Will the legislation pass muster?

Why is the pressure on to get the Forestry Agreement Bill through the parliament by end of year?

Full page ads in the paper from various interest groups, extolling the virtue of passing the legislation. Heavy lobbying of Legislative Councillors. Threats of closure from Ta Ann if the legislation is not passed. What does it all mean?

Until now I have simply accepted that the timeframe was the dictate of the Commonwealth, there was a timeline that had to be met in order for the money to flow, and that that timeline was set in cement. However, I never asked why the timeline was so important for the Commonwealth Government. Until I asked the question. And the answer I got was: “It’s all about World Heritage listing”. Not industry, not jobs, not the economic wellbeing of the State. No, from the Federal Government’s perspective, it’s about reserves.

Let me try and unscramble this egg.

1 The agreement between the parties (dated 22 November) acknowledges a first tranche of reserves, being some 395,000 hectares (let’s call this Lot A). A second tranche, of around 108,000 hectares, is to be made in 2 years, if durability holds (let’s call this Lot B).

2 There are no provisions in the legislation for revoking the reserve status if durability does not last. There should be. I would be recommending to the legislators that they insert a clause to say that if there is any protest from this moment on from any party, whether a party to the Agreement or otherwise, on the ground or in the market place, then the whole thing falls over, and the boundaries revert to those established under the Regional Forestry Agreement.

3 The legislation details the method by which this process is to be managed - a 2-step process, issuing first a general protection order, and later, issuing a specific reserve order.

4 The agreement (Clause 37) recommends that Government (ie the Federal Government) nominate to the World Heritage Committee, for consideration at their meeting in June 2013, a part of Lot A (let’s say A1), some 123,650 hectares, being primarily an identified minor extension to the eastern boundary of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (eg Weld, Styx, Florentine).

5 Without detailing Lot A1, the legislation proposes that for the purposes of this area, there be only a 1-step process (see Section 10.9.e)

6 The remainder of Lot A (say Lot A2) will run through the longer 2-step process.

7 In order for areas to be considered by the World Heritage Committee in June, nominations have to be made by the end of February. And for that to happen, the State will need to provide all necessary data to the Commonwealth before Christmas.

8 Thus the rush. A helluva lot of work needs to be done on Lot A1, detailing exactly the boundaries and land tenure of the area to be nominated, and none of that has been done yet. Cancel the Christmas break!

When it comes to lot A2, there are different matters to consider. The timelines may not be as tight, but other complications arise. Because some of Lot A2 involves areas that are of interest to other bodies, such as miners, in areas such as the so-called Tarkine.

If this legislation passes, there will be a great deal of confusion arising as to the requirements of different acts. Some allow clearing of land for mining purposes, but others prohibit such activity. The issue of trees being retained for carbon credits versus land being allocated for other purposes is now a significant issue. It is in fact very complex, bureaucrats are confused, and lawyers could have a field day working through this maze, all of which could impact on the durability provisions of the present legislation. Serious sovereign risk is being created. The law of unintended consequences again raises its head.

Anyway, back to the Legislative Council. They will have to consider this legislation, whether to accept it or reject it, whether to amend it by addition or removal, to keep the areas vague or to be more specific, and they have been advised they will be given 2 days (next Tuesday and Wednesday) to do it.

Those who signed the Agreement acknowledge there will need to be amendments made, to enable for example durability clauses to be inserted. This did not happen in the Lower House. It should have. There should also be revocation provisions contained in the legislation, and such penalties will also need to be considered.

A matter that may need to be considered is whether to treat Lot A1 and Lot A2 as two separate lots, rather than trying to bring them together in this altogether messy way. It may even require two separate pieces of legislation, one to treat the immediate “need” ie Lot A1, and another, for Lot A2 and Lot B, the details to be considered in the New Year. This may not be an acceptable solution to the conservation movement, who want it all done now

Assuming the Legislative Council is able to adequately and appropriately consider such matters, and assuming they do not reject the legislation, which is still a strong possibility, the legislation in whatever form will need to go back to the Lower Hose for a “third reading”. This is programmed to occur next Thursday. And any amendments made in the Upper House may not be acceptable to the Lower House members. As you can see, the legislative side of this issue is messy and being managed within an impossibly tight time frame.

Anything could happen! Watch this space!