Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Interview with Leon Compton, 936 ABC Hobart
1 February 2013
LEON COMPTON: Can you understand what's happening with the forestry deal at the moment? Leg. Co have not signed off on it and in large part they're hostile to it as they continue their examination of the deal. Forest Industries Association yesterday gave a tick that'll see a 170,000 hectares of Tasmania's forest put up for World Heritage listing.
That's got some on the far side of the Green movement happy and possibly understandably so, but with a Federal Election date now in pen and a possible change of Government, the alternative Government policy is to tear up any deal that comes. What does all that mean for where we're at at the moment?
Tony Burke is the Federal Environment Minister. Minister, good morning.
TONY BURKE: Good to be back Leon.
LEON COMPTON: And nice to talk to you again. Can you appreciate that what you're presiding over at the moment looks like a policy mess?
TONY BURKE: Well I can appreciate that people are taking positions and views that are different to what we've ever seen in the past. That's exactly true and the point in your introduction, I mean I don't think there has ever been a time before when a World Heritage dominations gone forward at the request of the industry.
I don't think anyone's ever seen that and yesterday morning I was in two minds as to whether it would go ahead at all or not. I had some very good conversations with key people within industry where I made clear, I said look if this is that you feel you've been dragged to the line and you're not sure whether you want me to do this or not, I'm minded to not do it.
And the comment was quite clear. It was no, we are asking you to put forward the World Heritage nomination.
LEON COMPTON: And you say industry but of course you're talking about one small part of the forest industry. What deals have you secured from the - for the tourism industry for continued access into these areas? What about the minerals industry and the opportunity to find and use resources if they appear in this World Heritage area?
What about the significant other parts of industry that might see job creation come in the wake of this?
TONY BURKE: Yeah, well can I deal with the two that you've just named? There is a significant dolomite reserve within an area that had been put [inaudible] by the environmental organisations to be part of the World Heritage listing. The Tasmanian Government and the Australian Government agreed some time ago now that if any nomination were to go forward that dolomite resource had to be excised from any boundary.
All the signatories were told if you wanted World Heritage to happen at all you need to know under no circumstance are we taking away this resource and so any boundary that - the boundary that go - that went across to World Heritage Committee makes clear that the dolomite reserve is still available for mining.
Similarly with the tourism industry, I had a very good meeting with a couple of people from the peak body two days ago in Hobart, where their concerns have been less about Federal law. The concerns that they put to me have been for regardless of whether there are new areas in World Heritage or not, for areas that are already in protection, they have had tremendous trouble getting tourism operations up and running and getting the required approvals.
Now I haven't had that experience elsewhere in the country. The whole of the Great Barrier Reef is in a World Heritage area and there's tourism operations all the way through it, so there's a proposal I've put to them. I'll leave it with them today for about a week but hopefully be back on your program if I can make this work. But there is something that I believe we can do that will not just make environmental approvals easier for them but massively cut the timeframes and costs for tourism operators within these areas.
LEON COMPTON: And so will the Greens support that deal? Will those that continually oppose development in national parks and World Heritage listed areas get onboard? Is that what you're suggesting will be part of this deal?
TONY BURKE: I've got no idea whether they'll support it or not, but I'm the Minister for the Environment. I'm in favour, have always been in favour of making sure that people get to see these places and get to enjoy them. I've approved tourism resorts in and around the Great Barrier Reef area.
I've done it in other World Heritage areas. I am not convinced that there should be some exclusion of all tourism in Tasmania, not convinced by that at all.
LEON COMPTON: Tony Burke, the Federal Environment Minister is our guest this morning on your local ABC. Do the State ALP support what's happening at the moment in this deal?
TONY BURKE: I've spent a lot of time with my Caucus colleagues, the Federal members from Tasmania, and their comments to me were quite clear. Unless industry definitely and publicly wanted this nomination to go ahead, then they were asking me to not put it forward.
LEON COMPTON: So these are your State Labor counterparts?
TONY BURKE: I deal with the Deputy Premier a lot, the Premier from time to time, but there was an exchange of letters previously. Had the Tasmanian Government been opposed to the nomination we would not have done it.
LEON COMPTON: So they support this nomination based on industry support, lock, stock and barrel?
