Tasmania’s leaders have clashed in a pre-election debate over Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s claim that too much Australian forest has been “locked up”.
Mr Abbott made the comments at a forestry industry gathering this week, 10 days out from the Tasmanian poll.
The federal government has already moved to wind back World Heritage areas in Tasmania that are part of an historic peace deal between conservationists and the timber industry.
Premier Lara Giddings has defended the agreement, which Liberal opposition leader Will Hodgman has promised to tear up if, as expected, he wins government on March 15.
Ms Giddings says the deal, which took almost three years to negotiate, should not be tampered with.
“Forestry is a critical industry in Tasmania but it cannot be part of the war and conflict we had in the past,” the premier said.
But Mr Hodgman said parts of the 74,000 hectares the federal government has asked UNESCO to jettison had been logged previously and could be used to revitalise the state’s ailing forestry sector.
“They can in fact then be productive forests available to the industry that’s been deprived of a resource,” he said.
“It’s costing jobs and it’s not allowing our forestry industry the capacity to grow.”
The Liberals have pledged to get more tourists into Tasmania’s World Heritage areas and say they will boost eco-tourism developments in national parks.
“It’s too easy to say `no’ to these things,” Mr Hodgman said.
“Why can’t we be more like New Zealand?”
In a lacklustre third debate of the campaign, questions came from some of the 100 voters present in the Hobart Town Hall as part of a live television broadcast.
There were emotional pleas about provision of services from the carer of a disabled daughter and angst from a jobseeker who described a recent knock-back.
After the first debate was widely called as a draw, Ms Giddings went on the offensive with interjections in the second and was considered the winner.
The premier had less latitude to get on to the front foot in the third but an exit poll awarded her a win.
Only one moment drew applause and it had little to do with Tasmania.
Asked about the plight of asylum seekers on Manus Island, both leaders said they would welcome more refugees to the state.
Ms Giddings called for the reopening of the Pontville detention centre north of Hobart.
“We believe that we ought to have a humane approach to these people who need someone to stand by them,” she said, to claps from the audience.