State money for forestry workers still on the table

The state government's $40 million funding offer to support forestry workers remains on the table, despite the Legislative Council refusing to pass critical legislation this year. 

It is unclear what will happen to the extra $62.5 million pledged by the federal government on the condition that laws to enact the forestry peace agreement were in place this year.

The extra money, announced earlier this week, took the total potential cost of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement to $379 million.

Premier Lara Giddings said she had had brief contact with the federal government, but it was too early to say what the next steps would be.

``We don't make decisions off the basis of a two-minute chat,'' Ms Giddings said. 

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke returns to Hobart from Antarctica today and is expected to comment then. 

The governments are reeling from the Legislative Council's decision on Thursday to refer the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Bill to a select committee. 

Ms Giddings feared the committee - which does not have a reporting deadline - will turn the forestry issue into a ``never-ending story'' but vowed to co-operate fully with the inquiry. 

``This is an open-ended, potentially never-ending story and we just can't afford that, the workers can't afford that, those that are struggling in the forestry industry today cannot afford that,'' she said.

Greens leader Nick McKim said the Legislative Council was to blame for any future job losses or anti-logging protests.

``This decision was about Legislative Councillors who don't want any high conservation value forests protected trying to avoid responsibility for the serious consequences of their attempts to wreck the whole process,'' Mr McKim said. 

Signatories to the peace deal yesterday tried to downplay the delay as a ``speed bump'' and urged Legislative Councillors to complete their investigations as quickly as possible.

Forest Industries Association of Tasmania chief executive Terry Edwards said it was an opportunity to demonstrate the agreement was durable. 

``We seek the strong support of the ENGOs to support Ta Ann in their international marketplace to ensure they are not required to leave the state,'' Mr Edwards said.

State Opposition Leader Will Hodgman said the government should commit to making ministers available to the committee. 

He said it was a chance to resolve unanswered questions about how many jobs would be lost.

Lara Giddings

Lara Giddings