Fact finding tour through forests

October 06, 2017

The Nationals' Riverina Red Gum branch founding member Fay Ashwin, NSW Minister for Lands and Forestry Paul Toole, The Nationals' candidate for Murray Austin Evans, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and fellow founding Red Gum branch members Ken O'Brien (Back), Ben Danckert, Chris Crump, Todd Gelletly and Paul Madden.

Deniliquin sawmiller Ben Danckert says he is buoyed by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s affirmation that she ‘‘bases her decision on facts’’.

Mr Danckert, a fourth generation sawmill owner and chair of The Nationals’ Riverina Red Gum branch, said it was the key point he took away from his meeting with the Premier this week.

Mrs Berejiklian visited the Murray Valley National Park between Deniliquin and Moama with foundation members of the Riverina Red Gum branch on Tuesday morning.

Mr Danckert had issued the invite to Mrs Berejiklian in Griffith in June this year. It followed the passing of a motion at the Nationals’ state conference to reverse the National Parks conversion implemented in 2010 — to convert it back to the ‘‘Murray Valley State Forest so that sustainable and viable practice can be practised as it was until 2010’’.

Mrs Berejiklian is the first Premier to visit Deniliquin since Bob Carr, in the lead up to the 2007 election.

She said that milestone was highlighted with her during the visit, and she specified she was here to learn the facts relating to the timber industry and other local issues.

Joining the Premier for return trips to the forest were NSW Minister for Lands and Forestry Paul Toole, former Member for Murray Adrian Piccoli and The Nationals’ candidate for the seat of Murray Austin Evans.

Mr Danckert said the Premier was provided with documents that outline the facts she is looking for, which he is confident she will use to debate the party motion in cabinet.

‘‘We gave her a history of the sawmills, and the recent history of how the industry was closed down by the former Labor Government,’’ Mr Danckert said.

‘‘We gave her literature and maps that opposed information that was used to justify the National Parks conversion.

‘‘We visited compartment 27 of the former Moira State Forest, which was last harvested in 2006 and probably only four other times in the 15 years before that.

‘‘She seemed quite surprised to find the forest in good health, and not clear felled as has been suggested.

‘‘We also took her past the thinning stacks, which we (commercial timber businesses) were pleased to be given access to when Paul Toole last visited.

‘‘We highlighted to the Premier that she would not spend any money to help us reach our goal — she would only need to get the legislation through that would allow us back in the forest.’’

As well as highlighting the economic cost of the forests being closed to commercial harvest — about $100 million a year — Mr Danckert said the uses for the timber were detailed for the Premier and her advisors.

‘‘We also got the chance to sit down and speak with the Premier directly. She made no promises, but she said she would take what she had learned to cabinet.

‘‘It was good to see her here and willing to find out more.’’

Mrs Berejiklian said she intends to keep in constant contact with the industry workers she met on Tuesday, and to ensure all decisions on the future of the forest and its uses are based on fact.

‘‘I came here because I like to deal with the facts. I have briefing papers, but I prefer to speak to the people and it (visiting the forest) was a positive experience.

‘‘I asked everyone there to speak with me directly. I appreciate the frustrations (they have) but they do also recognise that this government has done a lot since the conversion, including work on the stockpiling of timber. There was relief that I was here listening to them, and I have agreed to keep in contact and to consult.’’

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