Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Press Conference - Tasmanian Forestry

27 October 2012

TONY BURKE: Last night when we gathered with the signatories, both the Deputy Premier and myself spoke to each of them. There has been a lot of good will, there has been a lot of detail that's been filtered out, but ultimately if there's going to be a parameter, we need to have a look at the evidence that it was possible to reconcile the conservation agenda with the minimum volume required for industry.

A whole lot of other details have been sorted out but these two ones keep getting closer, but they have still hadn't quite mentioned and made clear that we were happy to come back and talk to them again last night, we were happy to come back and talk to them again this morning, but ultimately we needed by mid morning today to have a clear indication as to whether or not they were able to break with that part of it.

I don't underestimate the good will that had been shown around the table, but good will of itself does not do us any grandeur. Up until now whenever I've spoken to you, whenever the Premier or Deputy Premier have, we've all been made it clear that we were very optimistic about them finding a way to reach an agreement.

I have to say in the last 24 hours that optimism has changed to pessimism, and while they still talk and they still work through details, I've got to be quite frank; I am now quite pessimistic that they will be able to reach the needs that industry say they have, and the needs that the conservation movement say that they would require.

There is a massive transition going on at the moment in many parts of Australian economy. We were very keen to provide a higher level of assistance to Tasmania in the forestry transition than is been provided elsewhere in the nation. The reason is really simple; the Tasmanian economy and timber communities are more reliant on that industry than you find in other parts of the country.

Simply, you have a situation where there is a level of good will and cooperation that was ground breaking that was happening here, and we wanted to give it space. The whole way through, we've made clear that this was not an agreement between governments. We'd provide support. We'd facilitate where we could, but ultimately the extra support was there if the parties could broker an agreement themselves.

While they've been talking, there's a lot that we've done. We've helped a lot of workers through the transition that's happened with governments. There's been a whole lot of contractor businesses that as a part of the big shifts that have been happening, and there's been a number of projects with regional development that have gone ahead, as a part of this process.

I don't regret for one minute the assistance that we've been able to provide to help Tasmanians through what has been a really challenging time. There was an extra layer that we had hoped to get to, and had there been an agreement then we're in a situation where there was funding for voluntary efforts, there was funding for looking after the new reserved areas.

There was funding for a further level of regional development, and there was a potential of boundary extensions on the world heritage area to be sent off to the World Heritage Committee in February of next year.

All of those issues were in the context of an agreement being reached, and with the conversations we've had overnight and this morning, notwithstanding the genuine good will that's in the room, I'm deeply pessimistic about the capacity for there to be an agreement that would allow those other issues to flow. I hand you to the Deputy Premier before we go to questions.

BRYAN GREEN: Look, I echo the words of Tony. You know, last night we made it very clear to the signatories that there was a requirement for them to allow us to understand whether there would be an intersection between their position on volume and their position on conservation areas. It's been clear overnight that it's almost impossible at this stage for them to reach that agreement.

Therefore, in discussion with the Commonwealth, we have arrived at the position where we are effectively extremely pessimistic that there will be in agreement. I say that on the basis that we've always indicated, right from the beginning of this process that unless there was ownership of an agreement going forward, the durability when it came to the arguments about whether or not the industry would survive into the future, well then we weren't going to get the genuine community support associated with a change.

The parties have been amazing in the work that they've done, you know, the good will. And even they are very emotional about the fact that they haven't been able to quite get to that point. Really that comes about as a result in representing their constituency as best as they possibly can. But that's the fact, that's where we're at. That pessimism I think is well founded.

But nevertheless once again I echo what the Minister has just said. We embarked on a process. We knew that there was a massive change going on within industry. The State Government has provided as much in terms of resources as we possibly can to the process. Significant amounts of money have gone particularly to workers in the industry to help them through. But we understand it's still a difficult time and of course the fact is that the industry, the legislation as it stands remains.

QUESTION: Will the talks continue today and is there still a possibility there might be a deal or is it basically now that it's not going to happen?

BRYAN GREEN: Well look, from I think our perspective we can't see unless there's a shift in the thinking how there can possibly be agreement between the parties. As much as that has been a difficult position for us to come to we understand each side's argument. There's no way that we can shoehorn them into an agreement. That has never been what it's been about.

