14 February 2023


Has Murray Watt breached his statutory requirements as Forestry Minister?

That’s the big question to have emerged from the Forestry session of today’s Senate Estimates hearings in Canberra.

Under relentless questioning from Coalition frontbenchers Jonno Duniam and Bridget McKenzie, Minister Watt extraordinarily admitted that he has never convened a meeting of the Forest Industry Advisory Council (FIAC).

That appears to be a breach of the requirements of Section 11 (6) of the Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002, as there was no meeting in his first calendar year as Minister in 2022.  This part of the Act clearly states, in relation to FIAC – or the Forest Wood Products Council, as it was formerly known – that:

“the Minister must ensure that the Council meets at least twice in every calendar year”.

Minister Watt also amazingly revealed that he has apparently been trying to dissolve FIAC without ever advising many or all of the Council’s members about this move.

In a trainwreck session for the Minister, he was also unable to easily explain why Anthony Albanese’s clear policy position of 17 May 2022 that “a Government I lead will not shut down the native forest industry in Tasmania” didn’t equally seem to apply to other parts of Australia.

Additionally, yet another Labor election promise to the forestry sector (this time on the convening of a sector-wide roundtable) now seems to have been broken.  Nine months into his job, the Minister was still unable to definitively clarify today when the commitment to “hold a roundtable with the forestry sector, unions, States and Territories to develop a Timber Fibre Strategy” might ever be realised.