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Critics slam Coalition’s ‘vote grabbing’ logging plan

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Bass MP Bridget Archer in Launceston (image via Mrs Archer's Facebook page)

In the lead-up to May's Federal Election poll, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a multi-million funding pledge to support Tasmania’s forestry industry.

During a campaign stopover in the Tasmanian city of Launceston, Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed that the Coalition Government would provide $219.5 million to expand logging operations in Tasmania if it is re-elected on Saturday 21 May.

In particular, $100 million is earmarked to establish the National Institute for Forests Product Innovation (NIFPI) in Launceston and other regional locations, while $112.9 million in grants will be allocated to develop wood processing technologies. A further $6.6 million would go to 11 regional forestry hubs across the country.

Prime Minister Morrison touted the Government’s funding commitment, saying:

We can turbocharge this $23 billion industry with the right skills development and the right cutting edge research that our plan delivers.

 

Only the Liberals and Nationals have a plan to secure and grow Australia’s forestry industry as we build a stronger economy and a stronger future.

This election promise follows recent measures in the Budget that stipulate the Government would commit $86.2 million to a Plantation Establishment Program over five years and $4.4 million to curb illegally logged timber.

The Prime Minister and his Government believe these investments will ensure an abundant supply of timber and protect Australia’s logging industry.

In late 2019, the Victorian Government unveiled its plan to reduce the logging of native forests by 2024-2025 and cease these operations by 2030. Last year, the Western Australian (WA) Government stated it would end native forest logging in 2024.

Conservationists lauded the stance of the Victorian and WA governments, saying it was crucial to protecting forests, wildlife and the climate, and would support tourism in regional areas.

The Morrison Government has unequivocally stated that it would never endorse the shutdown of native forest logging activities in Australia.  

Forestry investment deemed an "election sweetener" for Tasmania

The Prime Minister made this funding announcement in Launceston, which falls in the electorate of Bass, the Liberal Party’s most marginally-held seat. It was won by Bridget Archer by 0.4% at the 2019 Election.

Tasmania is shaping up to be a battleground state for the Election, with the Liberals holding Braddon by only 3.1% and Labor’s Brian Mitchell with a 5.2% buffer in the seat of Lyons.

Cam Walker, campaigns coordinator at Friends of the Earth Australia (FOE), told IA:

“It was clearly an attempt to try and hang on to marginal seats in Tasmania.”

Former Greens Leader Christine Milne dubbed the announcement as another example of the Government’s pork barrelling strategy in marginal seats.

Further, Mr Walker suggested that it was unusual for the Federal Government to intervene in what is essentially a matter for the states:

The regulation of the forest industry is primarily a responsibility for state and territory governments. That is where decisions are taken about land use and resource allocation. The intervention of the Prime Minister clearly intends to override local decision making by making the future of the pulp and timber industry a point of difference in the Federal Election.

Ahead of the 2004 Election, former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard garnered the support of many Tasmanians and union members by allowing Tasmania’s old-growth forests to be indefinitely logged. At the time, the move was seen to protect the jobs of forestry workers.

The then-Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) – a trade union associated with the left-wing of the Labor Party – gave the Howard Government its tick of approval, leading to tensions and disagreements in the CFMEU and Labor that played out in public view.

Friends of the Earth: Logging takes a toll on wildlife and environment

Commenting on Prime Minister Morrison’s $219.5 million funding boost, Mr Walker said:

It will simply prop up an unsustainable industry and delay the day when remaining native forests in Australia are protected.

 

While their previous support for the establishment of plantations is welcome, pouring additional money into a destructive and unpopular industry is clearly more about politics than sensible policy.

Mr Walker also argued that the Government has failed to do its utmost to protect Tasmania’s native forests, telling IA:

The industry that logs native forests is primarily based on the production of pulp and other low-value products. There is no justification for cutting native forests, especially old-growth forests that exist in Tasmania, for products like paper when there are many alternatives which can be produced from agricultural land. The ongoing loss of old-growth forests is proof that the current system is not working.

The practice of logging native forests has also been criticised for increasing the flammability of forests and contributing to more intense bushfires.

Mr Walker explained:

Logging makes forests more fire-prone, as thick regrowth burns more intensely than well-spaced, older trees. Rapidly growing seedlings also take up more water, which can impact water in streams and is an issue in areas that are designated water catchment areas.

 

Logging releases vast volumes of carbon into the atmosphere which was previously safely stored in timber, roots and leaves.

It is also believed that logging in Tasmania is destroying the habitat of the swift parrot, masked owl and wedge-tailed eagles. It is also pushing greater gliders and spotted-tailed quolls closer to extinction.

Nicholas Bugeja is a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Arts graduate from Monash University and an assistant editor for Independent Australia.

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