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Erik is a public policy professional and owner of the online training course in democracy and civic action: www.3ptraining.com.au The Blog …explores ways to create a sustainable and just community. Explores how that community can be best protected at all levels including social policy/economics/ military. The Book Erik’s autobiography is a humorous read about serious things. It concerns living in the bush, wilderness, home education, spirituality, and activism. Finding Home is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and all good e-book sellers.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Tasmanian Forestry Peace Deal - Should we Support it?


Yes, yes, yes, that is - if it is real, the parties stick to it, and the Feds back it.

Is it perfect – no.  Are we going to get a better outcome – no. 

First let’s look briefly at what the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement is. 

For the first time since the ill fated ‘Salamanca Talks’ of 1989, environmentalists and industry sat across a table and talked turkey on what they wanted, what they were prepared to give up, and ‘where to from here’ for the forest industry. These talks were not initiated by government but by the parties themselves. On this occasion industry approached the conservation movement.

The Tasmanian forest industry is in serious trouble and has now reached a cross roads. I will explore the reasons for this, how we got here, and what happens if nothing happens, in my next post.

Whatever the ultimate outcome Tasmania can be proud of the talks and of the agreement.  Two groups of people with diametrically opposed objectives and long histories of conflict spanning over three decades, spent two years in talks seeking a way forward. I know of no-where else in the world where similar talks have resulted in agreement.

There were spats, leaks, and walkouts, but that’s the stuff of real life. During that time the State’s biggest timber company collapsed, a former Director of the Wilderness Society ended up managing a (now closed) woodchip mill, lots of logging contractors went bust, some politicians did all they could to undermine any agreement, and forests kept falling.

From the conservation side negotiators continued to talk while timber interests targeted and felled world heritage value forests that were key to conservation concerns. From the industry side negotiators continued to talk while conservationists ran international campaigns to persuade markets not to purchase certain Tasmanian timber products. Again, such is life.

The talks revealed deep divisions within and between different conservation groups, and within and between different industry interests. It is no longer meaningful to talk simply of conservation versus industry. The talks revealed multiple interests with multiple view points. Never-the-less an agreement has been reached and signed by the parties.
The agreement has the potential to:

  • end thirty years of conflict that has harmed the social fabric of a small community;
  • provide certainty for business by better defining the available resource; and
  • protect significant tracts of some of the most important wilderness forests on the planet.

The agreement does not  in itself prevent construction of a plantation based pulp mill should a financial backer for this project be found.

The Federal Government has already shovelled out millions of your hard earned to assist logging contractors sans any agreement for conservation. However more funds will likely be needed to buy out some interests.  In the national context these are trivial sums but the Feds are penny pinching in preparation for a tight budget post GFC stimulus spending (although they continue to spend-up big on pet projects like the national broadband network, and amphibious warfare vessels).

Legislation backing the forestry agreement has passed the lower house (House of Assembly) of the State Parliament with the support of the Labor/Green coalition. However it must also pass the upper house (Legislative Council).  The Legislative Council is famously conservative and has already held its own inquiry into these issues. If they throw out the legislation or seriously compromise its outcomes, we are back to the trenches. I will explore what that means in my next post.

Will the agreement hold?  The State Liberal (read conservative) party has reversed its own policy on forest protection.  They want to throw out the agreement in its entirety but have not publicly articulated an alternative forest policy. Oddly, a market based approach to this issue would have seen woodchipping cease on most high conservation value forests a decade ago but public subsidies have extended the carnage.

The mainstream environmental NGOs cannot prevent individuals or small community groups from protesting. Nor can the Green Party. Conservative commentators will jump on this as proof of a conspiracy and ill-will from the ‘never satisfied insatiable extreme greens who want to destroy civilisation as we know it and close down all our industries.’ If a logger stubs their toe in the forest it will be touted as proof of an eco-terrorist conspiracy (yawn). In reality small protest groups are nothing new. Without strong public support, sound leadership, institutional backing, and a clear and compelling cause, they fizzle out. Remember the “Abolish the Family Court Party”?  Of course you don’t! Some people though are going to have to grow up, realise you don’t always get everything you want in life, and that compromise also take courage.

That doesn’t mean that conversations about how to do forestry better or differently will not continue. My hope though is that people will no longer be sitting up trees for months, getting dragged out from under forestry machinery and thrown into prison, or asking international companies not to buy our products. I don’t want my kids to be part of that kind of conflict 15 years from now.

I am a deep green. I have knelt under the blade of a bulldozder. I am prepared to lose some forests for the sake of peace.  Let’s make this agreement real and move on. Let’s have peace this Christmas.

Update Note: Christmas has passed, the Upper House has amended the Bill and the Lower House is debating the amendments. The Greens are split. Never-the-less the environmental signatories have accepted the amendments in the interests of moving the agreement forward. This is a substantial compromise and puts to bed the notion that greenies are insatiable, extreme and unreasonable. There is more political maturity on display here by the green NGOs than has been shown by some politicians for a very long time. Things are moving very rapidly so keep posted for future blogs on this topic.

Tag line: forest peace deal, Christine Milne, Terry Edwards, Vica Bailey, Bob Brown, Dr Pullinger, old growth forests, high conservation value forests, The Wilderness Society, Tony Burke, Michael Hodgeman.


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