Forests Statement of Principles

On 2 February 2011, the newly appointed Premier, Lara Giddings, responded to the TCT’s 11 November 2010 letter to the former Premier, David Bartlett, and copied to the Prime Minister and her ministers for forestry and environment (published in full in the last Tasmanian Conservationist No. 321), which outlined the key shortcomings of the Forests Statement of Principles Agreement (FSoP). As expected, the Premier’s letter did not contain a detailed or substantive response to the many policy recommendations we made. But it did say that we could expect a meeting with Tasmanian Minister for Energy and Resources Bryan Green, whom the Premier described, as ‘leading the Tasmanian Government’s engagement with this (the Kelty) process’.

At the time of printing, the TCT has not yet received a response or a meeting invitation from Bryan Green. No reply has been received from the Australian Government.

It is not surprising that the TCT has not received responses to its recommendations because under David Bartlett, and now Lara Giddings, the state government has pointedly avoided articulating a clear position on forest conservation or forestry industry reform. First Bartlett got away with giving support to the FSoP process and saying the state government must give conservation and industry groups room to work out a deal. Then, after the FSoP was presented to him on 19 October 2011, Bartlett said that it represented a major step forward and reflected the substantial good will on both sides. Then followed statements from Bartlett which confirmed the government’s general commitment to the forest industry but not to forest conservation. When Bill Kelty was appointed as an independent facilitator, Bartlett, and then Giddings, said the state government’s role was to provide input to the Kelty process.

The signed FSoP was provided to the former Premier on 19 October 2010 but the state government still has not come out with a formal policy response to it after five months.

While the TCT has not had a reply from the Australian Government, Julia Gillard issued a media release on 7 December in response to the FSoP. The statement avoided any policy statements but announced the commitment of both governments to the appointment of an independent facilitator. 

The Tasmanian public does not know what the state or Australian governments’ interests or commitments are, with one exception: we know that very clearly both governments want the Gunns Bell Bay pulp mill built.

Since writing to the former Premier the TCT has elaborated on some of our concerns by sending letters to the state and Australian governments about:

-          the failure of reserve proposals made by conservation groups who are signatories to the FSoP to incorporate key breeding habitat of the swift parrot and the need for any agreement on forests to protect the habitat of the swift parrot and other threatened species

-          the potential for strengthened biodiversity provisions of the Tasmanian Forest Practices Code to provide an ongoing process for defining high conservation value forests (HCVF) in areas left available for forestry operations (the need for a definition of HCVF was specifically identified in Prime Minister Gillard’s media release of 7 December 2010 which announced the Australian Government’s response to the FSoP)

-          asking both governments to require Gunns Ltd to seek additional approval of its supposedly redesigned and improved Bell Bay pulp mill.

Gunns’ exit from native forest logging

There is an old joke that goes like this. Two Australian mates meet outside their local pub and one has a dog with him. After initial salutations, the bloke without the dog asks, ‘Mate, is it OK to pat your dog?’ to which his mate replies, ‘Sure’. The dog bites his hand and he says ‘but you said it was OK to pat your dog’. The bloke with the dog says, ‘Mate, that’s not my dog’.

Gunns’ have been behaving like the man with the dog. They are not telling a lie by saying they will end native forest logging but they are happy letting people misunderstand what they are saying.

When the TCT met with Gunns on 23 February 2011 they made it perfectly clear that their supposed native forest exist strategy was reliant on the state or Australian Governments buying their state forest wood supply licences or else they would put them on the open market. If the governments buy the licences then they could be extinguished, which would enable more forests to be reserved, although no such commitment has been made.

Given that the state and Australian governments are not likely to have the funds to buy Gunns’ licences, Gunns will only have one option: to sell to another forestry company, and logging will continue at the same rates. Whether they can find another buyer is another issue and open to speculation, including whether Forestry Tasmania would or could legally buy licences.

Gunns’ statements on this topic are designed to make the Tasmanian public and potential investors believe that Gunns is helping to end native forest logging and assisting with implementing the FSoP by saving forests from logging.

