Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Tasmanian forestry - Forestry Statement of Principles

E&OE Transcript
Press conference Hobart, Tasmania
22 July 2011

BURKE: Thanks very much for coming out. Nothing to announce yet but I thought it was important, given that I'm here, that I have an opportunity to tell you where things are up to.

For more than a year now people have been meeting to try to look at the challenges that are faced by native forestry in Tasmania and see how we can move forward to a strong future for jobs, a strong future for communities and to work out what conservation benefits might come on the way through for that.

That was then turned into a formal process with Bill Kelty which was announced jointly by the then Premier and myself in December of last year.

We are now at a stage where the parties themselves have reached an agreement and it is the case of can we as governments, both the national Government and the Tasmanian Government take what the community has put together and make it work on the ground.

The reason that I'm here now, that Bill Kelty is here, is that we are at the point now of saying, we've been talking for long enough, lets try to turn this into a formalised agreement and provide the certainty that communities have been wanting. Now those meetings are happening, they commenced last night, they are happening through the course of today.

The intention is that we are here for the purpose of resolving the issue and providing some of the certainty that communities have been wanting for some time now.

REPORTER: How far away is this?

BURKE: I'm hopeful that we are not too far away. The basis of everything is the Statement of Principles so the discussions are not to recreate from scratch the negotiations. The discussions, from a Commonwealth perspective are how can we make the Statement of Principles work.

REPORTER: So you're not specifically here to discuss money?

BURKE: I'm not sure you can make the Statement of Principles work without a Commonwealth contribution but you've also got to recognise that its not only about money. There's significant issues here on wood supply, significant issues on the diversification and economic opportunities generally. It's not simply an issue about dollars but obviously a discussion of that part of it is part of making it work.

REPORTER: Is there any particular amount that the Federal Government has in mind that it can spend?

BURKE: Like any Government, the Tasmanian Government is no different, we're not in a situation of being able to provide blank cheques but we're in a situation of wanting to be helpful and wanting to find a way to make this work.

As you all know as Tasmanians, we have generations of families that have always worked in this industry where in the last few months they have faced challenges with employment that they haven't known before. There are very real challenges going on and we want to find a way that we can have a strong future for these communities in the new environment.

REPORTER: Are you hopeful of having an outcome later today?

BURKE: I'm hopeful of reaching an outcome as soon as we can. I would be surprised if we resolved during the course of today. I don't think I'll be back with a further report in the course of today but certainly we've come here with the purpose of resolving this.

REPORTER: So you'll be staying here tonight?

BURKE: I'm still here tomorrow.

REPORTER: Can you indicate what the sticking points are or why an agreement hasn't already been reached from the meetings earlier this morning?

BURKE: There's a lot of detail in this, there's a lot of different components to it. Some of them go specifically to issues that relate to native forestry, some go to plantation, others go to general diversification of the economy, you've then got environmental outcomes and you've then got the role of actually paying for the management of environmental outcomes, they're not free either.

So there's a whole series of issues, I think if we'd somehow reached an agreement this morning people would have questioned, quite rightly, whether we'd spent enough time going through all the detail that is required here. There's a lot at stake, we want to make sure works.

REPORTER: Were you confident that the state government was going to accept your first offer?

BURKE: There's been discussions going back and forth and I have rarely known a discussion between Governments where on the first letter in each direction you get a resolution. That's not a surprise, that's part of the scoping out of where are the areas where each government feels are their no-go zone areas, where are the areas where you think there is room for breakthroughs. Everybody here in the discussions is here with the same intention and the Tasmanian Government has the same intention too. These communities have been through a boom and bust cycle for a long time, we want to give them some certainty and try to get a good outcome for the Tasmanian economy

REPORTER: Compensation for Gunns, is that factoring in to these negotiations?

BURKE: There are some issues that result from specific contracts or relationships between the Tasmanian Government or between Forestry Tasmania and companies such as Gunns. Obviously, we're not parties to those direct negotiations but they do set some of context of discussions.

REPORTER: So a package wouldn't stipulate who it should go to?

BURKE: I don't want to give, and its not that I'm trying to dodge it but I don't want to jeopardise the goodwill of the discussions we're having by giving you a blow by blow description as we try to reach an agreement. We're here for the purposes of reaching an agreement.

REPORTER: It just seems to be something that comes up again and again and obviously is a sticking point, so do you think it would be something in the package?

BURKE: To be fair, I think every element of this comes up again and again. Communities want us to find a way of resolving a series of these questions that have been around for a very long time. People have a right to some certainty for their job outcomes, some certainty for their futures and if there is to be, as a result of some changes that have happened from international buyers, if there are to be some significant adjustments within industry then we want to help people through that.

REPORTER: Bryan Greene described this as crunch time in terms of reaching something soon, how would you describe it? Is there pressure to reach an agreement?

