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 Peace Deal

30 April 2013

Tony Burke: Good to see you again in Hobart and certainly today we are in a much stronger situation than many of the times that I have met with you before.

I am pleased to be here with Joe Ludwig the Forestry Minister and of course with Dick Adams - well known to you all and somebody who has seen over many occasions, issues of conservation and forestry being resolved through a political process rather than being resolved through a stakeholder process.

What was attempted three years ago seemed to many people to be an impossible ask. And I'll never forget Michael O'Connor saying to me after the first meeting of industry and environmental groups. He said well we didn't get far but we all sat at the same table and that was a win.

We've come a long way since then and some of the conversations have been incredibly protracted. The first time I stood and spoke to you about this was at the end of 2010 with the former Premier - Premier Bartlett - where we announced that we were appointing Bill Kelty to try and to turn the Statement of Principles document into an agreement.

We then had a series of meetings, series of moments where it's looked optimistic or pessimistic. Two winters ago I came here to prepare the way on the Thursday for the Prime Minister to arrive on the Friday and resolve everything. We were still here on the Sunday when the Prime Minister and the Premier then announced an agreement between governments.

And last year many of you will remember the all nighter when we arrived with pizza boxes to see how far we could get with the stakeholders. By the following morning it looked like the parties just wouldn't agree.

We then last year finally got to the point where environment groups and industry groups agreed. But there was a further test - could we get the parliament to agree. And today it - from all the signals we have, the Tasmanian Members of Parliament are making the same sorts of compromises that stakeholders have now been making for three years. And that is to say that there needs to be a path forward which is different to the conflict of the last 30 years, which will allow industry to be able to get the market confidence that it desperately needs and at the same time would deliver some conservation outcomes that in other circumstances would have been thought to be impossible.

I want to absolutely commend the different stakeholders that have been involved with this, the industry groups, the environmental groups, the union for the role that they played. This has been incredibly difficult. And incredibly difficult for the Members of Parliament in the house behind all of you there because many of them have had much of their political careers steeped within the conflict of old.

What we have now is a situation where as at result of where the deliberations of the parliament of here be heading today. What appeared to be something that couldn't be resolved between the Upper House and the Lower House, the compromise is being made and we get the pathway forward.

What do we get out of this in terms of industry? FSC certification which will open up the timber markets from Tasmania to the global market again.

We get the various packages where - while it's said they're exit packages - the truth is that vast majority of companies will use that exit money to retire quota that they are not actually using at the moment anyway and reinvest back into their business and back into their mills. We will also find for workers that have been displaced and contractors that have been displaced that packages become available for them.

In conservation terms the forests of the Styx, of the Weld, of Upper Florentine, of the Great Western Tiers, of the Tarkine. Areas that had not been thought possible for conservation will find their way in various forms of conservation.

It's an extraordinary outcome where Tasmania has led the way. The rest of Australia has not come close to being able to achieve what Tasmania achieves today. And that is a solid conservation outcome with a solid economic future.

There's a lot of work after tonight's result that needs to be done between us and the Tasmanian Government. We need to update the Intergovernmental Agreement, we need to update a conservation agreement and we need to update the Regional Forestry Agreement for Tasmania. All of that work will be able to begin in the context of legislation that we expect to pass today.

But let's not lose sight of the opportunity that is here today. Instead of an industry that was going through a significant decline, as of tomorrow we start a new story. And as of tomorrow we get a story where conservation and forestry jobs get to move forward hand in hand. That is a good outcome for Tasmania and the Australian Government is going to be proud to help back it in.

I'll hand over to Joe Ludwig.

Joe Ludwig: Thanks very much Tony. I wanted to add to what Minister Burke has said from a forestry perspective. The significance of this should not go unnoticed. Minister Burke is right by saying tonight we get an historic agreement, which is unprecedented in the Australian landscape.

What we do have is the community led outcome, which puts down all the spears, puts down all the angst and then from today - tomorrow as it might be - we end up with a locking in jobs, locking in opportunity for the future of Tasmanian forestry industry.

It is one of those times where people should draw breath and pause for a moment to reflect upon all of the work that the industry, that the community, that the unions, that the ENGOs have done to be able to get to this point. And of course the Government - both the State and Federal Government, the Prime Minister, the Environment Minister and myself have continued to maintain the momentum all the way through.

