Coalition Senators' Dissenting Report
Coalition Senators oppose the majority report’s recommendation (1.106),
which effectively represents the abandonment of more than a decade of
bipartisan support for the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) process and the
If enacted, this recommendation of the majority report would cast
uncertainty over the forest sector and put at risk thousands of jobs and
millions of dollars of investment. This is bad enough at the best of times, but
unthinkable in today’s economic climate.
Coalition Senators are extremely surprised and disappointed that Labor
Senators would make such a recommendation with such consequences.
Coalition Senators are also highly critical of the apparent attempt not
only to pre-empt the findings of an Independent Review of the EPBC Act already
underway, but also, through this recommendation in apparent collaboration with
the Minister for the Environment, now attempt to make directions in relation to
the manner and scope of recommendations for reform this Independent Review will
Further, while Coalition Senators broadly agree with the first two
thirds of the majority report, we cannot support the last third, which places
undue weight on the Wielangta Case.
The majority has effectively chosen to disregard the fact that the
finding was overturned on appeal,
with leave to further appeal to the High Court refused.
In addition, the majority has not adequately considered or placed in context
the significant conservation outcomes achieved as a result of RFAs.
The majority’s recommendation is inconsistent with a view of ensuring
the stability of Australia’s RFAs, which have been an important source of
security for many communities reliant upon a forest industry with long term
RFA Conservation Outcomes
Coalition Senators wish to highlight some of the substantial
conservation outcomes of Australia’s RFAs that are recorded and can be found in
Australia’s State of the Forests Report 2008
but which have been largely ignored by the majority in its report.
Almost all of the increase in forest in Australia’s conservation
reserves since 1998 has been achieved by reducing the area of multiple-use
forests through the Regional Forest Agreement process and other state processes.
The RFA process has resulted in the transfer of more than 2 million
hectares of forest from the broad tenure category of multiple-use public forest
to nature conservation reserves.
There are now 23 million hectares (or 16%) of Australia’s native forests
in formal nature conservation reserves.
One of the key objectives of the RFA process was to use a set of
nationally agreed criteria for the establishment of a Comprehensive, Adequate
and Representative (CAR) reserve system in Australia based on the JANIS
to protect, in nature conservation reserves:
15% of the pre-1750 distribution of each forest type;
60% of the existing distribution of each forest type if
90% or more of high-quality wilderness forests; and
All remaining occurrences of rare and endangered forest
ecosystems (including rare, old-growth forests).
Comprehensive Regional Assessments (CRAs) and a very extensive
consultation program provided the state and commonwealth governments with the
best possible information for decision making on the use of Australia’s
In layman’s words, what the RFA process achieved was the protection of
vast tracts of Australian forest, forest habitat and the species therein in a
way which Comprehensively, Adequately and Representatively protected important
Australian flora and fauna, while at the same time setting aside areas of
forest for ongoing, sustainable harvesting.
The Wielangta cases
Coalition Senators do not support the heavy reliance on the Judgment of
Justice Marshall in the first Federal Court case of Senator Bob Brown v
Forestry Tasmania. Notwithstanding that Justice Marshall’s judgment was
overturned by the Full Court,
his judgment was also criticised for examining the agreed issues in extensive
many far-ranging issues were, in our view, wastefully explored.”
The Full Court did not re-examine Justice Marshall’s findings of fact,
because they were viewed as irrelevant.
great deal of time and much expense has been devoted to investigating matters
that have turned out not to be determinative of any relevant issues.”
While Justice Marshall’s findings represent the view of one judge, other
reviews whether judicial, parliamentary or otherwise may (and indeed did) reach
Coalition Senators believe the majority’s recommendation to risk the
stability of RFAs and the associated thousands of jobs because of a single
judgment – overturned by the Full Court – is, at best, ill-considered.
Coalition Senators also note the heavy reliance of the majority report
on the evidence of Mr Tom Baxter, and also the failure to disclose that he is a
member of the management committee of both the Environmental Defender’s Office
and the National Parks Association.
Coalition Senators question the usefulness of current and ongoing
reviews into RFAs, given that they have only a 20-year life span. In the case
of the Tasmanian RFA, expiry is set to occur in 2017.
Further, Coalition Senators note that only the Tasmanian RFA has
undergone the required five-yearly reviews, and understand that a lack of
reviews in other RFA areas is due to a lack of will or cooperation from state
government agencies. This must be corrected and should be a priority for
signatories to RFAs.
Confidence in RFAs
There was no evidence presented to the committee to suggest a widespread
lack of public confidence in RFAs.
Coalition Senators do not expect that criticism from conservation groups
and passionate individuals would cease regardless of any changes to RFAs or
forest management practices.
Given the success of the RFAs to date, Coalition Senators would not
support any move to undermine them through the application of the EPBC Act or
any other duplicating Commonwealth approval over forest operations in RFA
As was expressed in our additional comments to the first report of this
inquiry, Coalition Senators are particularly keen not to see a situation where
a duplication of assessments, requirements or enforcements could apply to the
forestry industry across both the EPBC Act and RFA Act with potentially costly
Ensuring access to information
Given the evidence provided on the robustness of the process to
establish an RFA,
Coalition Senators believe the Government has a duty to ensure information is
made available by signatories to the agreements (namely the Australian
Government and relevant State Governments) to ensure public awareness of the
Comprehensive Regional Assessments, the extent of the CAR reserve system and the
wide range of threatening processes, in relation to endangered and other native
species, including those processes not related to forestry.
Coalition Senators strongly oppose the majority’s recommendation
effectively abandoning bipartisan support for Regional Forest Agreements, and
strongly oppose the attempt to exert influence, with an apparent bias towards
reforming the RFA process, over an Independent Review of the EPBC Act already
Senator Simon Birmingham
Senator for South Australia
the Hon Judith Troeth
Senator Fiona Nash
Senator for New South Wales
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