t know whether the timber will be processed locally or exported in whole log form. Should we risk damage to the majority of the industry with significant risk to jobs in the broader timber industry? 

There is a real risk that logging the forests earlier than planned will jeopardise the industry in the future. Isn’t this the perennial problem that has dogged forestry over the years, harvesting forests for short term gain, a problem which most weary members of the public hoped was a thing of the past.

The possibility has been raised that Australian Sustainable Hardwoods who operate a major native timber processing facility in Victoria might relocate some activities to Tasmania because of difficulties in sourcing suitable product for its sawmills. However the proposal doesn’t relate to native forest timber. It concerns downstream processing of plantation timber,  a welcome boost to that increasingly active area of the economy.

Few people, least of all myself, wish to see a forest industry propped up by government. But to what extent is unlocking some timber for immediate logging just a temporary solution to the problem that an increasing proportion of public forests cost more to log than is received in revenue from existing sawmill contracts. 

I am unwilling to support a proposal that could see international markets damaged. This threat to local businesses comes as businesses are facing increasing challenges of imports from China of product already FSC certified. The risk this brings to employment and the real risk of job losses in my electorate is unacceptable.

The Government is yet to demonstrate how unlocking protected areas ahead of time will make our forest industry more sustainable in either the short medium or long term. 


10 February 2017

Hon Ruth Forrest

Independent Member for Murchison

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