If you look at the period that it's taken, we shouldn't dwell on that. We should look at what we're going to do from tomorrow onwards, which is to provide those great outcomes for this great State, which ensures that the forestry industry continues to play its significant role for Tasmania, that it continues to provide jobs and opportunity for Tasmania, and it continues to provide high quality timber for the Australia market.

All of those wouldn't come about if the community led group had not stood up and said one day we need to come together as a community, work through all of this and then find a solution. They've found the solution and can I say I congratulate them for the work that they have done. It's really magnificent to see the outcome. Of course I'm second-guessing what the Parliament will do, but if you forgive me for that just a fraction I'm confident that we will get an outcome tonight. And certainly the industry right across, Tasmanians should be proud that it has been that community-led outcome.

With those short words thanks very much.

Reporter: The Australian Greens leader has already said this will never achieve peace. The fringe environmental groups have been saying they're going to continue their protest. Isn't this really just a new chapter in Tasmania's forest wars?

Tony Burke: In terms of the fringe groups, let's not pretend that you are ever going to get an agreement that will stop there from being a small number of people who hold up a sign. But let's also not forget in this group you have got the Australian Conservation Foundation, The Wilderness Society and Environment Tasmania as the umbrella group. What that means is when you have got all of those groups on side with the Agreement, it means that you cannot get an effective market campaign that will damage the Tasmanian market anymore. And that is a massive shift.

So please, if we set the threshold of will it ever be possible for half a dozen people to hold up a sign and complain loudly, no deal's ever going to fix that. But what we needed to fix was the market's campaigns that were causing such damage. And when you take out all the peak groups and have all of them on side with the Agreement, that makes a massive difference to markets of Tasmania.

Reporter: So there's disagreement and with the forest wars in Tasmania?

Tony Burke: In terms of wars. Look, there might be the odd skirmish from small miner groups and things like that, and I don't want to set a silly threshold. But what we have seen from the last 30 years ends tonight. And that is something to celebrate.

Reporter: Talk about FSC, this paving the way for FSC, but that's a very long process pushed back beyond two elections, a federal one and - that you're interested in, and a state one. I mean how can that be better than a hundred to one shot?

Tony Burke: Well let's put it this way. The Upper House with amendments that have been agreed to today, or are being agreed to at the moment by the Lower House, have put some of the conservation outcomes - have made some of them contingent in terms of formal reserves on FSC being - being achieved. So there is now not just an industry incentive for certification, there's a massive environmental incentive for certification.

Secondly, if you look at either outcome, at each of the two elections that you refer to, if it's a Labor outcome then in each case you are guaranteed that you get a solid future for Tasmania. If it's the alternative outcome, it would be a very brave and reckless government that decided to try to jeopardise FSC certification - a very brave and silly and reckless government that tried to jeopardise this. And you can imagine having gone down the path of certification, what industry's reaction would be to any future government that tried to play games with their international markets.

Reporter: What about the federal funding? Will that arrive before the next - before the federal election? When should we expect it in Tasmania?

Tony Burke: The precise staging of the different parts of the funding, some of it will kick off pretty much immediately. The funding itself, we made sure that it was staged over a number of years, including the regional development money. That was done deliberately. One of the criticisms that's been made of previous Tasmanian packages is rather than being driven by what's good for the Tasmanian economy, they've been driven by trying to have ribbon-cutting ceremonies before elections. We made sure that this was driven by the needs of the Tasmanian economy, so some of the money will start to flow quite quickly.

A precise schedule of that will be part of the fresh updated agreement with the Tasmanian government, but this is not a one hit of money that then disappears and people wonder what was it all worth. The Regional Development Package, for example, goes for many years into the future.

Reporter: Can you guarantee that all that money is still there, given you've got massive budget problems in Canberra? Is all that money definitely, a hundred per cent still there? The $300 million total.

Tony Burke: The Intergovernmental Agreement and the commitments that we have made as part of this, will be signed in and locked in formally with the Tasmanian government as soon as we can.

Reporter: But Minister, given the state of the Federal Budget, do you still see this as a wise use of taxpayer money?

Tony Burke: Absolutely. Absolutely. And if anybody wants to argue that we should compromise on this money and put the Tasmanian economy at risk, and in particular put timber communities at risk, or for example risk the environmental management money, and so put areas into conservation and don't put the money for the proper fire management, if anyone wants to argue that, they haven't had the courage to step forward yet. This is money wisely and well spent.

