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Martin Ferguson Attacks Greens Over Forests Policy

The ALP’s spokesman on foresty issues, Martin Ferguson, has launched an attack on the Greens, accusing them of placing at risk the economic security and jobs of their constituents.

Martin FergusonIn a speech to the National Association of Forest Industries, Ferguson distanced the ALP from the Greens on forestry issues and called on them to “wear” the decisions of “democratically elected governments”.

Ferguson claimed that “for the last two years international clients of the forest industry have been subject to a lobbying and email campaign calling for a global boycott of Tasmanian products.” He said “the Greens have also undermined the Tasmanian forest industry with UK parliamentarians, potentially jeopardising UK visitor numbers to Tasmania and placing at risk the almost $50 million spent by British tourists in Tasmania each year.”

Lauding the $1 billion contributed to the Tasmanian economy each year by forestry, Ferguson said that Tasmania’s timber industry “is conducted to the highest standards in accordance with the Australian Forestry Standard, the development of which was initiated by the Commonwealth government and based on internationally agreed criteria”.

He said that Australia’s sustainable forestry policies were working to “maintain our forest assets in perpetuity”.

In contrast, Ferguson argued, countries such as Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Chile, Guatemala “and a host of other developing countries” felt under pressure to log their forests as a means of providing jobs “to release their people from poverty”.

The policies of the Greens would “scare international customers away from sustainable forest resources in Tasmania to countries where illegal logging leaves a trail of total devastation, but where ignorance is bliss”.

Ferguson’s forthright comments represent an attempt by the ALP to regain some of its core support in the electorate, particularly in Tasmanian seats such as Bass and Braddon which were lost to the Liberal Party in the 2004 election.

Text of speech to the National Association of Forest Industries by the Shadow Minister for Primary Industries, Forestry, Resources & Tourism, Martin Ferguson.

I welcome the opportunity to be here with you today to discuss the very important topic of “future forests”.

Australia’s forests are very important in both an environmental and an industry resource context.

You know the statistics of the industry better than any, but let me just recap.

Australia has 155 million hectares of native forests.

About 10% – 11 million hectares – of those forests are managed for wood production with less than 1% being harvested in any one year.

The small proportion of forests that is harvested annually is regenerated so that a perpetual supply of native hardwood and softwood is maintained in this country.

And let me say that Australia is fortunate to have some of the best foresters in the world working to maintain our forest assets in perpetuity.

Foresters who are committed to providing good conservation outcomes and maintaining a viable forest resource for industry for the long haul using practices and technology that stand up with the best in the world.

Rather than being recognised for their contribution to forestry their profession is too often criticised by those who think that forests should be left to their own devices.

Australia’s forest resources would be all the poorer today were we to follow that advice.

The withdrawal of foresters, funding and management resources from forests turned over to conservation purposes in recent decades has led to some real environmental disasters in this country.

I could point to the loss of mountain ash forests in southern NSW and uncontrolled bushfires in a number of areas.

I am concerned about the development of a monoculture in the Pilliga cypress forests in northwest NSW without proper forest management and I shudder to think of the consequences of runaway fire in the vast Tasmanian wilderness areas.

In addition to its native forests Australia has about 1.5 million hectares of plantation forests and the industry is to be commended for its efforts to further develop both hardwood and softwood plantations, and to increase the management of those plantations for sawlog production as well as lower value uses.

We are one of few countries in the Asia Pacific region with the land availability and capability to expand sustainable forestry through further plantation development over the coming decades.

Because we are living in an historic era of global economic expansion, particularly on our doorstep in the Asia-Pacific, in China and India, demand for forest products, like other resources, is skyrocketing.

So the sustainable expansion of Australia’s forest industry is very important to meet global demand and contribute to our own economic prosperity.

Most estimates are that a third to a half of the world’s forests have been burnt or chopped down already.

That makes it more critical than ever that the world’s remaining forests are managed sustainably for conservation, for the world’s future forest product needs, and for the enormous environmental services that they perform in maintaining global biodiversity and providing carbon sinks to manage climate change.

Arguing that the rest of the world is benefiting from their natural forest wealth without shouldering the environmental cost, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister put the proposition this week that perhaps the developed world should pay for the preservation of rainforests in developing countries.

I would argue that any foreign aid directed in that way should come with reciprocal obligation and that obligation has to include stamping out unsustainable forestry practices and illegal logging and deforestation in those countries.

Just today the Indonesian Forestry Minister is quoted as saying the level of forest destruction in Indonesia has reached “serious” levels.

There are claims that illegal logging in Indonesia destroys about 3 million hectares of forests every year.

That’s about three times Australia’s legitimate harvest each year.

It is not just squatters, but legitimate forestry companies that are contributing to illegal logging, deforestation and poor forestry practices in Indonesia.

And Indonesia is not the only country under siege in this way.

Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Chile, Guatemala and a host of other developing countries feel under pressure to cut down their forests for timber or to make way for coffee plantations because this has been their only real option to release their people from poverty and deliver an economic future.

With the world facing such significant problems in managing global demand for forest products and maintaining a globally sustainable forest resource I find it more than difficult to understand the campaign being run by the Greens against Australia’s and particularly Tasmania’s forest industry.

For the last two years international clients of the forest industry have been subject to a lobbying and email campaign calling for a global boycott of Tasmanian products.

The Greens have also undermined the Tasmanian forest industry with UK parliamentarians, potentially jeopardising UK visitor numbers to Tasmania and placing at risk the almost $50 million spent by British tourists in Tasmania each year.

Not to mention the $1 billion that the forest industry itself contributes to the Tasmanian economy each year.

It is extraordinary that elected representatives of the Australian people could place the economic security and the jobs of their constituents at risk in this way.

