Meet the Key Players Deciding NSW’s Native Forest Future

Koalas and cannabis: cold comfort from the ALP's push to close NSW native forests

Wed 05 Jul 23


The winter solstice has been and gone, and the second official winter month is upon us. 

In May and June, the NSW Legislative Council has been busy with native forestry.

On June 27, Jeremy Buckingham wedged the ALP into supporting a motion that called for the end of native forestry, the creation of the Great Koala National Park and the transitioning of native forestry industry workers into the growing of medically destined Cannabis.

Buckingham is a former NSW Greens MP who won an upper house seat with the Legalise Cannabis Party.

Jeremy Buckingham was removed from The Green ticket four years ago. (Photo Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

Two informative points have emerged from the debate:

Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe noted no agreed facts concerning the Great Koala Park. 

But said the park “was an extremely important contribution”.

1. The Great Koala Park announcement is imminent 

After consultation with conservationists, the forest industry and its workers, an announcement is imminent.

The minister’s statement said: “The environment faces a range of challenges, as does the timber industry”, which suggests a pre-determined outcome. 

This will be made clearer when the name of the NSW government-nominated consultant is announced. 

2. There will be no neutrality with the NSW EPA

On past performance under the Coalition government, there will be no neutrality by the NSW EPA. 

The bias will start with the nature of the qualifications of the consultant. 

There is always the generally time-honoured issue with consultants. 

The money holder for the piper gets to write the tune. And, of course, there will not be a silviculturist within cooee!

Footage courtesy of @workingdogproductions

The most interesting part of Sharpe’s speech was that she had had a ‘shot’ at NSW Greens MP Sue Higginson’s press conference on the NSW Auditor’s Report into forest regulation.

Her point was: The Greens should have met with the minister on the release of the Report and invited her to the press conference, given her long-term advocacy for the Great Koala Park. 

But politics is again in play here.

So it is big money if anyone cares to review the requests for campaign donations associated with this issue.

Penny Sharpe is the minister that will oversee the decision.
NSW Nationals have “bet each way”

Another observation is the comments of Sam Farraway, MLC Nationals; He said:

“Simply stopping [native forest} operations could lead to unanticipated consequences such as fire risks, pest problems and in many ways – from some very quick research – an overall decline in forest health”.

But then, in keeping with the younger National Party MPs, he had a bet each way; he did not support the native forestry industry with an unqualified statement. 

Farraway spoke of proper consultation and the complex nature of transitioning workers from the native forest industry.

Sam Farraway is part of a growing cohort of NSW Nationals who have not fully committed to native forestry with an unqualified statement. (Photo Credit: Sam Farraway’s Office)

The proof is in the pudding. 

The only National Party minister in the last government who put actions behind words was Paul Toole, Member for Bathurst and recently deposed as Party leader.

Then Minister for Lands and Forestry Paul Toole (left) and Chair NSW Forest Industries Taskforce Rick Colless inspecting seedlings at the Blowering Nursery in 2017. (Photo Credit: Forestry Corporation of NSW)

Mark Banasiak, Shooters, Fishers Party, has been and is the only consistent supporter of the native forestry industry and its workers.

Mark Banasiak of the Shooters, Fishers Party is a long-time supporter of native forestry and chaired a 2022 committee calling for the expansion of hardwood plantations. (Photo Credit: Mark Banasiak Office)

Sarah Mitchell, National Party, on May 31, moved a Notice of Motion, which the ALP supported, that noted: “native forest harvesting in NSW is carefully managed under a robust regulatory framework to ensure the right balance between environmental protection and forestry operations”.

She admitted that she was new to the subject, and for a first attempt, her speech read well. She was Education Minister in the previous government.

Sarah Mitchell has been a divisive figure in the coalition. In 2022 she was accused of being ‘woke’ by her opponents.
The June 27 Auditor-General Report

The Legislative Council commented on the NSW Auditor-General’s report on June 27 following its tabling of the forestry regulation on June 22.

A fair report, but Sue Higginson MLC asked a question without notice seeking to paint the Forestry Corporation of NSW into a corner for failure to ensure compliance with its contractors.

The charitable environmental NFPs had been using the issue with approaches for donations as June 30 approached.

The Nature Conservation Council has run two Facebook entries with large donation buttons high in the content using the Higginson view of the Report. 

The campaign appeared across all social media channels, including Twitter.

In her reply, the ALP Minister noted that both the NSW EPA and Forestry Corporation of NSW had been found to have failures of compliance checks. Most of these were in low-risk areas. A point that never appears in the Greens’ rhetoric.

Other issues on native forestry operations included:

On May 11, Sue Higginson introduced a Bill to Parliament "that would stop forestry operations from occurring in areas that are koala habitat. This is just one piece of our campaign to finally end native forest logging in NSW".
On May 11, Wood Central exclusively reported that Sue Higginson introduced a Bill to Parliament “that would stop forestry operations from occurring in areas that are koala habitat. This is just one piece of our campaign to end native forest logging in NSW finally”.
So, how can we assess the political state of play?

Assessing the political state of play.

The ALP government is seemingly playing a straight bat with a strong, detailed election commitment. 

The impact of that election pledge will depend on how the NSW EPA ideologues seek to influence the ALP Cabinet’s decision with their submissions.

There has been plenty of anecdotal evidence of their approach in the last three Coalition governments.

The National Party says they are committed to a native forestry industry, but their performance overall is poor.

Missing in action, some might say.

The current mob of MPs is not like their predecessors in, say, the Greiner government.

To be fair, the same assertion might be levelled at some members of the Federal National Party parliamentary room. 

One only needs to start with the current parliamentary leader who nailed his colours to the anti-forestry mast when he was Minister for Agriculture in the Morrison government. 

A similar remark might also be aimed at the current Liberal Party Deputy. Both, as ministers, took advice without question or consultation.

To be scrupulously fair, this assertion can be applied to many Parliamentary Executive Members and their staff. If it’s not on the front page, then they are not interested! 

Tom Saunders, ABC’s metrologist, said Sydney faced its coldest May in 53 years. The mean temperature – average of all minimums and maximums – was sitting at 15C, the lowest it has been since 1970. 

Well, this is where the NSW businesses and workers in native forestry industry are sitting – out in the cold, regardless of the mean temperature. The missing piece in all of this is the performance of the board and executive of Forestry Corporation of NSW. 

Commentary is for another time but in short, three words: silent, underwhelming and apparently impervious to political winds and threats.



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