Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
evening Ladies and Gentlemen and Fellow panelist's . It
gives me great pleasure to outline the Commonwealth Government's
approach to forests with emphasis on the Regional Forest
Firstly, I would like to provide you with some brief
background information on the Regional Forest Agreements,
which will be followed by an update of their progress.
I will then discuss the importance of durability and robustness
for the Agreements and how this may be achieved.
Finally, I will outline the steps the Commonwealth is taking
to ensure that all RFAs are completed by the end of this
During the 1980s, there had been considerable debate,
both within Australian and internationally, about global
and domestic environmental issues, including the use and
management of forests. The global focus culminated in the
United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development
in Rio de Janiero in June 1992, at which Australia endorsed
the Global Statement of Principles on Forests and signed
a number of conventions relating to Biological Diversity
and Climate Change.
Domestically, this led to the Commonwealth, State and Territory
governments developing a strategy to help achieve the full
range of benefits that forests can provide now and in the
future which is enunciated in the National Forest Policy
Statement (NFPS), agreed by the Commonwealth and states
in December1992. The strategy and its policy initiatives
laid the foundation for the ecologically sustainable management
of our forests in Australia for the rest of the decade and
into the next century.
Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) are the principal mechanism
for implementing the NFPS. A key focus of the NFPS is to
achieve balanced outcomes between government, industry,
environmental and community interests in the forests.
Another key aim of the RFA process is to ensure that its
outcomes are stable over the long term. The 20-year term
of RFAs represents a significant attempt by all governments
to break way from short-term policy making. Governments
recognise the need to secure the sustainable management
of Australia's forest estate over a much longer planning
and investment horizon. The importance of this policy commitment
and maintaining bipartisan support for the process should
not be underestimated.
In fact, the pioneering nature and scale, of the RFA process,
with its associated Comprehensive Regional Assessments and
ongoing community participation, is not yet widely recognised
in Australia. Ironically, international bodies, including
the OECD, the World Wildlife Fund and the World Bank, have
recently taken an interest in the RFA approach as a useful
model for integrated resource assessment and planning.
As you may know, the Commonwealth and the relevant states
have agreed to complete 12 RFAs for high priority regions
of Australia by the end of1999. This is essential because
from 1 January 2000, no exports of native forest woodchips
will be allowed from areas not covered by an RFA.
While the process to date has not been easy, I can say that
we have learnt an enormous amount about how governments
can work together better on complex resource issues. And
RFAs are complex because they aim to balance economic, social
and environmental considerations, they require credible
science and they encourage community and stake holder involvement.
The benefits of these lessons will flow on to the remaining
RFAs - a point I will return to later.
Since the RFA process began in 1996, the Commonwealth has
invested around $100million in associated assessment work,
and has also allocated some $100million to the Forest Industry
Structural Adjustment Programme. In addition, the Commonwealth
invested $110million in Tasmania, in order to get a durable
outcome. This decision recognised the special circumstances
and the importance of the forest industry in that state.
State governments have also contributed significant resources,
technical experience and information in RFA work. Clearly,
all governments are putting considerable time, resources
and effort - right up to Prime Minister and Premier level
-to get this process and its outcomes right.
To date, four RFAs have been finalised: for Tasmania,
for the south western region of WA; and for the East Gippsland
and Central Highlands regions of Victoria. These RFAs have
met their policy objectives in providing balanced outcomes.
In summary, they have:
certainty for long-term wood supply
Comprehensive Adequate and Representative (CAR) reserve
ecologically sustainable forest management and use;
a more secure investment climate in which an internationally
competitive wood production and wood products industry
can prosper; and
certainty for local communities.
RFAs for the remaining eight regions are at various stages
of completion. The Eden (NSW) agreement is in the final
stages of negotiation and a further two (those covering
the North East Victorian RFA region and the south-east Queensland
region) are expected to be completed within the next month
The remaining areas in NSW and Victoria will be finalised
by the end of the year.
I'd like to return briefly to the completed Agreements.
The Tasmania RFA broke new public policy ground by containing
legally binding commitments on both parties, and by providing
for payment of compensation for any Commonwealth action
which breaches the RFA. These features will be incorporated
in all subsequent RFAs, and also applied to pre-existing
The RFA for Tasmania is now supported by legislation passed
in the Tasmanian State Parliament. Tasmania has met its
first set of milestones and a Statement of Sustainable Forest
Management was recently agreed between the Commonwealth
Similarly, in Victoria key milestones have been met and
a statewide assessment of industry development prospects
has been undertaken.
Industry in Tasmania and Victoria are investing in plantations,
value-adding production, domestic and overseas market promotion
and the development of niche markets. In Victoria, an estimated
$360m has been invested as a result of the RFAs. In Tasmania,
over 200 jobs have been created in the establishment of
both the public and private plantations since the RFA was
signed some 19 months ago.
I am pleased to report that industry bodies and individual
firms continue to highlight the positive effect the RFAs
have had on business optimism and about securing durable
Robustness and durability of the RFAs
It is important to ensure the durability and robustness
for these long-term agreements. I see some of the key factors
as being: full implementation of RFAs by the states, Commonwealth
and state RFA legislation, achieving 'win-win' outcomes
and promoting the scientific rigour and comprehensiveness
of the Agreements.
