Northern Forests | SPEECH


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (15:24:05): I rise to put some comments on the record about the government’s handling of the Northern Forests subsequent to the Bangor fire. Most members would know that, back in January and February 2014, the Bangor fire ravaged much of the upper Mid North and southern Flinders district, including most of the Wirrabara forest. Members may not be aware that before that fire there were other fires in the Wirrabara Forest and the Bundaleer Forest in the years immediately preceding 2014.

I think everybody in the local community understands that the fire ravaged the area and added to the impact of the previous fires. It meant that there did need to be a reset of exactly what ForestrySA wanted to do with those two forests: at one end, do a complete replant and try to get back to business as usual, understanding the long time frames involved with that, and, at the other extreme, sell or give away all of the land for completely different purposes. The reality is that the sensible, practical approach would be in between those two extremes.

In August 2015, a community meeting was held at Wirrabara outlining what the government wanted to do. At that stage, it was largely about seeking expressions of interest for the lands. The community was assured that the process would be completed by the end of that calendar year, by the end of 2015. People thought that was pretty quick, that it was a big job being done fast and that it may not have been completed to that time line and would perhaps finish in early 2016. People understand that there are no perfect results out of all this. People really do get that not everybody is going to be happy with the final result.

However, the government went on to receive all those expressions of interest, and then gone back and asked for requests for proposals. The first set of expressions of interest was exactly that: expressions of interest. The next set of requests for proposals were to be binding offers that the government could accept or reject. As well as taking more time and getting people to do a lot more work, what people found when they put their proposals forward was that the government then started their negotiation.

I am not saying that the government should not participate in negotiation. Of course the government should, but people really did think from the way the RFP process was described that it would be yes or no to their offer, given that it was asked to be a binding offer. The government has gone back and asked for these binding offers in many cases to be changed, adjusted, or they have taken that binding offer on behalf of the proposer and started the negotiation from that point.

This process has dragged on and on to the detriment of the community. The longer it goes on, the near-impossible it becomes for significant productive replanting to occur, and if it does happen then certainly we have lost these years in between. Another thing I want to say is that in my mind this is all about the community, including local jobs. That is the highest priority. Morgan Sawmill at Jamestown plays a key part in this because they are the owner-operators of the mill and they employ 50-plus people locally. It is the jobs of those 50 people that are my highest priority, and other potential employment opportunities that may develop in this region from other land uses are very important.

There is not one person who has come to me is satisfied with this process. It is dragging on and on. It may not be the highest priority that the government has on its books at the moment, but I can assure members that, for local people, who fear for their job because the mill they work at might be closed because there will be no timber locally to process, it is the highest priority. For them, it is all about their home, their rental, their mortgage, their kids, and that sort of thing. It is a big deal for people who have organised finance to acquire land to use it in other ways. They are sitting there waiting to know whether or not they have got the go-ahead.

This is all about jobs, and the government has not yet been able to articulate clearly how many new jobs net (new jobs minus jobs to be lost) will be achieved under their plan. They must get on and develop this plan and explain how it is going to be for the benefit of the local region.