Nov 14, 2004

Insiders Interview: Old Growth Forests

Insiders: Interview – Old Growth Forests

Sunday 14 November 2004

BARRIE CASSIDY: No campaign policy initiative excited more comment in retrospect than Labor’s move on old-growth forests.

Our guest this morning, Labor’s new environment spokesman, Anthony Albanese, visited the Styx Valley in Tasmania this week and declared afterwards that the principles underpinning Mark Latham’s policies were absolutely right.

Well, that drew an angry response from one of Labor’s remaining Tasmanian members, Dick Adams.

DICK ADAMS, MEMBER FOR LYONS, TAS (ALP) ON PM ABC RADIO: Well, I think it’s a bit like a mangy dog, you know, sneaking around, running into areas, into my electorate, and then making comments about it without talking to anybody.

I mean, I just find it extraordinary behaviour. Well, I’m serious about people who are insensitive in understanding that Labor has to be able to gain the trust of people in the outer states, and in regional areas, and without that trust, we won’t win government. And for people that don’t understand that, then probably, they need to be expelled from the party.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, Anthony Albanese joins me now. Good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHADOW ENVIRONMENT MINISTER (ALP): Good morning, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, Dick Adams had harsh some words to say there. You’ve walked into a minefield.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well, I have no intention of engaging in a slanging match with Dick Adams or anyone else. That level of personal abuse, I think, betrays a lack of substance in the argument.

I went to Tasmania. I certainly didn’t sneak in. I met the Forestry Minister, Brian Green, I met the Environment Minister, Judy Jackson, I met the president of the party, David O’Byrne. I met the secretary of the party, I met other union officials, I met the heads of Unions Tasmania, I met conservation groups and I had a tour of the Styx Valley with the organisation Timber Workers for Forests.

So I don’t think I was sneaking around and I, certainly last time I looked, you didn’t need a visa to go to Tasmania. I was doing my job, I will continue to do my job.

But as for Dick’s expulsion motion, which he said he’ll move on Friday, well, I’ll leave that to the judgment of colleagues as to who’s been loyal to the Labor Party and who hasn’t.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Is it Dick Adams who’s looking for expulsion? Perhaps he thinks he would be better placed as independent of the Labor Party at the moment?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Look, I think the important thing here is that we get away from personalities.

What we’re talking about here, and one of the things about visiting a place like the Styx Valley, is that it is a humbling experience. As a member of Parliam ent, we’re in Parliament for a short time. These are trees that have been there, the tallest flowering trees in the world are in that valley and have been there for 400 and more years.

And what we need is good outcomes for jobs, good outcomes for the Tasmanian economy and good conservation outcomes.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But you said you went down there and you met Labor politicians, you met trade unionists. Did you meet any workers?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   I certainly did. I met artisans from Timber Workers for Forests. I met people such as Kevin Perkins. Kevin is a timber worker who has just put the pews and the timber panelling from Tasmania in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta. People like Kevin are concerned that their access to that resource will be restricted in future years and I certainly spoke to a number of timber workers while I was there and it was a first visit.

It is about opening up relationships. Certainly myself, I’ll be having a tour with Brian Green, the Forestry Minister, in December at his invitation.

Everyone I met down there was very constructive and I think it was a good first step.

BARRIE CASSIDY: You talk about a humbling experience going into the forests. It would be a humbling experience to sit down with some of these workers in their kitchens wouldn’t it, and talk about their livelihoods and the risk that a new policy confronts for them?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well, that’s exactly right. What we need to do is to get the policy principles right and we need to get away from this idea that somehow it is a choice between jobs and the environment.

When you drive into Tasmania from the airport you see the logs there, on the Tasmanian wharf, intact, waiting to be shipped off to Korea. Now, that’s the exporting of Tasmania jobs. What we need to do, as a first principal that we’ve adopted, is to get away from this high volume, low-value way, that much of the industry is being conducted down there. It is unsustainable to have old-growth forests clear-felled, turned into wood chips, 70 per cent, and then just exported overseas.

What we need to do is make sure that we have value-adding, make sure we have downstream processing. The announcement by the Tasmania Government that they support the proposal for a mill, a pulp mill which would employ 1,500 people, which would only use plantation timber, which will be chlorine-free, is environmental best practice, but is an example as well that we need to move towards areas in the industry which are about genuine job creation.

