Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Tasmanian Forests; Tarkine
3 November 2011
LEON COMPTON: If you've just tuned in this morning, you would be aware that Christine Milne was, well, demanding action now in terms of protecting all of the area inside the 430,000 hectares of Tasmania's forests that have been identified for immediate protection. You would also know that we spoke with Richard Colbeck a bit earlier this morning, the Liberal senator for Tasmania, who argued that the process, the IGA should be abandoned.
Bob Gordon, the head of Forestry Tasmania called in and said, we're trying to protect as much as possible under the agreement. But there were, from memory, 29 coupes, in which they must log to fill their contracts, as they have been agreed with Ta Ann and other operators. They were scheduled to operate in as many as a hundred. But they've relinquished some 71 as part of the IGA and their efforts to meet the conditions in it.
The question is, if it's being debated like this in the Senate at the moment, so you've got Liberals arguing that it should be abandoned and different views around it, what is the process worth just at the moment? And why does it seem that bodies that have been somewhat involved in the process have such differing views of what its obligations have as part of it?
Tony Burke's the Federal Environment Minister. Mr Burke, good morning.
TONY BURKE: G'day, Leon.
LEON COMPTON: Why is it at the moment that you've groups like Forestry Tasmania with such a radically different understanding of what the protection requirements are in the statement of forestry principles as that of say the Greens?
TONY BURKE: It's never been the case that there's an automatic lock-up of the whole 430,000, the principle 430,000 hectares. What the principle has been is, if something can be rescheduled outside of that area where work had already begun, then it should be rescheduled outside of that area. But the question of the extent to which rescheduling can happen is something that's being worked through independently.
LEON COMPTON: So why are the Greens at the moment so adamant that the process is not being honored, the environmental requirements are not being met?
TONY BURKE: Look, I disagree with their conclusions on that. My view is that, if you take the view that the agreement is about ending all native forestry, I guess you'd be able to reach that conclusion. But that's not what the agreement says. What the agreement says is, where rescheduling can occur, then it should occur and they will work with industry. There's an independent process there about working out where rescheduling can occur.
We've got to make sure that we're in a situation where contracts are being honoured. That's important and that's the only way that you end up delivering on an agreement that works for both jobs and for the environment.
LEON COMPTON: Forestry...
TONY BURKE: We also shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the area of dispute is about 1900 hectares. That is being worked through. That's still in dispute as to whether it can be rescheduled or not. But that's 1900 hectares out of 430,000 hectares. So we shouldn't pretend that there isn't a significant conservation outcome here. There is. It's extraordinary. But we're making sure that happens in a way that still works for jobs in Tasmania.
LEON COMPTON: You're arguing then that there is, what, point-five of one per cent of the area that environmental groups have got to all but point-five of one per cent, if my maths holds up, of what it is that they were asking for, as protected in this agreement?
TONY BURKE: In terms of where logging is currently occurring, that's...
LEON COMPTON: Yeah. As where it's been...
TONY BURKE: Yeah. That's right. There's a whole lot of stages that go through on this. At the end of it though, from a conservation perspective, you'll get a whole lot of really special parts of Tasmania that would have remained listed for rotations into the future that will actually go into protection. But it will be done in a way where we're looking after employment within Tasmania and helping people through a transition which would happen whether there is an inter-governmental agreement or not.
That's my great frustration with the irresponsibility of the position that the Liberals have taken.
LEON COMPTON: Well Senator Richard Colbeck argues that this is not in the interests of Tasmanians and that in fact the process should be abandoned. Does his view matter? Can you get this through without Liberal Party support, without the support of those that he speaks to directly?
TONY BURKE: Well, my starting point isn't - does that mean you can get it through or not get it through. It's what would it mean for Tasmania if we did what Richard Colbeck is saying? Because if we went down the path that he's saying - he's saying, just let the market sort it out. He's saying you don't need an agreement between governments to help communities manage this through.
If he believes that no job loss has happened until the day the inter-governmental agreement was signed, then he knows nothing about what's been happening in his own state of Tasmania. Job losses, particularly for contractors, have been happening at a rate of knots for months and months, while industry has been going through a restructure that has been led by decisions of individual businesses.
Now I don't want to see a situation where it's viewed as the right thing for the Australian Government to simply leave those communities and not have programs in place to help people find jobs, to help over a long-term package to make sure that we've got regional development going on and that we've got transition going on so that people have long-term employment opportunities in Tasmania.
There's 276 million dollars worth of programs to be invested in Tasmania that Richard Colbeck is saying, oh no, we'd just tear that up. I mean, I know they want to say no to everything. But to say no to helping provide jobs for Tasmanians is one of the most ridiculous positions I've ever heard the Liberal Party argue.
LEON COMPTON: What foresters want and communities in those areas is peace in the forest. This is what, in large part, this agreement is about. If environment groups don't feel that they're end, side of the bargain is being met, there will be no peace. What's the point of the arrangement if protests in forests don't stop.
TONY BURKE: What the environment groups are wanting to achieve is the best conservation outcome they can. And while the independent processes are going on, they will push the envelope about what the outcomes they want. And industry will push the envelope about what it wants out of it. But ultimately they've all signed up to what - to who will be on these independent processes, how they'll be conducted, what references they'll have to take into account.
But at the end of that, you get to work out whether Gunns, having retired its native forest quota, what - how much - how many coupes and where remain to be required for those who keep going with the industry and what conservation outcome does that provide?
Now if you're actually talking about significant conservation outcomes in the Styx and the Weld and the Florentine, in the Tarkine, conservation outcomes that four years ago would have seemed impossible, then you can understand very quickly why the conservation groups have been willing to sign up to the independent process.
And from an industry side, if you've got a massive adjustment that's happening whether or not there is a government agreement in place, then you'll want the government agreement to make sure that you've got help with the transition so that your business can still flourish in what is an extraordinarily difficult period, which had commenced well before, well before this agreement was ever put in place.
LEON COMPTON: Tony Burke, before we leave you this morning, the Tarkine and its ongoing protection. Certainly those worried that mining interests are exploring with a view to mining a place that they want to see protected from that behaviour. Where are you in terms of giving it national heritage status?
TONY BURKE: On the national heritage issue, the National Heritage Council, which provides me with independent advice, has asked for more time. And I've given them more time before they bring their recommendations to me.
LEON COMPTON: Why not have an interim order that protects it from mining exploration between here and there? What's the purpose of leaving it unprotected just at the moment?
TONY BURKE: Well, look, at the moment, there are some applications which are already in for different proposals. As you know, if I start pre-judging them before they're actually in front of me, then whatever I decide gets knocked out in court. So I'm not going to pre-judge them. On the heritage issue, when I get the Heritage Council saying to me they want more time, then I think giving them more time is the right thing to do.
LEON COMPTON: How much time are they looking for? When will you have an answer on this?
TONY BURKE: Oh, look, I'm going to leave it in their hands. There's deadlines that span out into 2013. But they may well report to me well earlier than that and often do. But my view is they should provide the advice to me when they're ready. And I think, if you try to rush advice, you don't necessarily get the best quality advice.
It also needs to be remembered though that a heritage listing, wherever it may occur, is not of itself a lock-up. Some people would want to believe that, if a heritage listing were to occur, that that automatically locks out development. It actually doesn't. That's not how national heritage listings work. But I'll wait for the advice from them before I make decisions on that one.
LEON COMPTON: Thanks for talking with us.
TONY BURKE: Great to talk to you too.
LEON COMPTON: Tony Burke, minister for the environment.