Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 5 Hansard (8 May) . . Page.. 1709 ..
MS MacDONALD: My question is to the Minister for Urban Services. Minister, we are all aware that the pine plantations managed by ACT Forests were seriously affected by the 18 January bushfires. Has the government made its decision on the future of our commercial pine plantations?
MR WOOD: No, the government has not yet made its final decision on the replanting of the pine plantations. As the question indicates, besides the huge damage to our urban, rural and bushland areas, the January fires did great damage to our substantial pine plantations.
It has been appropriate for the government to respond somewhat differently to the damage in all of these quite different areas. In the case of our pine forest areas, there are a number of important reviews in progress, and the government will not make its decision until these reviews are completed and adequate consultation has occurred.
Cabinet authorised ACT Forests to complete a new business case for the operation of the commercial pine plantations, and this business case will be submitted to the non-urban land use study by the end of May. The non-urban land use study should itself be completed by August. At the same time, the important issue of insurance for the pine plantations for future years is currently being investigated by the ACT Insurance Authority.
As minister, I am hopeful for a good outcome for ACT Forests. However, given the complexity of the issue, it is not likely that the government will make a final decision on the burnt plantations until towards the end of the year. Members should also be aware that not all of ACT Forests pine plantations were burnt in the bushfires. The Kowen plantation is unaffected, and ACT Forests is still supplying unburnt logs from this plantation to all of its customers. On a sustained basis, it can provide over 13,000 tonnes of sawlogs each year.
I should also stress that the forest industry involves much more than what the ACT government does. The local softwood mills are still operating. There are non-government pine plantations in the region. The local mills purchase logs within the Canberra region economic area from State Forests of NSW and from private plantation growers, including South Forestry. There will, of course, be a log supply shortfall in the future due to the loss of so much of the ACT plantation. However, State Forests of NSW has agreed to meet this shortfall with extra logs from its plantations for at least the next three years.
The government is developing a forest assistance package to support the mills in any restructuring, and the Commonwealth government recently contributed $1 million to the ACT government to assist with timber industry restructuring. The government is currently finalising its assistance package for Integrated Forest Products, the largest sawmill in the ACT, to enable it to develop new valued added timber processing capacity at its Hume plant. I reiterate that the ACT government has not yet made its decision as to the future of our commercial pine plantations.