What used to occur, just in 1990, there was one hectare harvested for every worker. Now, every worker, it is five hectares. Now, that means that there’s a loss of jobs. And the first principle, that value-adding, a forestry industry plan, a second principle that Labor’s adopted, is no overall loss of jobs in the industry.

But the third principle is also the protection of high-value conservation forests. I think those three principles can gain very broad support, and frankly, I think it is very difficult to disagree with any of those three principles that have been adopted by the shadow Cabinet that will go to the Caucus next Friday.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Yes, sure, but the problem is that when you say that you can save old-growth forests but there will be no net loss of jobs, nobody is going to believe that.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well, what they know in Tasmania is there have been losses of jobs, have been occurring, and commonsense tells you, that if you just move in and clear-fell a natural resource, someone said to me the other day, "Oh, they grow back, these trees." Well, you’re talking about trees that are 400 and plus years-old.

When you talk about a tree like celery-top, which is used as specialty timber, used for boat building and furniture. That has to be 250-years-old before it can be used.

So, we need to make sure that we have sustainable practices that have that value-adding, that don’t simply export jobs overseas. You see, wood chips was supposed to be a by-product of the industry, not the driver of it. So if it is turned around, so value-adding, you can have good employment outcomes.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Is this the situation now then, that shadow Cabinet has taken a decision that you’ll stick with the principles but now you give Caucus a say and they have say on the detail?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   No, the principles will go to the Caucus on Friday. We lost the election, Barrie, so therefore the detail of our policy can’t be implemented. We had a plan for a scientific evaluation to report by September next year. So that isn’t going to occur.

But what we will be basing it upon, the pressure is on the Government now. The Government has said it will save 170,000 hectares. It said it would come up with the plan by December 1. Now, the Tasmanian, the Federal Government ministers were down there the week before asking to look at maps of what the areas are that should be saved. Now, they’ll have to come up with that plan by December 1.

What we need to do, though, is to campaign on the principles. I think that most Australians would find it abhorrent that we export wood chips, which return a value of $12 a tonne to the people of Tasmania, from old-growth forests. That is not a sustainable situation.

BARRIE CASSIDY: When you talk about the principles though, and the details are yet to be worked out. Does that mean that you might retreat from that position about saving 240,000 hectares, the figure you come up with into the future might be less than that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well, in three years time the situation may well be different in Tasmania. What we’re seeing is logging going on right now. There are 20,000 hectares of native forests being logged, clear-felled every year.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So that commitment no longer stands? The 240,000 figure is no longer relevant?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well, with regard to the detail, certainly it is not irrelevant. It is a factor. But what we’re doing is sitting down, talking with the Tasmanian Government, talking with the unions, talking with conservation groups, in order to achieve – but around those three principles.

We don’t want to go back to the drawing board and say, "Ah, well, we lost the election we now support clear-felling." That would be absurd position.

I think those three principles of an industry plan, maintenance of jobs and a good conservation outcome, not just in the interests of Tasmania but in the interests of Australia, is what we need to move forward with.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, maybe in retrospect, you should’ve gone into the election campaign with principles and not the detail. You know that these regional forestry agreements take many, many months and negotiations to draw up and Labor rewrote it in the last week of an election campaign.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Look, we will certainly be going into the next election campaign with detail as well. It is very difficult to cop from the media criticism that we had too much detail out there. We put forward a proposition during the election campaign in this area and across a range of areas, but we now don’t have an obligation three weeks before the new Parliament’s even sat to come up with the detail of our proposal.

And what we want to do, and certainly there’s some legitimate criticism about the campaign, and Mark’s gone to Tasmania and spoken at the Tasmanian state conference and said that the timing could’ve been better, the consultation could’ve been better. And he’s fessed up and accepted responsibility for that. But now it is time to move forward.

It is time to move forward, though, on the basis of a principle position and that’s what Labor will be doing. Not just in this area but across a range of areas. In my portfolio, the shadow Cabinet also endorsed the principles behind our position of increasing water flows to the Murray, of protecting the Great Barrier Reef, of the buy-back in Daintree and Cape York, and, perhaps most importantly, the principle of taking action on climate change. Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, we may go into those topics another day when we have more time, but thanks for your time this morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Thanks Barrie, good talking to you.