Created on Thursday, 29 December 2011 11:00
Written by Julian Amos

It is interesting to observe the approach of the conservation movement to developments involving the utilization of our natural resources.  Such developments include forestry, fish farming, agriculture, mining, and other land use issues including property developments and suburban subdivisions.

The tactic follows a common theme.  For every new development proposal, a new protest group is formed with a new spokesperson, with the singular purpose of expressing concern regarding that particular development.  These spokespeople will do all they can to throw cold water over the application and to create doubt as to whether sufficient research has been done to protect threatened species, landscapes, biodiversity, catchment integrity or any other topic they can think of.  They sound so concerned, so sincere, so knowledgeable.  And yet, for all their emotional appeal they bring limited knowledge to the table while doing immeasurable harm to Tasmania’s standing as a happening place.

The latest forestry round has people once again sitting in trees (how silly), calls for Forestry Tasmania to be disbanded (how absurd), and the farcical IGA process where the argument is now about all forest having high conservation value (how dishonest) .  At the same time, moves are being made to remove existing infrastructure (eg the Triabunna mill), stop new developments (eg the pulpmill), demonise existing players (eg Gunns, Ta Ann) and condemn new opportunities (eg bioenergy from forest residue).

Recent fish farm development proposals in the Huon and Channel areas have been decried , and now the West Coast developments in Macquarie Harbour have come under attack, with claims that sufficient work has not been done, even though government assessment officers have said openly that the applications are sound.

Agricultural practices are being reviewed so as to limit what crops can be grown (GM) and how land is to be managed (PAL).  And mining operations on the west coast are coming under scrutiny, with claims that prospective exploration ground should be excised from minerals exploration activity.

Even subdivision and project developers are banging their heads against an intractable and archaic regulatory planning approvals and appeals environment, causing mind-numbing delays and driving up costs, with sniping from the “nimby” population.

All in the name of “the environment”.  What nonsense!

Environmental assessments are important, to ensure the appropriate mitigation procedures are in place.  However, this negative behavior, seen as being clever and concerned by some, is dividing the community and having an adverse impact on Tasmania’s reputation as a sound place to invest.  Most companies do not have their head offices here.  Having received the signal that there are difficulties confronting investment in Tasmania, these mainland-centric decision-makers are concluding it is better to invest elsewhere.  This is not limited to development companies.  The four major banks are now saying Tasmania is becoming too difficult, too risky, the sovereign risk is too great.  Property developers are finding access to funds more difficult to come by, and development companies are confronting issues regarding sovereign risk from their erstwhile backers.  Make no mistake – sovereign risk has become a serious and significant issue.

It is easy for us who are not directly involved in these activities to be dismissive and display disinterest, but indirectly, everyone suffers.

We suffer as a community from the loss of existing activity, and the lack of new activity.  We suffer socially and we suffer financially.   The State government coffers are buoyed by revenues generated from activity, whether it be land acquisition fees, payroll taxes, royalties etc.  A loss of funds means less capacity by government to provide the services we all demand of it, such as health services, police and education facilities.

Government cutbacks means less public employment, and less employment means less expenditure on goods and services.  In other words, eventually every citizen suffers, every shopkeeper suffers, every service provider suffers.

We display strange behavior.  On the one hand, we encourage innovation, and express delight when new things happen, new products are grown, new goods are manufactured, new ventures established.    We praise them when they are successful.  Blessed are the cheese makers indeed.  And then along comes a protest group, and puts all that enterprise in doubt.  Concerns are raise regarding “the environment”.  Markets are targeted, enthusiasm is drained, the energy to run a business is sapped, and the focus of the enterprise is distracted.

We have seen it all before in the forestry wars, and it is starting to happen in other sectors as well.  Activities get picked off one by one, access to resource is diminished by incremental and ever-changing demands.  Companies are demonised.  Politicians are pressured, and cave in.  Finally, calls to resolve conflict are simply another way of saying “we are respectable, reasonable people - give in to our demands”.

So, let us for a moment consider the proposition - what if all these demands are met?  The end result is obvious - no more forestry, no more salmon farming, no more minerals exploration, no more subdivisional activity, no more property development, and no more access to capital.  Is this what we as Tasmanians want for our future, as a future for us, our kids and for the intergenerational “future generations”.  A future without investment.  Surely not.

As the current forestry IGA process has shown, these conflict issues are unresolvable.  The consensus approach doesn’t work.  Appeasement is no answer.  We have been too long in this pretend game – we must move on.

Governments must stand up to these insatiable demands.  Our Premier has now acknowledged that the naysayers have had it too good for too long.  There is no longer the flexibility to accommodate all demands.  Political desire to appease all parties leads inevitably and inexorably to a position where no-one is satisfied.  And political will disappears into the nadir of despair.

We must as a community recognise that we now sit on a precipice.  Those who presently feel immune from such matters will very soon find themselves on the receiving end of some very unpleasant news.  A capital strike is looming.  Investment funds will dry up.  Without capital, nothing will happen, jobs will go, futures will be dimmed, and we will end up a totally mendicant state, an aged care facility in a national park.

We can do better, we must do better.  But it requires a change of attitude from those who presently think we can cater to all needs.  The conservation movement is active, it is noisy, and presents a professional face.  But it is at its heart destructive and dishonest in its presentation of this state as an environmental hell-hole.   We have a clear choice - to stand up to these nonsense claims, or to slip silently into non-viability and decay.