Circling the Wagons

The forest peace talks are over. Finito. There will be no continuance. Let us not pretend otherwise.

Industry delegates have walked away from the table. They will not return. They have stated they will now only deal with governments, and no longer with unelected ENGO’s. They cite verbal abuse and personal attacks as being the final nail in the coffin which has led them to this decision.

The ENGO’s state that industry was unwilling to compromise, and that this lack of compromise has caused the talks to break down. However they have come under attack from amongst their own for sacrificing the principles of proper forest practices in any remaining forest.

The Premier, who as head of the government has the responsibility to manage State forests on behalf of the State, has stated she will not interfere to resolve this impasse, and has expressed the hope the parties can reconvene to resolve the issue.

Academics in Canberra have stated that the numbers of people working in the forest industry is small (less than 1000), and the Greens have jumped on this report as justification for their continuing stand against native forestry.

What are we to make of all this? And does it really matter anymore? Here are some pointers that mighty assist answering these questions.

  1. The talks were always flawed. They were flawed because those at the table did not represent all interests in the debate. People like you the reader. They were flawed because only those with skin in the game (investment and jobs) were being asked to compromise their position for “peace”.

  2. Industry has been adamant that the volumes of wood contracted to them should remain contracted to them. This position was in fact guaranteed to them by both governments when the IGA (Intergovernment Agreement) was signed back in 2011.

  3. The ENGO’s had claimed an amount of State Forest (some 572,000 hectares) still managed by Forestry Tasmania, was in fact forest of High Conservation Value (HCV). (NB. Over half of the State’s public forest (including 80% of all “old growth” forest) is already in reserves.

  4. The Jonathan West Verification Panel was commissioned to verify this claim (that the 572,000 hectares actually contained HCV forests) and to determine whether industry’s interests could be satisfied from remaining forest. It failed to do either.

  5. Throughout the talks, continued modelling failed to resolve this fundamental dilemma of guaranteed and contracted wood supply against the claims of the ENGO’s for more reserves.

  6. The approach suggested by the ENGO’s that the remaining forest be trashed in order to provide industry with its guaranteed supply in the short term was rejected by industry and has now been condemned by groups such as the Tasmanian Conservation Trust.

  7. Government encouraged the parties to keep talking, offering financial inducements for them to come to an agreement.

  8. The State Government has refused to become involved in the process, claiming the process has been established and the process should therefore continue.

  1. The academics in Canberra have failed to recognise that jobs associated with forestry such as eg logtruck drivers, are in fact forestry-dependent jobs, which would increase the numbers of people employed in the industry by upwards of 3000 people.

  2. The industry continues to produce timber products and employ people, for an economic value in excess of $700 million each year to the Tasmanian economy.

The talks have been a waste of time, a waste of money and a waste of energy. As stated once before, it would be laughable if people’s livelihoods were not hanging in the balance.

The statement by industry that they will only talk to government is the correct one. Industry has existing contracts with Forestry Tasmania, and they must be honoured.

The approach by the ENGO’s, blaming industry for the collapse of the talks, is purely posturing on their part while they attempt to ramp up their campaigns of protest, claiming the moral high ground. It is a bit rich to claim new territory on the one hand, and then complain that the other party refuses to cede that territory just because they asked for it. Still, they have done so.

The approach by the Greens is callous and heartless. To say they care for forest workers is an insult. They have done more than most to create the pall of uncertainty that hangs over the sector, and the black clouds of despair and hopelessness that now exist within the ranks of the workforce.

The approach by the State Government is a cop-out, pure and simple. To argue process over outcome does it no credit whatsoever. Forests on public land are a State resource, and as such should be managed according to government policy. The question now needs to be asked of government, of the Minister and of the Premier “What IS your policy?”

To use the argument that markets have changed is wrong, as the argument is just not true, and many in the industry have spoken out against such a claim. There are opportunities for growth and diversification, but they are additional to and dependent upon that which is already occurring, and not a substitute for it. Like any market, there will be competition, and as anyone operating in a market knows, such challenges must be faced. Giving in, walking away, is not the answer. Facing the challenge, meeting it head-on, is the answer. Other States have been able to maintain a native forest industry, so markets have not moved the way the Premier has stated.

Markets are being targeted by certain Green groups, claiming the Tasmanian forests are being destroyed. Put simply, this is a falsehood, and these attacks must be countered. Tasmania enjoys a very high standard of forest management, and it is the envy of most.

So what are we to make of it?

Answer: Government must engage, and must make a decision. Process is not policy. Consensus is no substitute for leadership.

And does it matter anymore?

Answer: Yes it does matter. It matters to the people whose jobs are dependent on the industry, it matters to the economy of the State, and it matters for the proper ongoing sustainable management of the forest estate.