Regional Forest Agreement deception by Coalition

  The Regional Forest Agreement exposé of July 1999 shocked even sincere supporters of the Liberal and National Parties.  Already a group, led by doctors, had formed a breakaway group called "Liberals for Forests."  But the news that about a third of the so-called forests reserves were not timber country at all had struck at the heart of the principles of "Responsible Government."

  The National Party (formerly the Country Party),which is in coalition with the Liberals, had woken up that their leader Hendy Cowan had agreed to the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) without studying it or passing copies out to be studied (see The West Australian July 1 1999, p 10).  Mr Cowan agreed it was his error, and the Nationals wanted the RFA changed drastically -- and no wonder, given the fact that the RFA was a trick to get the over-cutting of the forest to accelerate, while pretending to do the opposite.

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  (Unknown to the public and the mass media, an international treaty to force countries to allow the export of their forest products is all lined up to be passed by the World Trade Organisation in Seattle in late November and early December 1999.  Mr Court and PM Howard may not be brave enough to resist that decision.)

  The group calling itself Liberals for Forests was formed and started gathering members, and prominent long-time Liberals started publicly criticising the secret RFA, Premier Richard Court kept on defending the RFA -- but the joint Parliamentary Parties and the State Liberal conference convinced him (or someone) that the truth had to be faced.  Perhaps the fact that the deception about the "forests reserves" could not be defended in his conscience might have also helped Mr Court see the light.  An important question: How much "compensation"  will the taxpayers be expected to give the greedy multinational corporations, who knew better than the average politician that the tonnages were more than the actual growth of timber growing in the forests?

  Mr Court had embarrassment during the public outcry when one of his closest advisers was found to be "moonlighting" with development companies doing business with the government -- the news media had not yet (2 August 1999) discovered if that man had links to timber companies too.

  The forests have been mismanaged throughout the regimes of both Labor and the Coalition, with more and more moves to corporatisation of what used to be a Forests Department led by a "Conservator of Forests."  Contracts to cut more timber than is actually growing each year in the millions of hectares of forests have been let by politicians with no care for the physical, ecological, or economic health of present or future inhabitants.  I presume that public servants and foresters who protested were ignored or demoted.

  This is more evidence that all is not well with the Western Australian Government's management style, nor with the Federal Coalition Government's.  Items about W.A. extravagance while people lack modern facilities are at Luxury.  News about other aspects of maladministration that were formerly on this webpage are now at Waste.

  Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) -- no escape for 20 years.   See "Job loss," next item.  The Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) will bind the States and the Commonwealth for 20 years.  The clearfelling of forests for woodchips continues.  My family knew from personal knowledge about 15 to 20 years ago that a forest firm in the Collie region was sending good timber to the chippers even then.  A report  about early 1999 revealed that valid State-approved contracts for felling exist until early in the next century, and all stakeholders know that the contracted quantities are not sustainable.  How on earth could companies get valid contracts to over-cut publicly-owned forests if the politicians in the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament, and the State Governments, over the years had been doing their jobs properly?

  Job loss to be 600 under the Regional Forests Agreement. See previous item, and next item. (By late July the job loss rose to 1500, after Premier Court reversed course during a Coalition and public revolt.)  At a rally organised around March-April 1999 by pro-cutting interests State Minister Cheryl Edwardes spoke, but she did not admit that about 600 timber industry jobs might be lost under the Regional Forests Agreement.  Why was the agreement kept secret, until it was signed by the Federal and WA Governments, EVEN THOUGH IT IS TO LAST 20 YEARS?  Secrecy was the hallmark of the corrupt Burke and Dowding Labor Governments, which became known as "W.A. Inc."  The leaders of this "workers'" government became bosom buddies of quite prosperous business leaders, and some who became prosperous with the privileges they were given.  Among their many "deals" was the amalgamation of the Forests Department and conservation agencies, with a demand that the new combined department, CALM, earn some of its running costs.  This "Labor" government also destroyed the independence of the Royal Mint, starting to corporatise it. (see April 16 article in Waste)

  Selling more timber than grows.   See previous item, and see Rapers below.  But, why was the timber mismanagement by the super ministry of the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM), let reach the stage where the only face-saving way out for the local politicians was to agree to requests from Canberra to sign the RFA?  Could part of the reason be political donations, which have also featured in recent newsitems?  And, is it the business community's intention, when the greenies leave the forests and the RFA fades from memory and becomes a "non-core promise," to over-cut again?

  Absurd luxury for a few, but no refund to the environment or the dispossessed.  And, are we degrading the environment so that multinationals and a minority in Australia can enjoy unreasonable luxury, while 7.5% of us remain unemployed, a sizable percentage remain under-employed, and a further big percentage also remain in poverty?

  Rapers of the forests to get $41m gift.   See Selling above, and Whittakers below.  Governments will throw more than $41 million of taxpayers' money at timber companies to encourage them to use native timber better. (See The West Australian, May 8 1999, p 11, in article "Aaron runs rings around timber giants.")  [Some of these companies have been wasting and woodchipping good timber for years, paying well below the royalties they ought to be paying, and clearfelling forests, thus ruining the forest amenity owned by the Crown on behalf of the people.  This is the RFA in practice.]

