Historic conservation deal offers peace for Tasmania

Nanjing Night Net

THE federal and Tasmanian governments have swung in behind the state’s landmark forests peace deal, but warned that it is yet to be set in law.

The deal hammered out by industry and green groups in 30 months of talks offered a “quite extraordinary” prospect, Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said.

“We are heading towards something that is a unique win for jobs in Tasmania, that has conservation benefits that many people would not have thought possible,” Mr Burke said on Thursday.

“So we’re heading towards that,” he said. “We’re not quite there yet.”

Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings said the deal offered the prospect of putting behind the state a 30-year-long conflict over native forests.

“My hope is that people will see this as a historic day across the nation,” Ms Giddings said.

The state Labor-Green government began a legislative battle to enact key points, threatened by opposition in the state upper house, while bolstered by some industry groups and the Liberal opposition.

Under the agreement, conservationists won massive extensions to the protection of contested areas of state forest.

A total of 123,650 hectares would be nominated for inclusion in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, out of 504,012 hectares to be protected from logging.

The deal was made possible, after a collapse in talks last month, when the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania buckled to conservation groups.

The forest association agreed to a native forest sawlog quota of 137,000 cubic metres, or 22 per cent below a benchmark set in an interim agreement hammered out by Prime Minister Julia Gillard last year.

The association’s chief executive, Terry Edwards, warned that for the agreement to work, the industry would need financial aid on the “orders of magnitude” above the remaining $100 million of a $276 million federal package. He said there were extreme groups on both sides who would attempt to tear it down.

“We call on them to stop the protesting, stop the extremism and embrace the agreement,” he said.

Mainstream environment groups including the Wilderness Society and Australian Conservation Foundation gave an undertaking that they would back the forest industry, and warned that cherry picking parts of the deal would lead to its entire collapse.

“Basically this sets up a fundamentally different relationship with environment groups and industry than has existed for the past 30 years,” said a key negotiator, Environment Tasmania director Phill Pullinger.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown said the deal offered the promise of a new beginning for the state, but said he was worried about some aspects, including the continued level of native forest logging.

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