A number of serious concerns have been raised about the Western Region Forest Agreement, which includes the Otways, Wombat and Cobaw forests.

Labor shares these concerns. It is clear that the Kennett government has badly mismanaged the RFA process. Already the Western RFA public consultation time has been cut down and rushed through to meet the December 31st deadline. The Department of Natural Resources and Environment figures on sustainable yields are unreliable, resulting in the Federal Minister for Forests and Conservation, Mr Wilson Tuckey, calling for an independent audit into the sustainable yield set by DNRE for the Wombat Forest.

In our Environment Policy Labor set quite detailed criteria, based on the original National Forest Policy Statement, which must be met by any RFA agreed to by a Labor Government.

Labor will only support Regional Forest Agreements that provide for:

  • Ecologically sustainable wood production and wood product industries, maximising value adding opportunities and efficient use of wood resources.

  • The management of Australia's forests in an ecologically sustainable manner for a range of uses that includes tourism, recreation and the production of non-wood products.

  • The maintenance of an extensive and permanent forest estate in Australia that includes a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system.

  • The protection of nature conservation values in forests.

  • Environmental values, including old growth, wilderness, endangered species, national estate values and world heritage values;

  • The conservation of the full range of values that forests can provide for current and future generations, including biological diversity, indigenous heritage and social values.

  • The protection of catchment values to ensure the availability of reliable high quality water supplies from forested areas.

  • The expansion of employment opportunities and the skills base of people working in the forested industries.

  • Ensures that Australia fulfils its obligations under relevant international agreements.

  • Fosters community understanding of and support for ecologically sustainable forest management.

  • Provides opportunities for public participation in decision making.

Labor does not support Regional Forest Agreements which do not include the meaningful participation of all the relevant parties, and which are not open and accountable. Labor does not support RFA's that do not properly resolve competing uses in the forest based on the best available scientific evidence. Nor does Labor support RFA's which do not properly take into account social, economic, environmental and indigenous heritage issues.

A Labor Government will be closely scrutinising the Regional Forest Agreement for the Otways, Wombat and Cobaw forests to ensure that it meets these criteria.

The Australian Labor Party in the Senate has successfully moved for the inclusion of these criteria as objectives in the Howard Government's Regional Forests Agreement legislation. It has also inserted a clause that would allow the Senate to disallow the RFA if it does not meet these criteria, including the requirement to properly protect water catchment values.

Proper Forest Management

Labor believes the management of our precious forest resources requires open accountability and public scrutiny. The Kennett Government has hidden behind excessive secrecy in its forestry operations.

Independent reports from the Auditor General and accountancy firm KPMG have revealed hidden taxpayer subsidies to the native forest timber industry. The KPMG Report in May 1999 concluded that the market price for sawlogs was between 30 and 60 per cent higher than the price charged by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

Labor will set up an independent review to ensure that royalties and charges cover all State management costs.

Labor will ensure that there is a level playing field between native forests and plantations in setting charges for logging our timber resources. This makes it likely that logging will not continue in areas that are unprofitable or unsustainable.

Labor will encourage the use of funding available to the industry through the RFA process to assist with restructuring where the logging of native forests proves to be uneconomical.

Labor's Plan for Managing the Otway State Forest Water Catchments

The Victorian Labor Party recognises that there is considerable community concern in relation to the Kennett Government's management of the proclaimed water catchments of the Otway State Forest.

Communities in the region value the water catchments in the Otway State Forest as a major resource contributing to the region's viability and capacity for growth. This resource must be protected.

People in the Geelong region deserve to have their water catchments managed in a way which ensures that the availability and of the water supply is commensurable to that enjoyed by their counterparts in metropolitan Melbourne.

Currently there are water restrictions in the City of Greater Geelong and surrounding regions including the Surf Coast. Water must therefore be treated as a precious commodity. There is evidence that suggests the clearing of vegetation reduces water yields.

(See Determinants of Water Quality and Aspects of Water Production in the Upper Barwon Catchment System; November 1985, P.F Clinnick, Department of Conservation Forests and Lands.)

Labor is appalled that in 1994 the State Liberal Government terminated the Otway Silvicultural Systems Project and that important long term hydrology research which would inform responsible management of the water catchments is yet to be completed.

Labor will undertake comprehensive hydrology research to determine the impact of logging on water yields and water quality in the proclaimed water catchments of the Otway State Forest.

An independent committee comprising representatives of relevant government departments, community interests, industry, and unions will oversee the study.

Labor will also examine methods of improving Geelong's water supply including increasing storage, reducing water utilisation and waste as well as measures to improve water yields.

Labor will change the Victorian Constitution to ensure the retention of all water authorities in public ownership so that they are directly accountable to the Victorian community.

Labor's Plan for Managing the Wombat and Cobaw Forests

Labor has pledged that on coming to government on 18 September, we will immediately conduct an independent audit of logging rates in the Wombat Forest. This will be conducted before a Labor Government signs the Western Region Forest Agreement. A Bracks Labor Government will not support unsustainable logging practices in the Wombat and Cobaw forests.

In addition, Labor will establish a pilot program in the Wombat Forest to trial the use of international environmental standards for the timber industry set by the Forest Stewardship Council.