Once RFAs are signed, State governments, which have prime
responsibility for forest management, will need to ensure
they are fully implemented. These Agreements provide an
opportunity for State forest managers to enhance their public
image, bearing in mind the strong community interest in
forest use and protection.
To further improve the security of RFAs, the Commonwealth
is seeking to pass legislation to underpin its commitment
to these agreements. TheRFA Bill has been subject to Senate
Committee scrutiny and at the moment is awaiting debate
in the Senate.
The durability of RFAs has been enhanced by 'win-win' outcomes
and the balanced approach they have established. For example,
under the Tasmanian RFA, significant areas of production
forest identified by rigorous scientific assessments to
contain important conservation values, were placed into
the CAR reserve system. Supply of wood to industry has been
maintained at previous levels through expanded plantation
development and adjusting the cutting cycle of the existing
forests, while plantations mature to a harvestable age.
The status and durability of the RFAs is reinforced by the
scientific rigour and comprehensiveness of the assessments
that underlie them. This is another strength that cannot
Comprehensive Regional Assessments have provided a sound
scientific basis for the negotiation of RFAs. This strengthens
the Agreements against future challenges by providing credibility
and ensuring that there is scientific justification for
particular decisions. Assessing all forest values and taking
them into account in the decision making process ensures
that there are no weak links that can be challenged at a
The benefits of the CRAs extend well beyond the RFA process.
For example, they are:
said before, the CRA process has attracted international
attention from such organisations as the OECD, the World
Wildlife Fund and the World Bank, as a credible scientifically
based mechanism for resolving land use issues.
providing an unprecedented level of high quality information
for forest management;
to better understanding changing environmental and social
values of forests; and
state governments with Commonwealth-accredited assessment
processes for their forest management.
This recognition has promoted Australia's environmental
and forest management credentials overseas. Both the World
Bank and neighbouring countries have inquired about applying
the technology and expertise overseas. The OECD has commissioned
an evaluation of the social assessment side of the CRA process
and I understand that its interim report suggests that the
social assessment methodology may be usefully employed in
other OECD countries.
Such international recognition of Australian forest practices
will help achieve the important goal of international certification
and labelling for our forest products.
Completing remaining RFAs
Notwithstanding all of these fine achievements, which
have taken us three years to reach this point, how can eight
RFAs be completed by the end of this year?
Completion of the RFA programme has taken considerably longer
than originally envisaged. This is due to the very steep
learning curve associated with the process, the scope and
complexity of which is truly groundbreaking, even on an
Substantial policy challenges have had to be overcome, large
quantities of new data collected and analysed, new analytical
tools developed and the consistency and integrity of each
The important point is that the groundbreaking work has
been done, and the way ahead for remaining RFAs is now more
straightforward. The recent finalisation of the WA RFA is
enabling us to focus our resources on the remaining states.
Substantial challenges do remain, not the least of which
is completing the remaining nine RFAs by the end of 1999,
particularly when difficult choices must be made between
environmental, economic and social objectives. We in the
Commonwealth are drawing lessons from experience to work
better, faster and smarter.
These lessons for improving our progress include:
more emphasis on understanding key stakeholder issues;
the imperatives from the States' perspective's and ensuring
that negotiations are approached in a flexible and collaborative
a clear focus on priorities in both the assessment and
greater use of interdepartmental teams to ensure that
a Commonwealth whole of government position is developed
as quickly and effectively as possible; and
a strong emphasis on outcomes and on driving time lines
toward completing RFAs by the end of the year.
The priority the Commonwealth Government gives to completion
of the RFA process is apparent in the Prime Minister's decision
to appoint Mr Tuckey as Minister for Forestry and Conservation.
It is also reflected in the establishment of the Ministerial
Group comprising Mr Tuckey and the Ministers for Agriculture,
Forestry and Fisheries and for Environment and Heritage
that provides oversight and strategic and policy direction.
Decision-making is being streamlined, and Commonwealth ministers
are actively engaged in the RFA process and are determined
to overcome obstacles.
The Forest Taskforce in the Department of Prime Minister
and Cabinet is continuing to lead and coordinate comprehensive
regional assessments and negotiation of RFAs. We are putting
more senior resources in place this is particularly
important as we approach the negotiation phase for several
The Commonwealth is doing everything it can to improve the
process for completing the remaining RFAs. At the same time,
we are maintaining the quality of these agreements, in particular
their scientific credibility and emphasis on balanced outcomes.
However, the Commonwealth is only one partner in this process.
As an industry you appreciate the need for firm State government
commitment to completing the RFAs on time and thereby achieving
a secure outcome for industry.
From our perspective, we are closely focussed on achieving
the Commonwealth's fundamental objectives for forests.
The RFAs are a means to an end, and that end is long-term
certainty for industry, for protecting environmental values,
and for ensuring that rural and regional communities have
a viable future. The Commonwealth is committed to these
goals and we are doing everything possible to achieve them."