The negotiated IGA sponsored non-Agreement?

The forestry IGA negotiations continue.  Three deadlines have passed, and still the participants remain at the table, unable to come to any agreement.  We have now reached a position of high farce.  The industry representatives seek a guaranteed minimum sustainable wood supply, and the environmental representatives want a guaranteed minimum of ground preserved from logging.

These two demands remain irreconcilable.

Both agree that for any agreement to work there will need to be an end to protests. This is the so-called durability condition.   And yet those not at the table insist that their right to protest not be diminished, irrespective of any agreement.  So much for durability.

Various modelling has been carried out, but the model does not throw up the answers that they all want.  Certain hectarage is planned to be set aside, but there has been some “bracket creep” in the modeling.  Like the Generals after the Great War poring over the map of Europe, considering if a bit could be shaven off the demand here, a bit more there?  Could the model then work?  Well, no it can’t.  And if a sufficient amount of ground was removed from the demand to make the model work, then those who are not at the table would not agree, and the protests would continue. 

The governments want an agreement, irrespective of the details.  So they insist that the parties continue at the table. There is no Plan B in their back pocket.  For them, there is a significant amount of capital that has been invested, and failure would mean egg on all their faces. 

Meanwhile, those who have investments in the industry suffer, those who have lost their jobs and livelihoods are in an awful state of mind, rural communities are in a state of crisis, and those still in the industry cling on with little hope and little confidence.  And in all of this morass, the employees of Forestry Tasmania are subject to a never-ending level of abuse, for being professional at what they do.

What a sorry state of affairs.  We even had the spectacle of the Federal Minister ordering in late night pizza, so that talks could continue through the night.  How much more ridiculous does it have to get before the participants agree to walk away from the table.

This is no way to conduct a negotiation, and especially not the way to determine the future use of a public resource.  Negotiation by exhaustion is a poor excuse for proper negotiating behavior, where no deal is better than a bad deal.

There is a risk that they might come to an agreement that no party actually wants.  This is the so-called Abilene paradox, where a group of people decide on a course of action because they think others in the group wish that course of action to be followed.  Afterwards they discover no one really wanted to follow that course of action after all.  It smacks of a phenomenon called group-think, a common enough occurrence when a group of people get together to establish a consensus position, the consensus becomes the overriding objective, and where individual views are subsumed in order to reach it.

What is more intriguing is that the government is delegating the authority to make a decision to a group of people who do not represent the public interest, nor indeed fully represent their sectional interests.

The CFMEU may require redundancy payments for its members, but don't think for a moment they represent all workers in the sector.  The CFMEU does not represent the employees of FT, for example.

The ACF, TWS and ET may want vast areas of land locked away, but again don't think for a moment they represent the views of the wider public.  And they certainly do not represent environmental groups such as the Tarkine National Coalition, who have stated they will continue in their campaign to preserve the forests of the north-west.

FIAT, TCA et al may represent a part of the existing industry, but not necessarily all of it, and certainly not future prospective entrants who may well wish the opportunity to develop this public resource.  They do not represent the private forest owners, nor the mining sector, each of which will be impacted by any decision made around the table.

Any agreement will need to pass through the Legislative Council, and Councillors have already alluded to the fact that they will take into account all interests, including those not at the table.  So even if an Agreement was reached around the table, it would still not pass into law.

Meanwhile, while this dance is being played out, there has been the sceptre of gutting Forestry Tasmania (FT) as a sop to the Greens in Cabinet.  These moves are ill-founded and the motives  ill-informed.  Critics keep on saying FT does not pay its way.  What they conveniently forget to mention is that FT carries out a lot of functions unrelated to, or accessory to, turning a dollar.  As the Act states, the objective of FT is two-fold, to optimise the economic returns from its wood production activities, and to also optimise the benefits to the public and the State of the non-wood values of forests.   It is a land manager with a commitment to multiple use, not a single use.  Privatising FT will do nothing to resolve the issue – in fact it will probably exacerbate it.

It has been suggested that there may be a deal simply because there is no alternative. 

However, imagine if all the effort that has gone in to closing down forestry had instead gone in to strengthening the sector.   In developing markets rather than undermining them.  To research new products, rather than ignoring the value of such research, to recognise the value of biofuels, rather than condemning them.

Arguments regarding the high value of the dollar may have a certain resonance, but it has not stopped the export of native woodchips from other states.  And it is not appropriate or proper to simply give in.  So what might a Plan B look like:

It would need to recognize the following imperatives:

·      To support existing operations, and existing employment.

·      To ensure the resource remains open and to remove sovereign risk

·      To shore up existing markets, and hunt down new ones

·      To recognize that half of Tasmania's forested land is already in reserves – the remainder is being managed in a sustainable manner

Actions that government could take immediately include:

·    To use its authority to reopen the Triabunna mill, and if not, to lease existing plant elsewhere in the state
·    To cover the cost for the transport and processing of all existing sawmill waste which has been allowed to build up during the IGA process
·    To fund a special mission to Asia to establish a new market environment and new marketing arrangements, and to sell the existing stockpile.
·    To pay for the opening of a PERMANENT Tasmanian trade office, in a linkage with Austrade.
·    And for the Federal government to reconsider its position on biomass.

Immediate support such as this would give a much-needed lift and confidence to an industry seeking a way forward.  This is where governments should be concentrating their effort, and this is where they should be spending taxpayer dollars. Much better to be spending money this way, rather than paying compensation for putting people out of work.