Collapse of IGA Peace Talks

The IGA Peace Talks Collapse

On Friday,the talks had recommenced.  Come Saturday morning, they had broken down.   Far too glib to blame the pizza, or lack of it.

What this means is that industry continues to be supplied with its contracted annual amount of 155,000 cub metres of sawlog, and the claim by the conservationists for a further 572,000 hectares of reserves has failed.  No new reserves.  This is as it should  be.

The IGA was all about ensuring that, however much extra forest was placed in reserves, the contracted amount of sawlog would be retained (see Clause 17).  This could not be achieved. There was no chance that the conservationists would accept any less than their ambit claim – their colleagues on the outside had already advised that - which meant a deal was impossible.  From the outset, this was the case.

Any increase in reserves effectively meant industries closing. All the modeling showed this to be so.  Sawmillers were not going to exit the industry, just because the conservationists wanted more ground.  The exit of Gunns from native forest operations meant the contracted amount of sawlog had already fallen from an annual supply of 300,000 cub metres to 155,000 cub metres.    

A ploy to reduce the contracted amount of sawlogs, by seeking from sawmillers a voluntary exit in exchange for dollars, was always bound to fail because the initial IGA agreement inferred that any contracted amount freed up would be available for re-allocation.  Why the Federal Government spent time pursuing this path is beyond me.

A couple of matters require further scrutiny.

The conservationists blame the sawmillers for not being flexible.  Excuse me! As if their demands are purity itself and all others are tainted.  It doesn’t get much more arrogant than this.  Where was their flexibility?

Further, we now have the spectacle of Lyndon Schneiders, a mainland spokesperson for the Wilderness Society, claiming that the oldgrowth sawmillers are to blame, and that the campaign will now target their customers to convince them not to buy Tasmanian wood.  This is economic terrorism, nothing less.

Already the propaganda war has started. Who is at fault – Schneiders says it is the old growth sawmillers.  And  “we” are going to teach “them” a lesson.  Goodness me!  Let it be placed on the record that there are no oldgrowth sawmillers as such.  There are hardwood sawmillers but their take is over 85% regrowth product.  However, there is no doubt they will be demonised by the coming conservationist campaign.

Already Ta Ann have been targeted, even while the talks were in progress, and Ta Ann only takes regrowth wood – their process is limited to taking the younger regrowth wood.

Federal Minister Tony Burke bemoans the fact that $100 million of Federal funds will now not flow into the Tasmanian economy.  What exactly is he talking about?  On my figuring there were three amounts of money presently on the table:

An amount of $120 million for regional development programs, to be allocated over 15 years.  To date, some $20 million has been allocated.  This money, some $7 million pa, was to be directed to one-off regional development projects, unrelated to forestry.  If the projects stack up, this should continue to be the case irrespective of the IGA talks.

An amount of $7 million per annum for an indeterminate time, but probably limited to 5 years, to manage the extra reserves.  Now not required, since no new reserves.

And an amount of $15 million to assist sawmillers exit the industry, also not required.

There was also an amount of $45 million made available some time back to contractors to exit the industry, in the aftermath of Gunns withdrawal from native forest, and some other retraining funds available at that time.  These funds are not a matter for the current round of negotiations.

In exchange for these sums, industry was meant to fall on its collective sword with gratitude while closing down an industry worth over $700 million per year to the Tasmanian economy.  It was $1.5 billion before the Gunns debacle.  You do the sums.

Minister Nick McKim blames Forestry Tasmania for undermining the talks, bemoaning the fact that industry has already received $100 million (undetailed) while the conservationists have gained nothing.  McKim should be challenged about the $100 million he cites, since I suspect it is moneys that went to support Gunns departure from native forest, and again unrelated to the present discussions.  However, one could also argue that the Greens’ agenda, to oversee Gunns’ collapse and to gut FT, is pretty much on track.

And finally, we always seem to overlook the fact that almost 50% of our forest estate is already in reserves, with the remainder being managed on a sustainable basis.  Claims that the Tasmanian forests are being destroyed ring hollow against such facts.  Still, that won’t stop the tree sitters and the forest protestors from running such propaganda.

The reality is the Tasmanian government abrogated its responsibility to determine forest policy when it established the round table process back in 2010.  Two years later, who knows how many dollars have been spent, so much energy expended, and so much suffering in our rural communities, we are now - back at the beginning.  The Bartlett dream of peace in our time is now a nightmare, and the mess of its own creating sits firmly back in the government’s lap.  This time, Government, don’t drop the ball.  Government cannot sit back and allow others to determine the policy for it.  It is – still – an employer of people and a source of economic activity for the State.  It deserves our support.

One lesson, hard learnt, is that the politics of appeasement does not satisfy the insatiable appetite for more.  If we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.