TONY BURKE: Well I'll leave it for them to speak for themselves, but we checked whether or not they would oppose a nomination. The answer was they wouldn't, but they did want that dolomite resource protected and we made sure that happened.
LEON COMPTON: Where's the economic impact statement at the moment on regional communities that was promised to the Legislative Council as part of their interest in this deal?
TONY BURKE: I met with members of the Legislative Council Committee yesterday morning in Hobart as well. They asked about this report. The report's not yet finalised. Once it's finalised and provided to Government, I've made clear it'll be made available to the Committee and made available publically.
LEON COMPTON: How far away do you think that will be?
TONY BURKE: I don't think it's far. I don't think it's many weeks at all but when you get something done independently, you've got to wait for it to be finished before you can release it.
LEON COMPTON: The Opposition Parliamentary Secretary for Forestry has said that they'll withdraw the World Heritage listing nomination if they win Government later this year. Will that affect do you think the way the World Heritage - why shouldn't it affect the way the World Heritage body views this nomination?
TONY BURKE: My concern is what it says about their view of Tasmanian jobs. I cannot, cannot think for a minute of how you could get a worse outcome for Tasmanian jobs than what the Liberal Party is actually calling for and what they're asking the World Heritage Committee to do.
Yet we've had a player as significant as Ta Ann say that without what this deal can deliver, they believe they will leave Tasmania. Now if the Libs say they want to just rip the whole thing up, the markets don't change. The markets that we're dealing with at the moment or every challenge that's being faced by the forestry industry at the moment, is being faced in a situation where to date not one hectare has been put into formal protection, not one hectare.
And we've all seen what's happened to jobs in Tasmania, particularly in the forestry industry because of the shifts in the market, so what the Liberal Party have to know is what they are saying by that position because the market is internationally what it has now become, they are saying that they would not care about job losses at Ta Ann, that they would not care what that would mean for contractors.
All the knock down impacts for saw millers, for the regional saw millers, what that would mean for operations like Artec, what that would mean for operations like [inaudible] what that would mean for those who want to participate in the exit program not because they want to get out of business but because they have part of the quota they're entitled to for which there is currently no demand.
And they want to sell that into re-invest in their mills, to re-invest in jobs in Tasmania.
LEON COMPTON: And yet Tony Burke, this is not all about the Opposition. This is about the Legislative Council that still are taking time to scrutinise this deal.
TONY BURKE: That's right and I met with them yesterday. The level of hostility you've described I don't think is reflected when we were looking at the potential of a seven-all vote at the end of last year and look, let's see where they get. Yesterday's meeting I thought was very productive. They're working through the issues.
Everybody without exception, including me, when they first looked at this issue has said why on earth would you end up with an agreement of that nature? And then as industry and the workers and the union have taken people through it we've seen what the change in the market's meant, we've seen the need to be able to do something more productive with residues.
We've seen the challenges that are being faced on international markets and the need for certification where previously it wasn't required. All of these challenges need an approach that is different to the past and the Legislative Council is working through those issues just like the rest of us have.
Everybody who's looked at this seriously has ended up in a situation where they've said for all the challenges that are in front of us with this, can anyone see a Plan B that is better? And no one's been able to do that and the only alternative that's been offered is the Liberal Party, surprise, surprise, saying no and they'll just rip the whole thing up and rip up a whole series of Tasmanian jobs and businesses in the same breath.
LEON COMPTON: Ah before we leave you this morning Tony Burke, the FV Margiris or renamed the Abel Tasman, will you let it be used as a storage and processing vessel rather than a fishing vessel for jack mackerel, red bait and so on?
TONY BURKE: My concerns when I took the action I took last year were that I didn't believe the science was fully in on the impacts of local depletion and what that could mean for the species that were reliant on the small pelagic fish. At first glance I cannot see how any of those issues change under the current proposal.
I'm getting advice from my Department on that and I'll certainly have more to say about that in coming days and weeks.
LEON COMPTON: Thanks for talking with us this morning.
TONY BURKE: Always a pleasure Leon.
LEON COMPTON: Tony Burke, Federal Environment Minister on your local ABC around Tasmania.