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Senator Rice on the Regional Forest Agreement

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 1 Jun 2017

Senator RICE:  Welcome. It is nice to be back talking about forests and forestry. I will start with just an update as to how the renewal of the regional forest agreements is going.

Ms Lauder : I will start with Tasmania. The Tasmanian RFA has already been reviewed, as I think we mentioned last time, and we are in the process of extending. The current Tasmanian RFA ceases in November 2017. That is why this one is progressing ahead of the others. We are in the final months of that process.

Senator RICE:  When do you expect to be making an announcement of the results of the review and the evaluation and have a new RFA being signed off?

Ms Lauder : The results of the review and the joint government response are already public. That is already on the website. As far as the extension goes, we are obviously planning for it to be extended before November. We are hoping for it to be done in about August, but it really depends on the process. Tasmania needs to take it through their cabinet and first ministers. The Premier of Tasmania and the Prime Minister are the decision makers. I cannot give you an exact date.

Senator RICE:  I presume you are currently in negotiations with the Tasmanian government?

Ms Lauder : Yes.

Senator RICE:  Are there issues that still need to be resolved?

Ms Lauder : We are in the very final stages. It is just minor tweaking of words and things like that to agree.

Senator RICE:  I asked a question on notice about the proposed expansion of the Tasmanian government's 370,000 hectares of forest .

Ms Lauder : Yes, you did.

Senator RICE:  How has that been taken into account with the rollover of the RFA?

Ms Lauder : It is already noted in the RFA. As you know, the RFA agreement is a framework document and Tasmania run the day-to-day management of the wood supply and conservation reserves, et cetera, underneath that. So it is already covered under the regional forest agreement.

Senator RICE:  So basically, it is not making any difference?

Ms Lauder : No, it is not.

Senator RICE:  I also asked a question and got a very, let us say, succinct answer about how the changing understanding of the impacts of climate change and the role of forests in mitigating climate change is being taken into account with the new Tasmanian RFA. Can you expand on that for me?

Ms Lauder : I can. I think we mentioned last time that the Regional Forest Agreements Act is based on the National Forest Policy Statement, which talks about carbon. But from the consultation we did on the extension for Tasmania, it was raised a number of times that people did not think that climate and carbon were considered as part of the RFA. So, we are looking at trying to include a clause in the RFA extension. It has not been agreed yet and will not be agreed until it goes through to first ministers, but that is something that we are looking at.

Senator RICE:  What sorts of options are you considering?

Ms Lauder : I really cannot give you the detail yet.

Senator RICE:  You must have some options if you are looking at it at the moment? I am not asking you to say what you were making a recommendation about. What were the options being looked at?

Ms Lauder : It is not so much options. We are putting forward an option. We are looking at what is already being done as far as carbon and climate change was already being managed. It just was not articulated in the regional forest agreement. So, looking at articulating that so that it is very clear to members of the public that that is part of the management of forest .

Senator RICE:  So, continue.

Ms Lauder : We have done Tasmania.

Senator RICE:  We have done Tasmania.

Ms Lauder : We have been working with the Victorian government on the review of the five RFAs, and so the document that goes out for public consultation, which is looking at the implementation and operation of the RFA over the last five years, has been put together and is in the final stage of being completed. Then we are looking at doing consultation from July on that.

Senator RICE:  What form of consultation? How long? Is it just going to be asking for submissions on that document?

Ms Lauder : We have not agreed with Victoria yet. We are still in discussion, but the discussions at this stage are looking at putting the document out and calling for submissions for the review, which is looking backwards, and then doing consultation on the extension, which would be more face to face.

Senator RICE:  How long do you expect to have that document out for consultation?

Ms Lauder : Between six and eight weeks.

Senator RICE:  Is it interacting with the Victorian government's taskforce process?

Ms Lauder : Not really. You might have noticed that the Victorian government put out a media release saying that the taskforce now will be an advisory group to the Victorian government. So, the Victorian government, possibly, will be using it to seek advice on not so much the review but the extension of the RFAs. We are focusing more on the review until it is open for public consultation so that we can then really focus on the extension. As you know, the review and the consultation from that will be an important input into the extension process.

Senator RICE:  So, there is no expectation that there will be a report from the taskforce process before you go into that consultation process?

Senator Ruston:  We are not in control of the taskforce in any way.

Senator RICE:  I understand that, but clearly it is an issue in terms of your negotiations with the Victorian government, because the two processes interact.

Senator Ruston:  Yes, certainly, but it is a process that has to come via the Victorian government. Whilst we would obviously welcome any information that came via any process to factor into consideration, it is not something that we have any control over so we really are just going to have to wait and see whether it comes our way or not.

Senator RICE:  What about the remaining states?

Ms Lauder : Western Australia has been out for consultation on the review and the independent reviewer has—

Senator RICE:  So, is that review the combined second and third assessment?

Ms Lauder : I think it is just the third for Western Australia. I think New South Wales is the combined second and third, yes. Western Australia is just—

Senator RICE:  So, with Western Australia we did have a second review independently?

Ms Lauder : Yes.

Senator RICE:  By itself. That is a bit remarkable, compared with New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, I think, as well, was it not? I am sorry. I distracted you.

Ms Lauder : That is all right. The independent reviewer has developed his report. The Western Australian government and the Commonwealth will work together on a joint government response to that. We are starting discussions on the extension of the Western Australian RFA.

Senator RICE:  When is the joint government response expected to be released?

Ms Lauder : We have not even started talking about it. The independent reviewer's report has just been received. But I would expect—

Senator RICE:  That could be ages. It could be 18 months.

Ms Lauder : I am hoping that it will be within three months but, as you say, we have not even agreed with the Western Australian government yet on the timeframe for that and the process.

Senator RICE:  So, it would be after that response is out that you would begin the process for the extension?

Ms Lauder : Formally, yes. We will start the conversations about the extension earlier than that, partly because we have seen from the Tasmanian experience that it takes a long time, because you are going through the words and so on. Yes, we will start discussions early. There are three RFAs in New South Wales. They are at a similar stage to Victoria in that we are working up the implementation documentation over the last period that will be used for public consultation.

Senator RICE:  Tell me where we are at with the implementation documentation. So, there is the second and third combined review?

Ms Lauder : Yes, for the three RFAs.

Senator RICE:  For the three RFAs?

Ms Lauder : Yes.

Senator RICE:  What stage is that process up to at the moment?

Ms Lauder : We are probably not in the finalisation of the implementation report but we are close. It is possibly a little bit behind where we are with Victoria. We are looking at—

Senator RICE:  Is that considering all three of the New South Wales RFAs together?

Ms Lauder : Yes, it is. There will be public consultation. That document will be made public and we will be seeking submissions.

Senator RICE:  When is that expected to occur?

Ms Lauder : I would say late July/August possibly for it to start.

Senator RICE:  So, then what?

Ms Lauder : Then, once the consultation has been completed, the independent reviewer will take all of that into consideration as well as all of other information to put together an independent review. That will then come to Assistant Minister Ruston and the minister in New South Wales. We will then work with them to have a joint government response to that and move on to then looking at extending the New South Wales RFAs.

Senator RICE:  Will that combine all three RFAs?

Ms Lauder : Yes.

Senator RICE:  Will it be still three RFAs? In fact, for Victoria will it be a number or will they all be wrapped up as one?

Ms Lauder : That is an excellent question. We are looking at wrapping up the processes into one. Victoria has expressed interest in forming one RFA and we are currently getting legal advice on the possibility of that.

Senator RICE:  Thank you.

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