I have had the privilege many times in my life to represent my country overseas as a representative of the trade union movement or the Parliament of Australia, and I have always been proud to sing its praises.

Not so members of the Greens who, on the back of taxpayer funded salaries and superannuation entitlements travel or write overseas to undermine the jobs of their constituents and the integrity of Australian industry.

If there are resource or industry or environmental policy issues to be addressed in our country, the place to address them is in our own Houses of Parliament and through the due processes of our own governments.

And the Greens, like the rest of us, should wear the decisions of those democratically elected governments, of which they are part.

Let’s not forget that without economic prosperity no government can pay for the social and environmental welfare measures so vigorously demanded by the Greens.

The Australian Labor Party knows full well that the key to a better Australia is jobs and economic prosperity for all.

And the fact of the matter is that Australia’s and Tasmania’s forest industries are part of the key to achieving that.

Tasmanian forestry is conducted to the highest standards in accordance with the Australian Forestry Standard, the development of which was initiated by the Commonwealth government and based on internationally agreed criteria.

The AFS was developed through a rigorous three year process where community, expert scientists and government representatives came together to draft the standard.

It holds global mutual recognition under the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, which is the largest international sustainability recognition framework for forestry in the world.

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has also recognised Forestry Tasmania’s AFS-certified forests for exemplary forest management as part of its “in search of excellence” program.

This puts the AFS and Tasmanian forestry in the world’s best practice realm.

Let me also say that, at a time when industrial relations and the protection of our most vulnerable workers are top of mind for many of us, I am pleased to see that the AFS, through the collaborative work of the CFMEU Forest Division and the industry, includes key ILO conventions in its provisions.

Too often the health, safety and welfare of workers is forgotten in the drive for industry sustainability – it is about more than the environment, it’s about workers and particularly skills and training for the future.

Recently I was pleased to defend the $4 million skills and training funding package for the Forest and Forest Products Employment Skills Company, a well respected joint industry/union organisation.

A skills and training package entirely appropriate given the changes in forest industry practices that are essential to implement the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement.

Labor supported changes in forest industry practices to end clearfelling and restructure the sawmilling industry.

The move away from clearfelling to more selective logging practices, historically referred to as “widow making” because of the inherent dangers involved for workers, comes with the need for retraining to address those significant dangers.

Similarly, we need to retrain and reskill workers as technologies in sawmills and contracting operations change, and as we bring our youth into the industry for the future.

Now, you may well ask where were the Greens while the industry and the union were looking after forest workers and developing the AFS to make Australia’s forest industries the best in the world?

The fact of the matter is they were welcomed at the table, but they opted to withdraw from the process.

Now, three years later, they want to discredit the standard and they want to discredit Tasmanian forestry in the face of contrary evidence from leading global and national scientific and policy bodies.

I say that is simply not acceptable.

The Greens are a political movement chasing votes like any other party.

The campaign being run by the Greens is aimed at capturing votes, it has nothing to do with the environment or sustainability, and above all, it is dishonest.

The result of the Greens actions could well be to scare international customers away from sustainable forest resources in Tasmania to countries where illegal logging leaves a trail of total devastation, but where ignorance is bliss.

This will cost jobs and economic prosperity in Tasmania, our forest resources will be the poorer, Australia’s trade deficit in forest products – already a massive $2 billion – will grow, and the products demanded by the global market will still be supplied, but by countries and producers who don’t care about sustainable forestry standards and who don’t care about trashing third world forests forever.

This is the hypocrisy of it.

More of Tasmania’s land and forests are protected than anywhere else on earth – four times the benchmark set by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and about 40% of the State.

The Australian Forestry Standard is internationally recognised.

The reality is that, to protect our own economic future, we have to be part of the solution to the environmental impact of economic growth in our region.

And part of that solution is to continue to grow a sustainable Australian and Tasmanian forest industry.

Shutting it down by slandering its reputation in international markets is a sure path to environmental and economic disaster, here and in the developing countries which are backed into the pursuit of an unsustainable forest industry for short term poverty relief.

It is estimated that almost 10% of timber and wood products imported to Australia are of suspicious origin.

That figure would be much higher for many of our trading partners.

The trade in illegal and unsustainable timber distorts trade, suppresses prices, and causes major irreversible damage to the environment.

Dubious importing practices are already contributing to job losses in Australia where local producers are arguably being unfairly undercut.

We cannot continue to leave our heads in the sand.

Our own economic and environmental future is in jeopardy if we don’t adopt measures to control importation of illegal and unsustainable timber products and if we fail to set the example in world’s best forestry and forest industry practices with our trading partners.

The answer is to maintain and grow a healthy and sustainable industry in this country using the highest environmental standards.

That’s why the Australian Labor Party supports the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement and it supports the development of a world class pulp mill in Tasmania.

Our high standards could add around $100 million to the cost of the mill compared to less stringent standards for our competitors in this industry.

Despite the cost impediment, we must support the development of Australian manufacturing industries – which we require to operate on a world’s best practice basis with respect to environmental and greenhouse emissions – and not drive them offshore to countries with lower standards.

It is up to Australia to showcase world’s best practice in forestry and wood processing to our trading partners.

The Federal Labor platform commits a future Labor government to encourage moves away from wood chip exports by promoting greater value adding and downstream processing.

The Tasmanian pulp mill would be an important step in this direction, quadrupling the value of Tasmania’s woodchips and going a long way to reduce Australia’s trade deficit in pulp and paper products.

Australia has a real leadership role to play in sustainable forestry and forest industries.

It is up to us as a nation to ensure that all our imports and exports of forest products are certified to give us confidence about the origin of the products, the legality of their acquisition, and the reputation and forestry standards of the producers.

This is the first step we can take as a responsible global citizen towards achieving wider sustainability of the forest industry and protecting our forest legacy around the world for future generations.

Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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