Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Forestry Statement of Principles

E&OE Transcript
Press Conference
23 June 2011

BURKE: Thanks very much. I simply wanted to bring everybody up to date on the announcement that has come out of Tasmania as a result of signatures being put on an agreement last night.

Most of you would be aware that for about a year now there has been a process going on in Tasmania where for the first time a whole lot of groups that for generations have not even been willing to be in the same room as each other let alone sit at the same table have actually sat down and said how can we find a sustainable future for forestry in Tasmania. How can we combine the good environmental outcome with a long term good outcome for jobs in Tasmania.

Critical to all of this and what has been part of initiating it has been the decision by Gunns to get out of native forestry and that is what first brought these various groups to the table.

Last year they presented both the Australian Government and the Tasmanian Government with the Statement of Principles and asked if we could help facilitate turning these principles into a full agreement.

I then stood up with the then Tasmanian Premier and jointly we appointed Mr Bill Kelty to work with the parties and try to get the very high level principles in the Statement of Principles down to a more detailed agreement across the parties. They have been meeting and meeting and meeting. Last night, finally, they brokered an agreement.

The agreement has been signed by the Australian Conservation Foundation, Environment Tasmania, the CFMEU, the principle forestry body in Tasmania FIAT, NAFI as the national forestry body, the country saw millers and the Tasmanian forest contractors all agreeing to the same set of words to put to Government a long term future for conservation in Tasmania, a long term future for jobs in Tasmania.

Our job now is to work through that so I'm not going to be able, given this has been presented to us today from an agreement that has been through a long process that was signed last night, I'm not going to be able to give you immediately a Government response.

But I do want to say that where we have gotten to already is historic. Most people were wondering whether or not it was possible to get any sort of discussion going between these groups. We now have a formalised agreement with some ambition in there for conservation outcomes people never would have thought possible and also a real commitment to a future for jobs in Tasmania. This has not been a political agreement, it has very much come from the parties who are involved at the table.

We as a Government now need to work through whether or not we can turn this agreement into something that works for conservation and jobs in Tasmania.

QUESTION: Minister what do you understand this agreement to be?

BURKE: Effectively, as you go through it, what you have is some specific numbers for ongoing wood supply that's required for jobs. You have commitments there for what would need to be done to make the plantation resource a fully viable alternative to the current native forestry resource. You then also have specific numbers of hectares being proposed for conservation outcomes that previously never would have been thought possible.

The agreement at the same time acknowledges the issues that they don't agree on. It acknowledges that there is not universal agreement about the pulp mill and ultimately there will be commercial decisions that decide the future of the pulp mill. So it's upfront about where the disagreements are but it also provides, for the first time, a joint road map that does have a future for jobs and some extraordinary conservation outcomes.

QUESTION: Do you support the agreement?

BURKE: In terms of what the parties have done, it's historic and we're very happy to have been directly involved in appointing Bill Kelty who was acknowledged in the agreement for his role in facilitating and making that possible. So we've done that jointly with the Tasmanian Government and I'm glad that we've done that because we now have a document we can work from to see whether or not we have something that can be brought to life for the Tasmanian community.

We'll now work through it and I don't want to prejudge something that's only just been handed to me but I don't want to underestimate the extent to which we have something, think back thirty years ago, think back to the conflict over the Franklin, think back to the conflicts we've seen on the TV screens where the main images of Tasmanian forests have been situations of absolute conflict then look at the parties who have all signed on together. This is historic, we now want to see if we can bring it to reality.

QUESTION: Has the industry caved in here?

BURKE: You need to remember that it was an industry decision that has driven this from the outset. It was the decision by Gunns that created the opportunity for a different way of approaching wood supply. Gunns made two decisions, one that they wanted to get out of native forestry and secondly, when I was going through the approvals process for the pulp mill itself Gunns requested that I put in a condition that the pulp mill would only be able to use plantation timber. Now those two decisions have changed the framework for what the future can be for long-term job creation in Tasmania. That framework has caused the parties to sit around the table and say ok the market has changed, how can we respond to that. They've got this far, I don't want to pretend the process is all over yet. As a Government now we've got to see how we can respond to the Tasmanian community.

QUESTION: inaudible

BURKE: Well the first thing we'll do is read the document and work through a response. I'm not going to set arbitrary deadlines on this but obviously whatever the future is you want to be able to provide certainty for those communities in Tasmania. You want people to know what the path ahead is and you want people who are as concerned about jobs as they are about the preservation of some majestic forests. To be able to know whether or not there is a way of bringing this into reality, that's the job now.

QUESTION: What compensation will there be for workers?

BURKE: I think you're getting way ahead, this is the sort of work that we now have to work through with the agreement. I don't want to get ahead on those sorts of principles.

QUESTION: Now that the plan is in your hands and the state Government's hands can you guarantee that (inaudible)?

BURKE: The guarantee that I'll give is that I will do my best to try to find a way to turn the principles that they have now turned into an agreement into something that can work for the Tasmanian community. Tasmanian community has a lot riding on this. Their community has historically had forestry as a very large part of it. There are communities where inter-generationally native forestry has been the entire basis of employment. We need to work with those communities in dealing with the document that is in front of us. So let's have the chance to work with the principles that are in front of us but make clear that we want to achieve the outcome that started this and that is a solid outcome for both jobs and conservation in Tasmania.

QUESTION: Can you say yet how the Federal Government will contribute to this? Have you already agreed to funding?

BURKE: This document has been produced by the parties, our role was in providing Bill Kelty as a facilitator. When I say we'll now work through it to come up with a response that's exactly what we'll do.

QUESTION: The initial cost estimate says it will be $100 million in the first year and up to $500 million in the long term. Do you have any idea how much it will cost?

BURKE: The cost estimates that you refer to are certainly not the ones being worked through by Government because we've only just initiated that process on a document that has been given to us today.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about a backlash similar to the one Mark Latham had?

BURKE: You need to remember this did not begin with a political decision. This began with changes in the market, with changes in the export value of woodchip and changes in the future decisions that Gunns undertook. That then caused parties who had never worked together to work together for the first time. There is no precedent for what is in front of us today. There has been no other occasion when you have a joint position from Environment Tasmania, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the forestry industry. We can't underestimate how historic this is. What we now need to work out is how can we make this work for the Tasmanian community.

QUESTION: Sorry just back on the timeline, some green groups were concerned with the time it was taking with negotiations itself. So you can't give them any certainty about when the plan will be enforced?

BURKE: Not on the day that the document has been handed to us.

QUESTION: A certain year?

BURKE: We'll work through this as quickly as we can, we want to be able to provide certainty for those communities, we want to be able to provide the sorts of outcomes that people are hoping for but in terms of due diligence we can't announce a response the day a document has been handed to us.

QUESTION: Is it too late for the Wilderness Society (inaudible)?

BURKE: That's a decision for the Wilderness Society, there is no doubt there is a conservation outcome inherent in this decision that I would imagine most environmental organisations would want to be part of. But that is a matter for them.