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Regional Forest disagreement
Geelong Advertiser

Geelong Advertiser opinion article.

Regional Forest disagreement
Geelong Advertiser OPINION (page 6)
31 March 2000.
Noel Murphy

WHATEVER the form of the Regional Forest Agreement for western Victoria,  scheduled to be signed today by John Howard and Steve Bracks, it will please few.

           So complex and so large are the issues and the area involved that satisfying the
wishes of everyone is virtually impossible.

            And if there is any need for confirmation of how high emotions are presently running in areas such as the Otways, you need not look any further than last  weekend’s sabotage of Apollo Bay on its busiest weekend of the year.

            The blackout of the resort town during its annual music festival — with the slogan “OREN war” daubed near the chainsaw cut power poles.— has not been sanctioned by either conservationists or loggers.

            But it has certainly drawn attention to the plight logging towns such as Forrest
and Beech Forest could face under the RFA; likewise, what conservationists fear could happen to the Otways.

            But no-one closely involved with the western Victoria RFA is talking about what shape the final document is likely to take.

            Not Conservation Minister Sherryl Garbutt or spokeswoman Sally Gibson; not
Catherine Masters, the Commonwealth project manager for the RFA; and not Andrew Maclean, the Victorian project manager.

And while the RFA process has been roundly attacked on numerous fronts, there is no indication the final agreement will not show a great resemblance to the original RFA consultation paper both State and federal governments were at pains to stress was simply a starting point.

            Right from the outset, broad concerns have been voiced about the RFA being a fait accompli.

            And about the brief five-week period for the independent panel overseeing the agreement to digest some 1200 submissions before the March 31 agreement deadline.

            What of these concerns?

            “No comment,” Mrs Masters said yesterday.
            Might the final RFA be markedly different, if at all, from the consultation paper?
            “No comment,” Mrs Masters repeated.
            Will it be signed on March 31?
            “Things are on track for a March 31 signing,” she said.

            That’s more than more than Mr Maclean who like Mrs Masters, the RFA consultation  pager says is available to “discuss any issue” relating to the paper or the RFA process in general — any issue except what, when or where regarding the final agreement, it should have also said.

            And, likewise, more than Ms Garbutt’s office, which refused to comment on the issue other than to say the signing was still scheduled for today.

            The RFA has three broad objectives:
            DEVELOPING a comprehensive, adequate and representative forest reserve system;
            ALLOWING ecologically-sustainable forest management; and
            PROVIDING an efficient, internationally-competitive timber industry — and certainty for communities.

            The term “agreement” is hardly what loggers, conservationists or farmers might deem appropriate for the deal about to be struck between Spring Street and Canberra, especially if the draft paper is any indication of the final outcome.

            According to the draft, the RFA will add 168,000 hectares to existing forest reserves—a 40 per cent increase — between the edge of Melbourne and South Australia.

            And under it, the sawlog quota for the Otways would be curbed by 37 per cent — 44,000 cubic metres to 27,000 cubic metres. Loggers argue job losses will filter right through timber towns across the Otways and western Victoria if the RFA consultation paper proposals are adopted.

            Conservationists, by contrast, have warned of a war in the forests for years to
come if the anticipated RFA goes ahead.

They’ve focused much of their criticism at the unquantified effect on water yields in catchment areas of vigorous new growth after clearfell logging has taken place.

            Farmers, too, are anxious about the RFA and what it will mean for jobs. They say an “astonishing” lack of detail in the consultation paper is endangering - even before it is struck — an agreement meant to oversee forests for the next 20 years.

            They’re also concerned who would foot the bill for managing the additional reserve forest they expect under the agreement.

            But given the lack of detail, and belated detail, in the RFA consultation paper, and the subsequent lack of RFA officers willing to talk about the outcome, they might be waiting some time to find out.

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