MID NORTH FORESTS ( Speech 5 July 2016)
Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 15:22 ): I rise today to talk about the ongoing challenges facing the people of the Mid North and the southern Flinders Ranges in regard to the northern forests. The northern forests are the Bundaleer Forest and the Wirrabara Forest near Jamestown and Wirrabara respectively. They are certainly mainstays of a very broad area, and one of the most important things they do is provide employment, not only for government employees who work in the forests but for a wide range of private enterprise contractors, and most importantly in regard to the volume of employment; 50 people are employed at Morgan Sawmill at Jamestown.
In the electorate of Stuart, in this particular part of the electorate, we have had four very serious fires over the last six years. One of them affected the Bundaleer Forest and two of them affected the Wirrabara Forest. Most of the plantation of the Wirrabara Forest has now been burnt out and, of course, that poses a very real problem for the supply of sawlog to the Morgan Sawmill which, as I said before, employs 50-plus people.
The government knows about this. I have raised this in parliament many times. I have written to ministers many times. I have raised it in the media many times to try to get the government’s attention that way, but this issue just keeps dragging on. The government has not provided any positive way forward for all the people affected by this issue. It has put forward an expression of interest process, where they ask community members to provide suggestions for what they thought should happen, and they told the community at a public meeting at Wirrabara which I attended, in August last year, that by the end of last calendar year this would all be sorted out and everybody would know exactly what the government intended to do.
After that, the government then said that was not good enough, they then wanted to have a request for proposals process, in which case people, businesses and community organisations would put forward their suggestions for what should happen. The government would then consider those proposals, even though they had apparently already considered the expressions of interest which had previously been put forward.
One of the reasons this is so important is the economic benefits generated. There are many community, social and environmental benefits, but the most pressing for me is the economic impact. It would only cost a few million dollars for the government to replant these forests, and not necessarily all of the log and not necessarily everything that was there before, but enough to retain a viable forestry industry.
Deputy Speaker, let me give you some numbers to explain exactly how important this is. ForestrySA estimates that if they were to replant these forests it would cost them $11.4 million one-off net present value over the next 44 years. However, simultaneously, Regional Development Australia Yorke and Mid North has estimated that the economic benefit to the community is $9.4 million every single year if the forest is replanted. On those numbers alone, it is a very, very easy decision for the government to make, and yet it drags its heels.
There is an important issue that needs to be addressed and that is the issue of interim log. Of course, if the forests were replanted and the timber that is still there is harvested and processed over the next few to several years, we would need interim log to be made available so that the local sawmill would have other timber to process before the replanted wood becomes available. Morgan Sawmill has made it very clear that they would be very happy to purchase timber from ForestrySA on the open market to meet the price of the market of the day, transport the timber from wherever it comes from, most likely the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges, to their sawmill and process that wood.
Morgan Sawmill has a plan. They have been prepared and made it very clear that they are willing to do whatever is necessary. The community wants this to happen for many reasons. The government is dragging its feet. The government pretends this is a forestry issue alone, but it is not; it is an incredibly important regional development issue as well.
BUNDALEER FOREST (Question Time transcript 7 July 2016)
The Hon. A. PICCOLO ( Light ) ( 14:45 ): My question is to the Minister for Forests. Can the minister update the house on the progress of the replanting of 150 hectares of the Bundaleer Forest?
The Hon. L.W.K. BIGNELL ( Mawson—Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Minister for Forests, Minister for Tourism, Minister for Recreation and Sport, Minister for Racing) (14:46): I thank the member for Light for the question. As everyone in this house would know, about 80 per cent of ForestrySA’s Mid North commercial plantation estate was destroyed by the bushfires at Bundaleer and Wirrabara in 2013 and 2014. In 2014, we undertook to replant 150 hectares of pine forest in the Bundaleer Forest.
Unfortunately, as so often happens up there, the weather conspired against us. There was not enough rainfall in winter last year to be able to plant the pines in time, so only 60 hectares of the replant could be completed. But following good winter rains this year, crews have now been able to finish planting a total of more than 200,000 trees. I also want to report to the house that the well-known Mid North native forest locations, including The Range and Spaniards Gully, are now open to visitors once again. I am sure that is welcome news to people in the local area and also visitors to that wonderful part of the world.
Unfortunately, I do not have any specific news, but I would like to just update the house on the proposals for what these two very important areas of the Mid North may look like when the future use is determined. I have been a little frustrated, and I know the member for Stuart has been frustrated and the member for Frome as well, who have been great advocates for their local area, that we have not been able to get some more definitive decisions on what the future will look like. What we really want to make sure is that we retain the number of jobs that we have got there and, where possible, we grow the number of jobs that we have in the local area.
I sat down with the public officials who have been working through this. It has been an intergovernmental approach, so we have people in there who are looking at the tourism side of things and the environment side of things, as well as, of course, the forestry side of things and primary industries. They have all been looking at these 30 different proposals. I guess the easy way and the quick way we could have done was to have said, ‘These five proposals, they tick the boxes, we are going to go with them,’ but what they have done is try to overlay them in different ways.
While we may have one proposal which is for a big slab, we also have proposals for smaller land uses there which could deliver a higher value and perhaps more jobs, or perhaps even a greater community benefit. What they are doing now is working through that process. It’s basically a bit like a Rubik’s Cube: whichever way you want to reshape it and look at it, you can come up with a different outcome. I am grateful to have been able to sit down with those public officials and look at the 32 proposals that are there. Of course, there are all these commercial-in-confidence things around it as well.
Mr van Holst Pellekaan: When are you going to finish it?
The Hon. L.W.K. BIGNELL: They want to have it by the end of this year. I have asked them—
Mr van Holst Pellekaan interjecting:
The SPEAKER: The member for Stuart is warned for the second and final time.
The Hon. L.W.K. BIGNELL: We could have done a dirty, quick outcome for this—
The Hon. L.W.K. BIGNELL: No—and it wouldn’t have delivered the very best outcome for the people in your local area, member for Stuart.
The Hon. L.W.K. BIGNELL: So, you can come and have a really quick answer and let the problem go away, but we only get one chance at this and we want to make sure that we come up with the very best result. When I spoke to the public officials they were saying, ‘Can you give us until the end of the year?’
I’ve asked them to come back by the end of September. They have to go out and they have to talk—there are 32 different applications in, and it’s going to be some sort of blend of a whole lot of different ones to come up with the very best result.
Member for Stuart, I can assure you I’m frustrated that it’s taken this long. I would have liked it to have been a lot quicker; but having sat down with these public officials, they are acting in good faith. They are working in the very best interests of the local people in your area and the member for Frome’s area. I hope that we have a result that pleases you and the local community by the end of September.