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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment
National Convention Centre
4 November 1996
Mr Dennis Cullity, Chair of the conference, and conference participants. As Minister for the Environment it gives me great pleasure to be here this morning to open the national conference on assessing sustainable forest management in Australia.
This Government is firmly committed to advancing ecologically sustainable development in Australia. The conservation and sustainable use of our precious forest resources is an issue of prime concern to all Australians.
Over recent years there has been much conflict surrounding the use of Australia's forests. The Government is committed to resolving this debate and recently allocated an extra 48 million dollars towards expediting the completion of the Regional Forest Agreements or RFAs. The result must be ecologically sustainable forest reserves and ecologically as well as economically sustainable multiple use forests.
Progress since allocation of extra funding has been reasonable. We are now moving to complete the East Gippsland RFA hopefully by the end of this year. The Tasmanian RFA is well under way and preparations have begun on both the Victorian Central Highlands RFA and the Western Australian RFA.
This conference is therefore coming at an opportune time. At this conference, your views and comments could have a direct influence on the RFAs that governments will be negotiating.
Ecologically sustainable forest management is the prime international forest objective. We have seen this through the active international work on criteria and indicators and in the establishment of the United Nation's Inter-Governmental Panel on Forests.
Similarly, the National Forest Policy Statement sets out the ecologically sustainable management of Australian forests as a principal goal of all Australian governments. To be more specific, through the National Forest Policy Statement we will achieve:
The Commonwealth is committed to achieving these outcomes and we look to this conference to provide us with guidance and views on how we can assess ecologically sustainable management of our forests.
Ecologically sustainable forest management, or ESFM, is an evolving concept both here in Australia and overseas.
Australia's forests are characterised by high levels of biodiversity. Their future management will be complex if we are to maintain all forest values for future generations. We are now at a very early stage of understanding how to achieve ecologically sustainable forest management, but Australia can lead the world in this process.
To date much of the public debate and policy focus has been on land allocation. That is, dividing forest land between conservation reserves and production forests.
Achieving ecologically sustainable forest management is an equally important goal with ramifications well beyond the point at which decisions are made about what land goes into reserves and what doesn't.
We still need to debate exactly what ecologically sustainable forest management means in relation to our forests.
What is our vision of the future state of production native forest and other multiple use forest?
Some argue that intensity of production will have to be lowered significantly. Others argue that with appropriate management regimes, the current levels of resource use can be maintained.
After the establishment of the Regional Forest Agreements, continuing work on forests will need to address:
My colleague, the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy,
John Anderson, will speak this evening and will be discussing a vision of ecologically sustainable forest management after the Regional Forest Agreements are in place. His speech will also include a discussion on the role of the Commonwealth in native forest management. He will foreshadow a reduced role for the Commonwealth following the establishment of Regional Forest Agreements.
However we will not abdicate our responsibilities: As Minister for the Environment, I strongly believe that the Commonwealth has an on-going national interest in the environmental health of our forests. Criteria and indicators will be important to us for assessing the sustainability of our forests for the foreseeable future.
Furthermore the Commonwealth will also be interested to ensure that there is a flow of information and experience, across State borders on management practices and that there is a strong, healthy and open discussion of the management of our forests and their future.
This is the leadership role expected of the Commonwealth and in helping to meet that responsibility, I would be particularly interested in the views of participants on how we can continue to facilitate open and informed discussion and consultation on forest management, which takes into account stakeholder concerns and evolving scientific knowledge.
Therefore the challenge ahead for conference delegates is to address issues such as:
In regard to criteria and indicators, we hope that the meeting will promote a greater understanding of the use of these tools and provide an opportunity for dialogue between the different interest groups.
More specifically, the Commonwealth and States have developed a set of regional indicators which will be a key element for international reporting under the Montreal process. They will also be an important basis for review and monitoring of ecologically sustainable forest management under individual Regional Forest Agreements. We would appreciate your views.
We believe that without such regional-level indicators, that can be translated to the forest unit level such as coupes or compartments, then the national and international indicators will lack credibility. It is very important that detailed high quality regional data be periodically collected to build a broader picture on which ESFM will be judged. But do you agree?
A further issue is the linkages between the national and regional indicators and the RFA process. I am of the view that these linkages need to be clearly established, because both the Montreal process and the RFA process are essentially about delivering ecologically sustainable forest management. Otherwise it will look somewhat odd. You might disagree.
The Government would like this conference to provide us with constructive comments on regional criteria and indicators so that they can be used not only for the East Gippsland RFA but in subsequent RFAs. The conference is critically important in our advance towards achieving that objective.
In considering the regional criteria and indicators, I would like you to take into account the following:
Another key area which will be addressed through the workshop forums is an exchange of views on assessment methods and forest planning and management. We wish to foster a consensus on an overall approach for assessment of ecologically sustainable forest management in Australia.
The Commonwealth's approach is primarily based on reviewing state systems for ESFM and reaching agreement with the States as part of the RFA on changes required to forest management systems. Management prescriptions will not necessarily form part of the agreed management arrangements but will largely be covered in State codes of practice. The Commonwealth/State Agreement on ESFM will also include relevant management issues derived from other comprehensive regional assessment reports, for example the biodiversity assessments.
The management requirements for both multiple use and conservation forests will both be addressed in the RFA. We would appreciate your views.
I know there will be different views from the conference on ecologically sustainable forest management. We look to a clear identification of the differing views and suggestions as to how we might move forward in resolving these differences.
Given the lack of knowledge on many aspects of the relationship between forest use and the impact on biodiversity and other forest values, the need for ongoing research to promote and advance ecologically sustainable forest management is critical. The Government sees this conference as the beginning of a more structured process for identifying ecologically sustainable forest management research priorities on a regional and national basis. Consensus should be sought at the conference on generic research areas as well as the generation of ideas on effective processes for identifying specific research needs.
Another main focus for the workshops is certification and labelling. The Government recognises the view that it does not need to be directly involved in certification and labelling schemes. This view is that the governments' focus should be on facilitating systems and standards of management that will enable forest owners and industry to seek the certification they desire.
Different stakeholders hold a wide range of views on appropriate certification and labelling schemes. It therefore seems likely that there will be a number of schemes operating in the marketplace and forest owners and industry will select the scheme that suits their purposes. Ultimately the market place and consumers in particular, will judge the credibility and effectiveness of such schemes. Your views however would be of value.
It would be helpful if this conference was to agree on key attributes for possible certification and labelling in Australia, including key bodies to be involved in its development.
Given the significance of the issues under discussion and differing views of participants I am sure that the conference will be the scene of some lively and vigorous debate.
We hope the conference will reach agreement on issues such as the regional criteria and indicators. Where agreement is not possible we hope for the clear identification of differing views, identification of options and the establishment of processes for further discussion, consultation and development on such issues.
I now have much pleasure in declaring this important meeting, open.