So, you know, our position has been that we've given the necessary space, we've provided an enormous amount of resources from both the Commonwealth and the State and we've had the science associated with it, all of the people that have worked through the various reports to get it to this point. There's been an enormous portal on the resources in both the State and the Commonwealth. But at the end of the day it takes the parties themselves to reach an agreement.

Now the Opposition are going to suggest, oh they should have just ripped this up months ago and everything would have been fine. The fact is that there's been massive change take place within the forestry industry. That's not through the fault of the industry. Workers themselves have been driven by the markets. It's been a significant change and we've been trying to work through that.

The icing on the cake has always been the parties coming to an agreement. You can have all the legislation you want in this industry but unless you've got the parties, both sides, the conservation verses industry as one with respect to the way forward, legislation is never going to help.

QUESTION: What's changed then to make you and the Minister feel pessimistic? Because from our point of view outside it always been very difficult. There's always been closed and not closed [unclear] deadlines are extended somewhat. What has changed now? Is it the fact of Gunns?

BRYAN GREEN: No, I think that the issue really boiled down to us once again saying that we would work through just about every other issue that's on the table. All the complicated little bits and pieces that are on the side of this can we work through? But the fundamental issue was whether the volume that is required by the industry based on contracts and the conservation task as part of the process could intersect and come together effectively so that we could move forward on that basis.

And we can't make the parties agree to that. They have to agree to it themselves. And effectively the industry have wedded to their position and the conservations are wedded to their position which means there is effectively no agreement.

TONY BURKE: In fact, if I can just add to that. Over the last few months industry have continued to have a level of flexibility on what minimum sawlog volume might be required. And so they have been moving their position.

The conservation movement in their original conservation claim have been shifting how many hectares that they actually believe will be required in the context of the deal. And so the optimism was there. You kept seeing some momentum as they were getting closer. But as they got really close that momentum slowed right down. And effectively that is the change that we've now seen. Where the sort of movement, if it had been able to be maintained that we were seeing a few months ago, we would have an agreement now.

But as we've seen that slow at each end we're now in a situation where we've just got to honestly let you know that we think it's - pessimism is now where we're at.

QUESTION: So what actually happens now? I mean there's millions of dollars on the line for an agreement to be reached. What's the next step then?

TONY BURKE: The next step is to let the people of Tasmania themselves know that that money was available and the extra environmental reserves were available in the context of an agreement. I don't believe that context is going to be realised.

QUESTION: How frustrating that it has ended like this, that they did get so close, but nothing did come out of it.

TONY BURKE: It's a wonderful opportunity for Tasmania, a really wonderful opportunity and a higher level of support that is provided in any other part of the country, in the context of what was potentially on the table. I look around the table when the Deputy Premier and I were talking to them today and I look at each party and I cannot see another side for any of them in the pessimism that we are now seeing.

Put aside all the politics where people will threaten to want to blow it up and all of those arguments and it's really easy to argue that, when you don't think it's going to happen. Now people have to look down the barrel of what isn't right without an agreement. Instead of interrogating, you know, should this word be changed or should that word be changed, let market forces run their course.

Without the higher level of government support that was on the table, I don't think it's good for Tasmania at all. But we've got to be upfront with you about where we think it's now at. Self-interests should have been able to broke for the final part. It was in everyone's interests to be able to do that. But I'll let them speak for themselves as to why they felt they couldn't go any further.

QUESTION: There are thousands of people that are owed millions of dollars around Australia, councils, governments, farmers, as well as industry. Are you saying they will not get any government assistance now?

TONY BURKE: The additional government assistance that has been on the table has been on the table in the context of an agreement and I'm simply letting you know that in my judgement, we're not looking at getting to an agreement.

QUESTION: So is that offer withdrawn, is officially withdrawn?

TONY BURKE: No. We will now begin the processes of going through that between governments. But I think it's unreasonable to yourselves, to not immediately report. Up until now, I've always said oh, optimistic, think we're going to get there. I think at the moment pessimism kicks in, I've got to let you know. So we are not further than that at the moment. But it is a significant shift and I think we should be transparent about it.

