BRIGHTON has joined with 11 other Tasmanian Councils to stand up for regional communities over government decisions on forestry and other resource development issues.
The 12 Regional Councils say the State and Federal Governments have let down the community and abrogated their responsibilities in handing over decision-making on Tasmania’s forests to vested interests. Appearing before the Legislative Council Select Committee into the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Bill 2012, the Councils said Governments were elected to take responsibility and make decisions in the best interests of all, and not hand over a State resource to small interest groups.
The Councils said the lack of community consultation and involvement in determining the future of Tasmania’s forest resource was appalling and had generated great anger in regional communities.
The funding being offered in compensation for locking up an additional 500,000 plus hectares of the State and the regional development funding amounting to less than $7 million a year for 15 years, was little short of pitiful.
Spokesman for the Regional Councils, Dorset Mayor Barry Jarvis, said the forest agreement had been developed by peak industry and environmental groups, but the community had been ignored.
“The Government should have lead the process rather than be a bystander, so It is now up to the Legislative Council to ensure that the legislation provides the best protection, and the compensation is adequate,” Mayor Jarvis said.
Tasmania’s Regional Councils’ Group comprises the Tasman, Derwent Valley, Break O’Day, Waratah Wynyard, West Coast, Brighton, Huon Valley, Southern Midlands, Dorset, Circular Head, Glamorgan Spring Bay and Central Highlands Councils.
Brighton Mayor Tony Foster said although Brighton did not have any forested land, it was home to a number of businesses involved in or supporting the forest industry and many Brighton residents also relied on the industry for their employment.
“The regions and their communities have been ignored throughout this process and the Councils are determined to stand up for them,” Mayor Foster said.
“These Councils represent more than 70 per cent of Tasmania’s land area and probably a bigger percentage of the State’s resources, but have not been consulted on important decisions affecting their regions and people,” he said.
Mayor Jarvis said as a result of the proposed increased forest reserves, councils were facing reduced rate revenues and increased road and bridge construction and maintenance costs and the result would be reduced services for ratepayers.
“Councils recognise the need for the forest industry to change, but we cannot accept that a further 500,000 hectares of land can be locked up without an independent socio-economic study of its impact.
“We know nothing of the so-called study being undertaken by the Commonwealth. We have not been contacted nor advised of its terms of reference or independence.
“The community has not been advised of where is the compensation funding being spent and we believe the compensation funding is paltry when you consider the multi-billion dollar industry that is being sacrificed.”
Mayor Jarvis said regional Councils believe it fair that participants who are being forced out of work are compensated, but what, if anything is being done for other impacted businesses and communities that are being impacted?
“The Legislative Council must demand details and demand more appropriate funding and it must demand a development strategy for regional communities that are being impacted the hardest.
“Tasmanians want to know what the future forest industry will look like. All we are being told is that it has to change, but change to what? The Commonwealth and State Government must be required to outline their vision for the future.
“Most importantly, before this legislation is passed, Tasmania must receive a solid guarantee, backed by legislation and enforcement, that this will end conflict in our forests.
“What is the value in this legislation if it represents simply the next land grab by the environmentalists and further demands will follow?
“Unfortunately, regional Councils and their communities are not convinced that this agreement and legislation will bring peace to Tasmania’s forests, Mayor Jarvis said.