The government has fallen in line with industry spin on Regional Forest Agreements

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

I also rise to speak to the motion that the Senate take note of the Australian and Tasmanian Government Response to the Review of the Implementation of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement for the Period 2007-2012. We have had regional forest agreements for almost 20 years. The very first of them, the East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement, is due to expire in February next year. This Tasmanian one is due to expire soon after, later next year.

It is clear that regional forest agreements have failed to do what they aimed to do, which was to implement what we were told would be ecologically sustainable management and to maintain jobs in the industry. The reviews that have been done of regional forest agreements over the years have laid this bare. They have laid out clearly for all to see that regional forest agreements have not fulfilled their purposes. In particular, I read the independent reviewer's report on the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement's last five years. Although his recommendations were lily-livered, weak and weasel worded, you only had to read between the lines to see where those failures were. In particular, it went to the heart of whether it was possible to have intensive industrial scale clear-fell logging of our precious native forests and call it ecologically sustainable forest management. It was very clear that this independent reviewer was saying that even after almost 20 years we still do not have the monitoring in place and we still do not know what the impacts, overall, on forest species are going to be. In fact, he went further than that. He said not only do we still not know what the impacts of the logging industry are on threatened species and our precious natural forests but that the monitoring regime is actually likely to get worse over the coming years. This is the reality of what the current logging industry is doing to our forests.
We had what was clearly a politically correct report from the reviewer. It said let us improve some things and get the monitoring right. For example, one of his recommendations was that the state builds on its existing monitoring framework to develop a long-term forest condition monitoring system across all forest tenures to assess changes in ecosystem health and vitality—'to develop', mind you! We have had 20 years of the attacks on our forest and 20 years of threatened species becoming more and more threatened, and yet only now are we saying, 'Let's develop a monitoring system so we can really see what the impact of that logging is going to be.' We know what the impact of the current logging processes is. We can see what is happening to threatened species, with swift parrots going from threatened to endangered to critically endangered and with the giant Tasmanian crayfish on the verge of becoming endangered as well. Yet the government's response to this—to finally, after 20 years, put in place a long-term monitoring system to see what is happening—is the state agrees to consider implementing a statewide forest monitoring information system!
The regional forest agreements are not going to protect our forests. They are not going to protect our wonderful forest wildlife. If we have the continuation of the regional forest agreements, we are going to see animals like swift parrots in Tasmania going extinct. We are going to see animals like Leadbeater's possums in Victoria—which has gone from being threatened to endangered to critically endangered—go extinct. This is the reality of industrial scale intensive damaging logging in our forests. It is very clear that we need to say that the regional forest agreements are now something of the past. Let us put them away. That is how we used to do wood production in the past. We need to move on to producing wood in a way which is consistent with sustainability of our forests, and that is to use plantations to get the bulk of our forest products.
Senator Macdonald claims that the timber industry has shrunk compared to what it used to be, but the reality is there has been a shift and we now have 85 per cent of the wood products that come out of Australia coming from plantations. We know that to protect our forests and to protect jobs, we have to make that 100 per cent. We can do that. We can have a thriving wood products industry in Australia but not one which is based on native forests. We can protect our forests, protect jobs and produce wood. To do that is just a matter of moving forward into the ways of the future rather than the ways of the past.