  Whittakers not paying for timber it takes. See Rapers above, and Old-growth,  next item.  Taxpayers losing $45 million.  As the WA Government announced a $41.5 million restructuring package for WA's timber industry last week it emerged in the Legislative Council [Upper House] that one major timber company owes more than $3.5 million to the Government.  Finance Minister Max Evans told the House that Whittakers owed the money to the Department of Conservation and Land Management in royalties and other payments.  CALM had moved to enforce security arrangements with the company and entered into a repayment arrangement, he said.( "MPs told of timber debt"  The West Australian, May 10 1999, p 36)   [So, the forests keep falling, but even the laughably low royalties are not paid by this firm!]  [Later in May the historic company was reported as going into liquidation.]

  Old-growth royalties so low it's cheaper to chop than to plant.  See Whittakers, previous item, and Treeless below.  Old-growth forests are being woodchipped even faster than before Tasmania signed the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) in 1998.  Paul O'Halloran, of North Motton, Tasmania, wrote to the editor saying this.  And, there were plans by Australia's biggest woodchipper to sell its plantations in Tasmania.   "Why invest in a resource base when the RFA has granted secure access to publicly-owned forest for 20 years?" ("The RFA failed in Tasmania," The West Australian, May 10 1999, p 13)

  Non-forest "forest reserves" of about 333,000 hectares (approx. 823,650 acres).  The Coalition beats "WA Inc" Labor for sheer impudence!  See Old growth above.  About a third of the supposed million hectares of Forests Reserves under the much-trumpeted Regional Forests Agreement (RFA) between Canberra and the WA Coalition government is SWAMPS, ROCKY OUTCROPS, and the like, such as the Swan coastal plain and the western Wheatbelt.  So amazing is the extent of the non-forest "forest reserves" that senior journalist Anne Burns uses words like "deceptive portrayal" in her article entitled "RFA credibility an endangered species."  Newspaper cartoonists had a field day!  One of the most blatant examples was the inclusion of nearly 700 ha (approx. 1729 acres) of farmland on Agriculture WA's Mount Barker research station, on the basis that it was "old-growth jarrah forest."  Agriculture WA is a government department, and its 1998 map of forest ecosystems shows the land as containing exotic species. (The West Australian, Friday July 16 1999, p 18).

  Clearfelling karri banned, and woodchipping to be phased out of native forests: Policy reversal supposedly to cost 1500 jobs:  After the  late July 1999 weekend Liberal conference, Premier Richard Court agreed to try to alter the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA).  He announced an immediate ban on clearfelling of karri, and the phasing out of woodchipping in native forests by 2003.  WA Forest Alliance convener Peter Robertson said that the fight to save old-growth forests would continue.  According to a news report, Mr Court's backdown came just three months after the RFA was signed with the Federal Government under which just 400 jobs were to be lost.  [Contrast that with previous reports that 600 jobs would be lost.]

Prime Minister John Howard told Mr Court that he was angry at proposals to reduce karri logging drastically from 175,000 cubic metres a year to 50,000cu m a year by 2003.  [One wonders how the busy PM who lives in Sydney would even know what karri timber was.  Many people who live in other States have either never heard of karri, or confuse it with the New Zealand timber kauri.]  Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss and Federal Forestry Minister Wilson Tuckey (of WA) both criticised Mr Court's announcement.  Forest Industries Federation executive director Bob Pearce (a former minister in the Labor "WA Inc" government, still on the side of the proprietors!) criticised the decision, saying that the expected job losses of 1500 were a disgrace, and the decision was not scientific.  (See The West Australian, July 28 1999, pages 1, 6-7, Editorial p 12.)

US COURT HALTS FOREST LOGGING:   SEATTLE: TIMBER sales from old-growth forests in the north-west of the United States have been stopped in a major move to protect wildlife.  District Judge William Dwyer, sitting in Seattle, stopped nine Federal timber sales in the Pacific north-west and ordered further ecological reviews that could stop logging in big parts of the States of Washington, Oregon and California.  The lawsuit was brought by 13 environmental groups.  He ordered the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to do detailed wildlife and flora surveys before logging up to 100 million board feet of timber on Federal lands -- in accordance with the Clinton administration's North-west Forest Plan.  Also, no new logging can be done on 100 other forests in the three States without the court's consent, which could affect most logging approved on Federal lands in the north-west during the past several years.  The old-growth forests are the last remaining in the US.  The ruling is the most significant against Federal logging since the legal case over the decline of the northern spotted owl in the early 1990s. -- LOS ANGELES TIMES -- The West Australian, August 5 1999, p 20.

IN THE U.S. IT'S CALLED CLEAR-CUT, NOT CLEARFELLING, but the People still are cheated: The Seattle Times won a Scripps Howard Award for its series exposing how much value Americans lose when the US swaps pristine forests for clear-cut stumpage with Weyerhaeuser and the rest. (Seattle Times, 99 Mar 14).

AND LAND TRANSFERS BACK IN 1998, TOO:  Seattle Times, Local News: Sunday, September 27, 1998: Government land trades leave questions about how public fared:

Land exchanges between the federal government and private companies many times aren't fair to the public.  A Seattle Times investigation has found these transactions are routinely manipulated by special interests behind closed doors. The manipulators include not only large companies such as Weyerhaeuser, but also land speculators, politicians, even environmental groups.


The Australian Conservation Foundation is changing its e-mail address in September 1999 to canberra@acfonline.org.au 

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Tagged with AOLPress/2.0, parts previously on Luxury and then Waste , hived off as Forests 02 Aug 1999, last revised 06 June 2000
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Doc. 50:  URL = http://www.multiline.com.au/~johnm/forests.htm
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