Reporter: You mentioned the conservation gains, but isn't the reality that this amended legislation doesn't guarantee a single extra tree apart from the World Heritage area nomination, which is already going through?

Tony Burke: Well there are two concepts. One is when is an area quarantined for logging, and the second is when is it formally added to the conservation estate? Now the update to the Regional Forestry Agreement will - and logging has already come out of these areas, so the Regional Forestry Agreement, the work that Joe Ludwig actually takes lead of, so I'll let him speak in a moment, that deals with logging coming out of these areas. So the formality of them being put into conservation, while important, isn't the only part of the conservation outcome there.

Reporter: Just before you finish, Minister Burke. Because the money is being rolled out over a few years, is any of it then up in the air if the Liberal Party is elected to power in Canberra?

Tony Burke: Look, the biggest risk for Tasmania in what the Liberals are proposing is effectively they prefer the conflict. They prefer the forest wars. They enjoy the politics that comes from the conflict. We are much more interested in good outcomes for Tasmania. And so, you know, we can work through the Liberals' view of how they may or may not say that they would unpick this.

My bigger concern is from the beginning, they actually weren't interested in anything that was called a peace deal. They just weren't interested in resolving the conflict. And I think it's fair - I mean, I'm not a Tasmanian, but I'm here more than most, I think's fair to say, and I think there's a view across this state that people just want this issue resolved. They just want it done and fixed and for us to move on.

Now that starts as of tomorrow. As of tomorrow, we get to move on, and if the Liberal Party say they'd rather go back to the conflict of old, I think the Tasmanian community would given them a justified whack for that.

Joe Ludwig: Thanks very much. Because as Dick Adams would know as a local, it does lock in jobs, locks them in for the future and locks in a good environmental outcome as well. So you end up with a win-win. So just on the RFA matter, as I understand it, they'll write to me. I'm quite happy to seek that amendment, move that amendment, and continue to have a positive RFA for Tasmania, because it does, again, lock in those jobs and opportunities, which is good news for Tasmania. Thanks very much.

Dick Adams: I'd like to say a couple of things. One is that I think as Minister Burke said, most Tasmanians will be very pleased that we are going to move on from where we've been for 30 years plus in Tasmania with debates on forestry. There's going to be people on the fringes, some people will come out of the forests in a year or two and realise that the end has occurred. The end is now due when this bill passes the Lower House, which I am quietly confident it will.

The other point about certification, that gives Tasmania an edge. Tasmania grows trees extremely well because of our climate, our rainfall. We have very good hardwood that can be turned into great, great product, and using certification for the world will give us that edge. That is now a challenge for the industry, a challenge for the future, and there is also a lot of wood still as resource for the timber industry in Tasmania, and that's our challenge. I think we can do it, and I look forward to meeting that challenge in the future.

Reporter: Minister Burke, just one last question. Is the compensation money for Ta Ann still safe given the budget issues?

Tony Burke: Yeah it is, and my officials have been dealing with Ta Ann during the period while we have been waiting so that if we did get the outcome today we would be able to unlock things fairly quickly. I am very mindful of the role that Ta Ann play in making sure that the peeler billet part of the supply chain has a market, which has a significant impact on the profitability of saw log and the rest of the supply chain.

Reporter: Has a figure been determined?

Tony Burke: Not settled on yet, but we're not far off, we're not far off on any of that.

Reporter: Have you had any contact from Ta Ann today? Because they were talking about closing two mills if an outcome wasn't achieved. This is an outcome, but not the one that most people expected some months ago. So have you had any communication with them today?

Tony Burke: We rang them today to say that I was going to be in Hobart fairly briefly because I wasn't expecting to be here today, and they said they were happy to continue the discussions with my officials tomorrow, they were quite relaxed about it. I haven't got any indication of a sense of crisis from them as a result of today at all.

If I can just conclude purely in the environmental terms and the role of this government there are a lot of issues that have been viewed as intractable. Protection of the oceans has been viewed as an intractable issue for 20 years, Tasmania's forests for 30 years and the Murray-Darling Basin for about 100 years. In the course of this term of Government it now looks like all three will have achieved long term outcomes.

Reporter: Can I ask you a question on another matter for Canberra. Do you think Australians will be happy to pay a levy to pay for the NDIS.

Tony Burke: Look there is no shortage of the economic ministers with the relevant portfolio who are out there today and I will leave the discussion to them.

Thank you.