BURKE: The pressure that we all feel is the pressure that we see from Tasmanian communities. These are people who have done nothing wrong, they have just been doing their jobs, there has been significant changes around them and they are facing a really difficult situation. That's the critical pressure that caused people to sit around a table 12 months ago and eventually come to an agreement and they are now saying to Governments, they want us to show the same level of goodwill in our discussions with each other that they showed around their table.

REPORTER: It might be a pretty obvious question but what does a package have to achieve?

BURKE: It has to be different to what we've dealt with in the past and I think people are sick of seeing politicians offer some sort of package where, here is some money to trade jobs for trees or something like that.

People want a lasting outcome for employment and there is an opportunity for a significant conservation outcome at the same time in a way that actually works for communities. But we've got to be careful and we've got to get it right. Part of that is just respecting the nature of the discussion between Governments at the moment.

REPORTER: Minister, the State Government expressed some disappointment when it heard tourism entrepreneurs Jan Cameron and Graeme Wood had bought Gunn's Triabunna woodchip mill. Does the Federal Government share that disappointment or are you quite happy with that sale?

BURKE: It's a commercial transaction, there's been a series of different comments that I've heard from stakeholders. I'm in the role of trying to hold a whole series of different views together and some of those different views go a different way on that particular commercial transaction. Its something that I've been a long way from any part of that discussion so I'm just not going to venture there.

REPORTER: Have you met with the owners of Triabunna or their representatives?

BURKE: I met with one of their representatives this morning. So we had one discussion this morning and I made clear from a Commonwealth perspective that any engagement we had was in the context of the Statement of Principles and the Bill Kelty process.

REPORTER: You must think Triabunna is pretty integral to the whole thing.

BURKE: Anyone who knows anything about the economics of forestry in this state, the importance of Triabunna is clear. It was important at our end to be able to make clear that we don't want to see, after all the work that has been done with the Statement of Principles to suddenly go into some new round of ambit. Our view is that the Statement of Principles forms the basis of any engagement from the Commonwealth.

REPORTER: Are you confident that all the parties who signed the Statement of Principles are going to stick by it?

BURKE: Yeah I am. I don't think you could find a more disparate group reaching an agreement anywhere in Australia. It's a credit to them that they did that. None of them had to, they could have walked away at any point, some of them as you know did walk away. But the goodwill has been impressive and if we can build on that then generations can actually be resolved with a path forward that isn't a trade off that creates further problems for this economy.

REPORTER: The state is quite cash strapped, is it going to be a matter of the Commonwealth funding this 100%?

BURKE: I don't want to get into the situation where we view this as simply as a financial transaction because there's a lot more to it.

There's a series of issues around it that go to forest management, that go to the industry itself, that go to what would be your verification principles on wood supply or your verification principles on what is high conservation value. Those issues are just as critical as anything about dollars. No one comes with a blank cheque from any Government, you've got to work your way through but we are here with the goodwill to try and resolve this.

REPORTER: The Forest Industries Association suggested the forest peace deal with fall over if it isn't kept open until 2027, will you be urging the new owners of the mill to keep it open until at least that long?

BURKE: I was very clear with my conversations with the people from Triabunna today and that was that our expectations are that the Statement of Principles is the foundation that everything works from. Anything that would be seen as outside the Statement of Principles is something that we don't have an interest in engaging with. They stated that that was their view.

REPORTER: Is it fair to say that the Federal Government only wants to do this once?

BURKE: I think anyone who has been around the table for the last year only wants to do this once as well. Part of the frustration of previous occasions has been that the moment there has been a sense of any resolution the new level of ambit has bounced up again. We genuinely want to move to a resolution from what has been characterised as conflict for a long time. That's why from the industry end they opened with what is the wood supply we need and what is the resource we need. From the environmental side they were asked, what are the areas across the whole map that they believe have genuine high conservation values. Now getting right back to what are the first principles of all of the ambit that you could want and now lets sit down and reach an agreement. They've gone through that process and that provides the potential for a lasting agreement in a way that we haven't seen before.

REPORTER: Has the Commonwealth made a decision on the Eastern Star coal seam gas proposal?

BURKE: No that still hasn't come to me for final decision and as you'd appreciate with environmental approvals it's really important that I don't prejudge them before they come to me. If I do whatever I decide gets knocked out in court anyway.

REPORTER: So you can't put a timeline on when the decision will be ready?

BURKE: There are some formal timelines on that but sometimes they get extended further out, I'm not sure of the precise dates on that one.

REPORTER: Just back to forestry, how important is the pulp mill?

BURKE: When I was Forestry Minister made a ministerial statement explaining the support that the Commonwealth Government has for the pulp mill. At the time I had to say supporting the pulp mill subject to environmental approvals. A year later I was the person who was given those approvals which I do believe were robust and provided a very strong way forward. So before the Statement of Principles was ever resolved the Commonwealth was wanting to see the pulp mill.

REPORTER: On the speculation that the PM might be flying into Tasmania tomorrow, is she going to join you in negotiations with the Tasmanian Government?

BURKE: Anything on the Prime Minister's itinerary you would have to confirm with the Prime Minister's office.