On 24 June media outlets reported that the warring parties in Tasmania have ‘signed’ a historic agreement designed to end 30 years of conflict over logging in public native forests. On the 27 June they issued a retraction on that announcement.
An administrative error has led to the premature release of a forest peace deal aimed at ending almost all native forest logging in Tasmania.
Contrary to the announcement forest industry and environmental representatives in the peace talks were yet to endorse the agreement and Vica Bayley - the representative of the Wilderness Society - and whose name was erroneously attached to the 22 June 2011 draft document had not taken part in the deal. Peace deal broker Bill Kelty told the Federal and Tasmanian Governments a breakthrough agreement had been reached to end decades of conflict over logging Tasmania’s native forests. His statement said conservationists and industry players had endorsed a deal to protect 430,000 hectares of public native forest. But at the time key players, including the forest union, had not signed up and Mr Kelty was forced to recall the statement.
One forest group, Timber Communities Australia, would not sign until its board met to discuss the issue. On 27 June the Tasmanian Forest Contractors Association confirmed it also had yet to sign. The association’s Ed Vincent said he will not be able to sign off on it until after a board meeting in July. “We haven’t had the opportunity to sign it yet because our involvement in the final negotiations was by teleconference rather than being physically on site but as soon as we are able to, we will sign. A signature will be a conditional signature, subject to ratification of our board,” he said.
Environmental groups, Environment Tasmania and the Australian Conservation Foundation are believed to have forwarded through their signatures in late June. Vica Bayley from the Wilderness Society, which pulled out of the talks, says the next step was up to government. “[They need] to make sure that they allocate money and mechanisms to turn it into reality,” he said. Terry Edwards from the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania could not put a figure on the cost of the agreement. “[It] will be a significant sum of money.”
Despite concerns within Environment Tasmania, the director, Dr Phillip Pullinger signed the Kelty document without informing their membership or seeking their approval.
Timber industry analyst Robert Eastment says the agreement appears to be a good starting point. But he says it is vital for the parties to stick together. “We don’t want them to come out now and then start sniping and back-chatting and things like that. So the next move has to be solidarity, the people who have put their names to the agreement, and then I think that will give a much better direction for whether the State or Federal Government, or Gunns, or whoever it is to actually know what’s required of them.”
• Help us, not Gunns, say forest workers
Concerns have been raised about a State Government plan to compensate forestry giant Gunns for pulling out of native forest logging.
Forestry contactors want the Government to help struggling workers rather than Gunns.
The Government is looking at buying back the private company’s native forest contracts despite the fact Gunns made a commercial decision to get out of those forests regardless of the peace deal.
Premier Lara Giddings says parties to the peace deal have agreed that the Government should reimburse Gunns.
“No I’m not ruling that out,” she said.
“The ENGOs and industry felt that that was an appropriate way forward, so we’re working through those issues.
“They’re very complex issues. There aren’t simple answers to them, but we’ll continue to work through them.”
The Forest Contractors Association’s Ed Vincent says it is the workers who need urgent assistance.