Bill McCormick, Science, Technology, Environment and Resources
The Tasmanian forest industry has changed over the last forty
years with the development of an export woodchip industry, closure
of some pulp and paper mills and the re-tooling of saw mills to
enable the processing of timber from regrowth forests and
plantations, rather than from old-growth forests.
There is considerable public pressure to include more
high-conservation native forests in reserves and move the sourcing
of wood products to plantations.
The size of the publicly owned production forest estate has
contracted, resulting in a reduction of the sawlog and pulplog
yield. This was due to the inclusion of forests in the reserve
system. Over the past thirty years eucalypt plantations have
expanded which has resulted in increased pulpwood, and to a lesser
extent sawlogs, from these plantations.
The drop in production from native forests along with new more
efficient equipment has contributed to a decrease in people
employed in the logging, sawmilling, pulp and paper sectors from
approximately 6 600 in 1991–92 to 4 700 in
There is ongoing conflict between the conservation movement and
the forest industry. In 1989 the Tasmanian Government negotiated
the Salamanca Agreement with conservation groups and the forest
industry to work towards a resolution of their differences. This
agreement ultimately broke down after a year of talks when the
combined environmental groups walked out.
Commonwealth involvement in native forestry activities in
Tasmania started with the regulation of exports of woodchips in the
1970s. Since then conservation groups have sought to convince state
and federal governments to include old growth forest and wilderness
in conservation reserves. In 1995 the Commonwealth initiated the
Comprehensive Regional Assessment process so that such areas would
be protected and the forest industry would have certainty of future
wood supply. This was done through the Regional Forest Agreements
(RFAs) where 90 per cent of wilderness and
60 per cent of old-growth forests are protected in
reserves. The twenty year Tasmanian RFA was signed in 1997. In
May 2005 a Supplementary Tasmanian RFA was signed that
protected an additional one million hectares of old-growth
forests. However, the RFA and the subsequent certification of
Tasmanian forests as sustainably managed under the Australian
Forest Certification Scheme, have not halted the significant public
opposition to the continued logging of old growth forests.
Over the past few years the Japanese woodchip buyers have
indicated they want either woodchips from plantations or
certification by the Forest Stewardship Council for woodchips that
are sourced from native forests. This requirement, combined with
the downturn due to the global financial crisis, has contributed to
a recent reduction in the ability to sell native forest woodchips.
There have been rolling closures at Gunns woodchip plants with
subsequent job losses.
About 80 per cent of the Tasmanian native forest
timber is exported as woodchips compared with about
93 per cent from eucalypt plantations.
Since May 2010 the Tasmanian Government has supported
negotiations between timber and conservation organisations to look
at sustainable options to resolve the issues of conflict. Any
agreement from these talks has to gain community support and would
need Tasmanian and Commonwealth funding to deliver any outcomes. In
July 2010 the Commonwealth was reported to have told the
negotiators that Commonwealth money would be made available to help
fund any agreement.
In August 2010, logging contractors called for a
$50 million payment to save 3000 jobs during the present
downturn and the Coalition and the ALP promised $20 million to
begin a restructure of the sector due to a significant decrease in
availability of high quality sawlogs from 2015. This is also
supported by Andrew Wilkie, the newly-elected independent member
for Denison. The Greens will not support this without an agreement
to end all logging in native forests.
A leaked draft negotiating document from the talks on
25 August 2010, although not an agreed position by either
- a halt to all logging in high-conservation native forests
within 30 days of the agreement being signed
- a full moratorium on logging in all public native forests other
than in some agreed low-value regrowth areas within three
- agreement from environmental groups for Gunns to build its
$2.5 billion pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, without protest
and obstruction in financial markets
- all parties to ask the state and federal governments for a
fully funded package to implement the native forest exit deal,
including financial assistance for contractors and
- a guaranteed, sustainable quantity and quality of wood for
The state Liberals opposed such an agreement saying it would
cost more than 3500 jobs and lock up 600 000 hectares of
The Wilderness Society negotiating the agreement and the
Tasmanian Greens indicated they were not opposed to a Tasmanian
pulp mill but were to the Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar Valley.
Andrew Wilkie also indicated his opposition to the Tamar mill.
In September 2010 Gunns announced that it would move towards
ending the use of woodchips and sawlogs from native forests.
Two proposals for a world-scale bleached kraft eucalypt pulp
mill have been put forward but have been opposed by significant
sections of the Tasmanian community. The first was in 1988 at
Wesley Vale, but concerns about the potential impact of the pulp
mill effluent on the marine environment resulted in the
March 1989 Commonwealth decision that the mill could only
proceed, subject to the development of Commonwealth pulp mill
effluent guidelines. Thereupon the Canadian joint venture pulled
out of the project. Later that year the Commonwealth published the
CSIRO’s Environmental Guidelines for New Bleached
Eucalypt Kraft Pulp Mills, which were reviewed and updated in
1995 to take account of technological advances. In 2004 these
guidelines were updated by the Tasmanian Resource Planning and
Development Commission as guidance for any future pulp mill in
In 2005, Gunns announced that Long Reach on the Tamar River
would be the site for its proposed pulp mill. There have been
objections to the project because of the siting in the Tamar
Valley, the bleaching process involved, and the proposal to source
some pulp wood from native forests. The original pulp mill
assessment by the Resource Planning and Development Commission was
halted with the Tasmanian Parliament passing special legislation to
give approval to the pulp mill. In October 2007 the
Commonwealth approved the project under the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, subject to
certain environmental conditions, including relating to discharge
of effluent into Bass Strait.
Any resulting agreement reached to resolve the differences over
forest issues in Tasmania will require structural adjustment of
hundreds of millions of dollars to implement. A significant amount
of this money will most likely come from the Commonwealth.