QUESTION: So what would it take for these groups to actually come together and make this decision? I mean, it's like they haven't - it's not completely off the table?

TONY BURKE: If they could reconcile the reserve agenda with the volumes that are required for industry, if they can reconcile that part, I'm very confident the rest of the agreement would be able to be brokered. But they need to be able to reconcile that part and I'm quite pessimistic that they would be able to.

QUESTION: Does that have to happen today? Do they have to come to this decision today?

TONY BURKE: Oh no. The processes of unwinding the different aspect of the agreement between governments is not something that happens overnight and so - but I don't want to give you a brand new deadline when my honest judgment is I don't think around the table they are going to get there.

QUESTION: What about that end of October deadlines that were set? Is that still there? Or is thatů?

TONY BURKE: My understanding of that - in terms of the deadlines within each governmental agreement were already past. The additional October deadline I think was set unilaterally by industry, in terms of their own position and they haven't given any indication that their position [unclear].

QUESTION: Tony, can I ask you, honestly do you think one side is more recalcitrant than the other? Like really truly. Are you saying they are both equally obstinate towards the end or is there one that has held on a little bit tighter than the other?

TONY BURKE: The thing you will hate about this answer is the truth is, I don't know. I don't know and the reason I don't know is the conversation movement has to negotiate to the point that we ultimately can deliver peace and there would be some things that if people around the table agree to, that they could actually deliver on the ground. The agreement would be minimalist anyway.

Similarly for industry, they have to be able to negotiate in a way that actually delivers critical mass. Now, I'm not going to be the expert in exactly what sort of volume is required to go and provide a critical mass. So in what additional flexibility each side has, there would be an answer as to who gave what ground. But I'm not going to pretend to be able to provide that, because it's a relationship between the conservation groups and what they could actually deliver and industry and what critical mass would actually be required.

QUESTION: And you've said that you're now pessimistic. When are you going to actually say that it's definitely fallen over, it's definitely not happening?

TONY BURKE: We'll begin the process now of unwinding exact dates on that. You know, it's a Saturday, we've just come to this view. As that's available we'll make sure we provide it to you. I'm just not in a position to give you those sorts of timeframes, so.

QUESTION: Deputy Premier, can I just ask you...

BRYAN GREEN: This is the final question.

QUESTION: ...from the State Government's point of view, what's the next step for you and how devastating will this be for the industry?

BRYAN GREEN: Well, it's obviously going to be a tough time going forward. It's already tough within the forestry industry. There are many positives. You know, we've got a strong saw milling industry. That will continue. We have to ensure that we can give them the best opportunity; nothing with respect to legislation will change at current. I think that's been an important part missed here, is that an agreement still, in the end, had to go through both Houses of Parliament. So, you know, people may have suggested that we've been fairly optimistic even in that regard.

But nevertheless we've embarked upon this whole process, trying to show good will to the parties to get an agreement. In the end they've made a judgement. You asked a question earlier about who was the most recalcitrant. I don't think either party really have been, other than that they've made a judgement call with respect to their own constituency. And you can't blame them for that.

What I'll do is continue to work through the restructuring of Forestry Tasmania. We have to make sure that we put the business on a sustainable footing going forward. I don't think any reasonable person in Tasmania, Australia or the world would not suggest that there [isn't] a requirement for us to modernise the organisation and allow them to understand exactly where their costs are so that as a community we can recognise that. So we'll continue to work through all of those issues. They're important. And, you know, from the point of view of providing a good government and a stable government we'll continue to do that as well.

QUESTION: You're not to blame for Forestry Tasmania plan you're saying?

BRYAN GREEN: I - look, I mean [unclear] argue about the durability aspects of an agreement going forward. People were worried about that. At the end of the day, this was really about a resource being made available that encapsulated in legislation that we - I already had on the table. That's to provide the resource security for the industry and the conservation outcome with the land tenure issues to be decided between ourselves and the Commonwealth, when it comes to world heritage, and, of course, national parks and other forms of reservation to ensure that the agreement was held up. We were very genuine about trying to reach an agreement here.

Thank you.