Tasmanian government unveils resource security bill


Story by Tom Flanagan
Photo by Joel Winter

HOBART — Green activists have mobilised quickly in response to the release of a draft of the state Labor government's resource security legislation.

On September 16, cabinet received a detailed preliminary briefing on the legislation. MPs departing the meeting encountered about 20 green activists with placards, photographs and information kits highlighting the ecological implications of such legislation.

One placard offered the view that the initials ALP stood for Another Liberal Party. A poster-sized colour photograph showed the devastation presently being caused by Tasmanian forestry operations.

Resource security legislation will tip the scales further in favour of the companies that profit from exploitation of Tasmania's forests. The situation prompted a daring Saturday morning banner drop from the roof of Tasmania's Parliament House (see photograph).

The so-called Forest Reform Bill involves about 1.4 million hectares being zoned Multiple Use Forest — available immediately for forestry operations — and a further 600,000 hectares going into a Deferred Forest Zone.

The "security" resides in the tortuous bureaucratic procedures necessary to remove land from either zone, and a yet to be released clause relating to compensation payments if it is necessary to refuse or alter logging plans to protect rare or endangered species. The draft explains that this clause will have a condition that, if insufficient funds are available to pay compensation within 180 days, then the timber harvesting plan will be taken to have been approved!

There are two alternatives in regard to removing land from the wood production zones. One is the approval of both houses of parliament. In relation to this, the Liberal Party favours including even more land in the wood production zones. Labor has indicated its attitude to areas of high conservation value by including 200,000 hectares already identified as satisfying this criterion within the proposed zones.

The second alternative is a recommendation from a Public Lands Use Commission (PLUC) consisting of three commissioners appointed by the state government. Should the PLUC, after a long period of consultation, decide that land should be removed from the forestry zones, it recommends this to cabinet, which can either accept or reject it.

An extra condition for the removal of land from the deferred zones is an increase in timber output from 300,000 to above 317,000 cubic metres/year.

By proposing the PLUC the government has circumvented the necessity of gaining the approval of the Legislative Council in order to exclude areas from timber harvesting. This is an attempt to avert an election over the resource security issue, and to divide the green movement.

The Green Independents have repeatedly stated that if resource security legislation gave the state upper house veto power over the declaration of new national parks, they would vote for a no-confidence motion and bring down the Field Labor government.

A statewide meeting of Green supporters recently gave overwhelming support to a motion that the Green Independents would be justified in sending the government to the people if the resource security legislation were introduced in its current form.

Whether it would be possible to introduce a satisfactory compromise with the Field government on the legislation is a more contentious issue.

The meeting decided that once the Green Independents had determined their position on the legislation, they should report back to their electorate groups, which would judge whether a further statewide meeting was necessary to discuss the issue.