Tasmanian Government to Rebuild Forestry Industry by Repealing Tasmanian Forests Agreement Act

Wednesday 11 June 2014 @ 11.32 a.m. | Legal Research | Trade & Commerce

On 8 May 2014 the new Tasmanian Government introduced the Forestry (Rebuilding the Forest Industry) Bill 2014 (No. 6 of 2014) into the House Assembly. The Bill proposes:

"an Act to repeal the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Act 2013 (the TFA Act), to provide for the invigoration of the forest industry and for related purposes".

The Bill has gone through all its stages in the House of Assembly and was passed on 5 June 2014 and is awaiting debate in the Legislative Council of the Tasmanian Parliament.

In presenting the Bill to the House of Assembly the Tasmanian Minister for Resources said that the:

". . . legislation represents a turning point for the Tasmanian native forest industry. One that increases future opportunities for Tasmania and the possibilities available to the forest industry. . .This Bill establishes a structure for land management that recognises the importance of striking a balance between conservation outcomes and the opportunity for sustainable economic growth . . . Under the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Act 2013 (the TFA Act), 494 000 hectares of land ceased to be available to the forest industry and tied the industry to a dramatically reduced resource base. . . . This Government says no more".

Key Details of the Proposed Law

Apart from repealing the TFA Act, the Bill converts the bulk of the land described under the TFA Act as Future Reserve Land, to Crown Land, to be known as "Future Potential Production Forest Land" (FPPFL). The FPPFL does not include the 94,900 hectares of Future Reserve Land already made into reserves under the TFA Act (which remain in place, pending the outcome of a current application by the Federal Government to excise parts of the extension to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area).

The Bill provides specifically that if the World Heritage Listing is removed from any of the land reserved through the TFA Act as requested by the Federal Government, that land may revert to the FPPFL by Order of the Crown Lands Minister.

The FPPFL includes the remaining Future Reserve Land, with the exception of certain specified areas and in total covers approximately 398,490 hectares from the original 515,000 hectares of Future Reserve Land.

The Bill proposes that the land that constitutes the FPPFL will be managed as "Crown Land" within the meaning of the Crown Lands Act 1976 (Tas), and in accordance with the management objectives set out in Schedule 2 of the Bill. When the Bill commences, the Future Reserve Land that is currently "permanent timber production zone land" will cease to have that status and the change in tenure will have the effect of removing the land from the control of Forestry Tasmania. Control will then revert to the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment, to be administered through Crown Land Services.

The Bill proposes that no native forest harvesting be permitted on FPPFL, with provision for exceptions to the prohibition able to be made for "special species timber harvesting" if required. The scope of the exception is said to be limited, selective harvesting; "meaning the harvesting of single trees or small groups of trees".

The Bill also provides a mechanism to enable the exchange of land between FPPFL to the Permanent Timber Production Zone Land . Such exchange of land is to be approved by the Minister responsible for the Crown Lands Act, and then given effect by the Minister responsible for the Forest Management Act by an order made under the Forest Management Act, where the Order is a disallowable instrument that must be tabled for the approval by both Houses of the Tasmanian Parliament.

Conversion of the FPPFL to reserves remains possible under the proposed provisions of the Bill: "at any time, but will require a two-thirds majority of each House of Parliament to approve a draft proclamation". Like wise a similar two–thirds majority requirement is applied to the proclamation of any area of Permanent Timber Production Zone Land as a reserve.

In April 2014 the Tasmanian Cabinet signed off on a plan to impose a six-year freeze while state-owned Forestry Tasmania attempted to secure FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification.

Reaction to the Bill

The ABC reported in April 2014 that the TFA Act had protected half a million hectares of forest from logging in return for millions of dollars in assistance to the struggling Tasmanian timber industry with more than 120,000 hectares being added to the World Heritage List in 2013 while the new Tasmanian Government now wants to open up the remaining 494,000 hectares, to logging. The Forest Industries Association is reported to have "fears the State Government is rushing its forest policy" and its Chief executive Terry Edwards is reported as saying "he needed to see more detail".

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne is reported as saying:

"no-one will buy the wood harvested from areas that have been deemed to have high conservation value .  .  . This is ideological; take forests out of protection, destroy the biodiversity, end any sense of peace in the forests, simply to deliver on a claim that they can cut it down and ship it away,  .  .  . They can't, they've got no market."

While the legislation will no doubt pass into law unimpeded, it is already being reported as likely to "reignite Tasmania's forest wars".

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