Given that Gunns’ licences account for 60% of all timber supply from state forest, sale of these licences to another company will make it impossible to deliver substantially on even the fairly modest reserve ambitions of the conservation groups who are signatories to the FSoP.

The Kelty process

On 15 December 2010 the state and Australian governments announced the appointment of former leading unionist Bill Kelty as the independent facilitator to work with the forestry industry, conservation groups and both governments in an attempt to develop a formal agreement to implement the FSoP.

The Kelty process commenced in early February 2011 and is operating in a complete policy vacuum. We could not obtain a statement from either the Australian or Tasmanian governments as to their positions on forestry industry reform or forest conservation and we understand that Kelty’s terms of reference also failed to state what the governments’ respective objectives were.

On 8 February the TCT met with Bill Kelty. After the meeting we had little confidence about anything coming out of his work. Mr Kelty summed up his job as talking to the signatories and other stakeholders, who may not agree with the FSoP, to determine whether an agreement could be formed. This is a pessimistic outlook, but realistic from our viewpoint.

Mr Kelty did not provide documents or a detailed description of the process he will follow to develop a forests agreement. He said he would meet with the signatories, and non-signatories such as the TCT, Forestry Tasmania and Gunns, and after this would meet us again. We don't know whether he meant right at the end of the process or not.

Mr Kelty seemed totally unaware of our concerns or previous correspondence with the Premier even though the Premier’s response promised to provide Mr Kelty with copies.

Other than confirming our assumption that the Australian Government wanted a deal over Tasmania’s forests to clear the way for Gunns Bell Bay pulp mill, Kelty could not provide a specific reason why the Australian Government wanted him involved.

His acknowledgement that regional development is a key issue, to be addressed as part of a possible Tasmanian forests agreement, gave us some hope that the Australian Government may take the issue seriously and potentially could provide funding for implementation of a forests deal.

When we asked whether reform of Forestry Tasmania was on the agenda, Kelty acknowledged the importance of institutional reform in ensuring long-term or sustained reform of the forestry industry.

We undertook send him all our previous correspondence with the Australian and Tasmanian governments regarding the Forests Statement of Principles. This has been done but we have no confidence that we will meet with him again or, if we do, that our input will be taken into account when formulating his final recommendations.

As this newsletter is going to print, the media are now widely reporting that they expect Kelty to deliver a report in mid-March, much earlier than the anticipated timeframe of June 2011. We can only conclude that this means that Kelty believes that a formal agreement is not possible, or that by mid-March the Bell Bay pulp mill would have final approval and therefore the state and Australian governments would have no further interest in the process continuing. If the latter analysis is correct then the Kelty process served only as a delaying tactic to ensure that no decisions were made by either government which could prevent the pulp mill going ahead.

Gunns Bell Pulp Mill

Australian Government approval

By the time this newsletter goes to print the Australian Government Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke, is likely to have given final approval for the Gunns Bell Bay pulp mill.

Protests and submissions to Minister Burke will almost certainly go unheard and it is highly probable that the minister will place no further significant conditions on the pulp mill. The TCT has always opposed Gunns proposed Bell Bay pulp mill and in recent months has written to Tony Burke requesting:

-          that copies of Gunns’ hydrodynamic modelling reports and documents outlining the response strategies to mitigate any potential impacts on the marine environment be released for public scrutiny prior to a final decision by the minister

-          a postponement of a final decision regarding the Gunns Ltd Bell Bay pulp mill, to allow for a review of the Kraft Pulp Mill Guidelines for Tasmania, which are now nearly seven years old and out of date

-          that Gunns be required to seek additional approvals for the Bell Bay pulp mill on the grounds that Gunns claims it has been significantly changed

The only reply we received was to the first letter, suggesting we ask Gunns for copies of the final hydrodynamic modelling reports.

Public consultation, Gunns style

Gunns waited until 25 January 2011, a little more than five weeks before it expected to receive final Australian Government approval for its Bell Bay pulp mill, to write to the TCT and many other conservation and community groups offering briefings on its claimed ‘significant improvements to the pulp mill project design since it was first conceived’. We wrote to Gunns on 2 February accepting its offer.

