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Forests in NSW: An Update

Forests in NSW: An Update

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 02/1999 by Stewart Smith

The debate on the appropriate use of native forests in Australia and particularly New South Wales shows no signs of abating. It has been six years since the Commonwealth and State Governments signed the National Forest Policy Statement. It was hoped that the successful implementation of the Policy Statement would resolve conflict in the native forests. However, in NSW at least it appears that the implementation of the National Forest Policy Statement is at somewhat of a stalemate (page 1).

The National Forest Policy Statement provides for the Commonwealth and individual States to complete a comprehensive regional assessment of forests, leading to a Regional Forest Agreement. The Regional Forest Agreements are at the core of the National Forest Policy Statement (page 4).

A detailed 'Interim Assessment Process' was carried out for forests of the NSW coast and ranges pending further investigation for the Comprehensive Regional Assessment (CRA). The IAP was conducted by the Resource and Conservation Assessment Council (RACAC), with input from a wide range of government agencies and stakeholders. Environmental, economic and social outcomes were modelled under various reservation options. IAPs were completed in September 1996, with the following major outcomes (page 5):
  • deferral from harvesting of about 816,000 hectares of Interim Deferred Forest Area, pending further investigation in the CRA;
  • protection of 12 new wilderness areas totalling 163,000 hectares;
  • nine new national parks and a nature reserve in the north-east of NSW and additions to the South-east Forests National Park, together with dedications of wilderness areas, resulting in the revocation of 240,000 hectares across NSW for National Park;
  • provision of industry security by maintaining quota quality sawlog allocations at 70% of 1995/96 levels until 30 June 1997, followed by an initial five year (plus five years with conditions) tradeable term agreements guaranteed at 50% of 1995/96 levels;

During 1997/98 Comprehensive Regional Assessments (CRAs) of NSW forest regions continued to be conducted. The four regions in NSW where assessments have been conducted include: Eden; Upper North East; Lower North East; and Southern. The CRAs were designed to form the basis of Regional Forest Agreements.

However, relations between the Commonwealth and State began to sour with the two not cooperating in the lead up to the announcement of the Regional Forest Agreements. In the end Regional Forest Agreements with the Commonwealth were not achieved and NSW released its own agreements. As a result the Commonwealth suspended its contribution to the Forest Industry Structural Adjustment Package (page 7).

In deciding to 'go it alone', on 26 October 1998 the Premier Hon Bob Carr MP announced the Eden Forest Agreement. It is not a 'Regional Forest Agreement' with the Commonwealth. Key features of the 20 year Agreement are (page 8):
  • addition of 37,000 hectares of forests to create a total area in the South-east Forests National Park of 134,000 hectares;
  • jobs growth for the region with the creation of up to 49 jobs in the short term;
  • timber volume supply of 25,000 cubic metres of sawlogs for the first five years;
  • addition of 24,000 hectares to Brogo Wilderness, bringing the total reserve to 56,000 hectares; and
  • $6 million industry package to help build a new recovery mill in Eden with a focus on value adding.

The Eden Forest Agreement attracted both support and criticism from a wide selection of groups. Similarly, the North East Forests Agreement was announced by the Premier Hon Bob Carr MP on 12 November 1998. Key features of the Agreement include (page 9):
  • the addition of about 380,000 hectares of National Park and nature reserves;
  • the creation of 85 new national parks and nature reserves and additions to 37 existing conservation reserves;
  • no net job losses, with the creation of 160 jobs in the coming years;
  • a timber guarantee to industry of a minimum allocation of 129,000 metres cubed in the Upper North East and 140,000 metres cubed in the Lower North East for the next 20 years;
  • a new Timber Industry Employment Taskforce to focus on regional development in the forest sector;
  • $18 million over the next five years for private land acquisition;
  • $5 million of the next five years for log haulage assistance; and
  • $30 million over the next five years for the development of hardwood plantations.

The conservation movement in particular thoroughly criticised the Government upon the release of the North East Forest Agreement. To implement the above Agreements, the Government introduced the Forestry and National Park Estate Bill 1998. After considerable debate and amendment, the Bill was finally passed and assented to on 14 December 1998. The Act is divided into five parts, and provides for: revoking parts of State Forests to be reserved or dedicated as national parks or other reserves; and the making of Forest Agreements. It also co-ordinates integrated forestry operation approvals and restricts the effect of other environmental legislation for approved forestry operations (page 10).

The Commonwealth Government has also introduced the Regional Forest Assessment Bill 1998. This Bill was originally introduced into the House of Representatives on 30 June 1998. The Bill provides legislative backing to Regional Forest Agreements between the Commonwealth and States. In response to industry concern that governments may simply 'walk away' from Regional Forest Agreements, the Commonwealth proposes that all Agreements be strengthened by providing that termination by mutual consent of the parties can only occur 12 months after an intention to terminate the Agreement is notified. In addition, the Commonwealth proposes that all Agreements will include provisions for compensation for those affected if a RFA is terminated early (page 13).