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by Senator The Hon Robert Hill,
Minister for the Environment, Australia
Co-Chairperson, delegates, ladies and gentlemen.
As Australia's Minister for the Environment it gives me great pleasure to be here this morning to open the eighth meeting of the Montreal Process Countries.
I would particularly like to welcome those visitors from overseas. Your attendance at this conference is an important part of ensuring its success.
As an active participant in the Montreal process Australia is honoured to be the host of this meeting. I am particularly pleased that the conference’s organisers have been able to include a two day field trip to some of Australia’s forests - I am sure that you will find it an interesting and valuable experience.
At the outset, I thought it important to affirm the support of the new Australian government for the work in which you are engaged.
There can be little doubt that communities around the World are increasingly concerned about the management and conservation of the global forest estate.
That phenomena is certainly evident within the Australian community. Ordinary Australians are concerned about the destruction of high conservation value forests not just domestically but also in other nations of the World.
Many may sceptically ask whether that concern - both here and abroad - is based on some kind of misguided emotional response to the images that television and the media frequently produce.
I have to say that, in general terms, I believe that that type of analysis is unjustified.
I would argue that those many people within our communities who are concerned about the future of the planet’s forests reflect the quite legitimate view that the global forest estate and the biodiversity values they represent are the common legacy of all mankind.
Citizens of all of our countries know that, on scientific and conservation grounds, our forests do need to be managed in an ecologically sustainable way.
Within that context, we regard the Montreal Process as very important in providing an international framework and an incentive to all member nations to continue along the path of improving the management of our forests.
That is particularly so when one considers that the 12 countries involved in the Montreal Process represent some 90 per cent of the World’s boreal and temperate forests.
I therefore look forward to the outcomes of your work on how best to advance comparability among Montreal Process nations on country approaches to measuring and reporting on indicators.
Your conclusions on future directions for the use of the Montreal Process criteria and indicators will also be highly pertinent to each individual country as well as to the international community through fora such as the UN's Forest Panel.
Ladies and gentlemen,
For some years now Australia has been undertaking a vigorous debate on the use and management of our forests. As a political issue and as an issue of public concern it has certainly been one of the most important environmental challenges that we face.
I am sure that - both during formal and informal discussions - you will learn something more about the approach that Australia’s governments are taking to meet that challenge.
I say Australian governments in the plural because under Australia's federalist constitutional arrangements, the governments and Parliaments of our States have principal responsibility for the management of our forests.
The national government does, however, play a significant role - both because of its obligations arising from the export of forest products and because Australians do expect a national framework within which our forests are managed. Our role is further enhanced by our responsibilities arising from international processes such as that in which you are currently engaged.
To ensure that those overlapping responsibilities are effectively co-ordinated, the Commonwealth and State governments entered into an agreement, known as the National Forest Policy Statement, in 1992.
Through the National Forest Policy Statement Australia is committed to implementing the UNCED Statement of Forest Principles and the Forests chapter of Agenda 21.
The new Commonwealth Government supports the implementation of the National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS) because we believe that it provides a reasonable framework for ensuring the maintenance of all of our forest values - including our twin goals of preserving high conservation value areas and ensuring security for an ecologically sustainable forest industry.
Through that forest policy, my government will be seeking to expeditiously strike Regional Forest Agreements with the States which will determine management issues for our forests for a period of at least 20 years.
Those agreements will be based on the objective of protecting 15 percent of pre-European settlement forest ecosystem types - a target which I understand is largely unparalleled elsewhere. We will also be seeking to protect old growth and wilderness values within our forests.
The Commonwealth and the States are also assessing current forest management practices. That review will include such system elements as:
The Commonwealth and the States have agreed on a broad methodology for reviewing forest management practices.
As part of that methodology it has been agreed that it will be necessary to develop criteria and indicators related to the conservation and sustainable management of the different forest areas.
What we will be working towards is the use of criteria and indicators consistent with the Montreal criteria and indicators which can be used to measure our progress towards ecologically sustainable forest management. In addition we will be wanting to use this system for reporting at the international level.
Given Australia's status of one of just twelve ‘mega-diverse’ nations and our desire to maintain a viable and ecologically sound native forest harvesting industry, forest management practices and measures of sustainability are very important to us.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our hosting of this meeting of Montreal Process countries is a contribution to sustainable forest management both in Australia as well as internationally.
It will be important for the Montreal Process countries to continue to pursue vigorously the implementation of the Montreal criteria and indicators.
There is a lot of important work that you will have to do over the next three days.
I wish you well in your endeavours and I have great pleasure in declaring open the eighth meeting of the Montreal Process countries.