On 23 February 2011 the TCT (represented by Director Peter McGlone, Marine Campaigner Jon Bryan and President Phil Anstie) attended a briefing from Gunns Ltd (represented by Greg L’Estrange, Lawson Harding and Timo Piilonen) regarding the finalised hydrodynamic modelling reports and the claimed changes to the pulp mill design since the project’s inception.

The attached letter was sent on 25 February to Gunns Ltd Managing Director, Greg L'Estrange, providing a record of the briefing and stating the TCT’s continued opposition to the Bell Bay pulp mill. The letter was released to the media contacts and a copy was sent to the Australian Securities Exchange.

Mr Greg L’Estrange

Managing Director
PO Box 572
Launceston 7250
25 February 2011
Dear Mr L’Estrange,

OPEN LETTER - Consultation over the proposed Bell Bay pulp mill

Thank you for the briefing on 23 February 2011 regarding Gunns Ltd proposed Bell Bay pulp mill and other issues related to forest management and conservation.

The Tasmanian Conservation Trust wishes to put clearly on the record its continued opposition to the Gunns proposed Bell Bay pulp mill and that, while the briefing provided significant new information, it was not sufficient to alter our position on the mill.

We are also releasing this letter to the media and the Australian Securities Exchange so that the TCT’s position in relation to the Bell Bay pulp mill, and our record of the briefing, are clearly and widely known.

Following the briefing from Gunns staff regarding the finalised hydrodynamic modelling reports and claimed changes to pulp mill design since the project’s inception, the TCT continues to have serious concerns regarding the potential for the proposed pulp mill to damage the environment, including:

- causing serious impacts to the marine environment of Bass Strait
- causing serious impacts to recreational and commercial fisheries and
- causing atmospheric pollution, in particular in the surrounding Bell Bay and George Town areas.

As stated at the briefing, we are very concerned that, although the proposed emissions monitoring program appears to be an improvement on that originally envisaged, it is still proposed that monitoring be conducted by Gunns and this is not acceptable. The TCT requires that there be independent monitoring of emissions and a shut-down requirement in the case of major breaches.

We are also not convinced that the supposed green energy production will be environmentally beneficial.

As articulated at the briefing, we have serious concerns regarding how Gunns is undertaking its current round of briefings with community and conservation groups. We view our briefing as simply an opportunity for Gunns to provide us with limited information, in a verbal form, regarding the proposal and this, in our view, is not true or adequate consultation. We cannot verify claims made by Gunns in the verbal briefings, as we have not been given copies of the relevant reports, and we have no meaningful opportunity to provide recommendations to improve the proposal as the final reports have now been provided to the Australian Government. If this can be called consultation at all, it has come far too late to be meaningful.

As stated at the briefing, the TCT cannot change its opposition to the Bell Bay pulp mill, or any other significant development proposal, simply on the basis of just one verbal briefing. To be able to properly assess the changes Gunns has made to its proposal and whether the hydrodynamic modelling work done by Gunns addresses our concerns, we would need to at least have copies of the relevant documents and reports to verify its claims. The TCT first wrote to Gunns seeking copies of the hydrodynamic modelling reports on 19 January 2011 and provided a reminder in our letter sent on 21 February. We have never received a written reply to our requests for these reports.

We are very disappointed that Gunns has refused (by phone call from Mr Lawson Harding on 23 February 2011) to provide the TCT with copies of the hydrodynamic modelling reports (which Gunns acknowledged at the briefing have been completed and submitted to the Australian Government) until the Australian Government makes its final decision, which is expected by 4 March 2011.

As advised in our letter to you of 19 January 2011, the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities advised the TCT in writing on 19 January that ‘it is the Department’s current understanding that Gunns will be making these reports public once they are in final form ready to be submitted to the Minister'.

Clearly the Department believed that it was quite appropriate for Gunns to make these reports public and you did not take the opportunity to put a counter position as you failed to reply to the TCT’s letter.

As stated at the briefing, irrespective of the TCT’s continued opposition to the Gunns proposed pulp mill, the TCT is more than willing to continue to work with Gunns to improve its management of native forests and plantations.

Yours sincerely,

Peter McGlone


- Australian Securities Exchange
- Tasmanian media contacts