An Agreement – at what price?

Will there be a Forest Agreement?  There may well be legislation, but what will that legislation really represent?  Will all participants to the peace process be signatories to any agreement?  Will such an agreement deliver peace in our time?  A guarantee against further protest? 

Lets recap.  The formal peace talks have been abandoned.  The ENGOs walked out at the end of October, stating that some sawmillers were being unreasonable.  The sawmillers stated they had compromised enough.  The  October 31 deadline came and went.  Now everyone has left the table.

What has happened since?  First of all, FIAT suggested a further approach trading a further reduction in volume of sawlog in exchange for stronger “durability” clauses, and provided it to the CFMEU to circulate.  We are still awaiting a response to this approach from other participants in the peace process.

Now FIAT represents some industry interests, but not all industry interests.  So it remains unclear whether the remaining industry would support such a deal.  Will it cover Ta Ann’s need for regrowth logs for both Smithton and Judbury?  Will it satisfy the needs of timber communities, and those dealing in special timbers?  And the ENGOs have been remarkably quiet.  I suspect the durability clauses have been very difficult to swallow and thus the delay in responding.

Meanwhile, to prove that the durability clauses are de facto an impossibility, we have seen two protests against Ta Ann by groups excluded from the process, Groundswell in Smithton, and Huon Valley Environment Centre in the south.  Both groups are not parties to the peace process, and both have stated they will maintain their campaigns until there is no more native forest logging.  So no compromise will be forthcoming from those groups.

And then there has been the appointment of Bob Brown to the board of Markets for Change, and the elevation of Peg Putt to be its CEO.  This organisation has campaigned strongly against Ta Ann in the market place, besmirching its name and stating – erroneously and mischievously – that TA Ann has been cutting old growth forest.

The appointment  of Bob Brown to the Board signals an escalation of conflict.  When asked whether he would support a peace deal negotiated by ENGOs he said “It depends on the deal”.  He is also on the record demanding a cessation of all native forest logging, so no deal that involves native forest logging will be suitable to him.

Both individuals have criticised the peace process, again stating that any agreement less than the ambit claim will not be acceptable.

Let’s call “Markets for Change” for what it is.  Rogue.   If any organisatioon can be so branded, then “Markets for Change” is a rogue outfit.  It is not accountable or responsible to any group, and has as its charter to close down industry that it does not consider appropriate.  Never mind any certification schemes, it will act as its own judge and jury.

Ms Putt has taken exception to the term eco-terrorist, claiming that terrorists murder people and she doesn’t.  Without delving too much into the enormous damage she is causing Tasmanians by doing them out of a job, the word “terrorist” is actually defined as “to force by coercion or fear”.  And that is exactly what she is doing in the market place.  The words suit her to a tee.  She claims, again wrongly, that all she does is have a conversation with Ta Ann’s customers.  She does so much more than that, actively campaigning against the company, lobbying its customers, and causing a collapse in market demand for this company’s  product.  An economic terrorist she truly is.

Such a view also reflects the Greens Senator Milne’s position.   In response to the comment that a mining venture would take up less than 1% of the area of the Tarkine, she said “The Tarkine is like the Mona Lisa, one blemish would destroy the entire painting”.  An absurd analogy.

Added to this is the approach of the Greens to data emanating from the Australian Institute, quoting census data claiming that less than 1000 people are still employed in the forest sector.  Everyone knows those figures are incorrect.  The real figure is over 3500, a figure verified by Schirmer earlier this week.  I will guarantee there will be no apologia from McKim for getting his facts wrong, or any change in his position as a result of this data.  In other words, the position is being driven by an ideology, and does not seek any practical solution.

The government is keen for the participants to the peace process to cut a deal.  Some may well wish to do so, but will that be enough.  It is a forlorn hope.  From the comments above, it can be seen that there will be no lasting negotiated agreement.  For such people, and for such organisations, compromise is anathema, an alien term.   Their mantra is “all or nothing”.  Negotiating with them is a waste of time.

There is a more serious issue arising for Labor.  The rally in Burnie produced the intriguing spectacle of the Premier and the Deputy Premier arguing that Labor supported mining, but being booed by the pro-mining crowd  - because they did not believe them.

It must have been quite a shock to the pair, who have previously stated their position to maintain the Tarkine region as a multi-use area, and who have expressed their support for the mining industry in the State.

Typically, the Greens have decried such a decision as promoting short-term jobs at the expense of the integrity of the area, a nonsense claim considering  the area has been mined and logged for over a century, but no matter.  Such criticism resonates – both ways - and it resonated last Saturday with those that attended the rally.

As the saying goes, “when you sup with the devil, you need a long spoon”.  For too long, the spoon has been short, and Labor has been tarred with the Green brush.  The compromises Labor has made over forestry, and their continuing defence of their Green partners in government (recall the silly comments of McKim in support of protestors, likening them to Gandhi and Mandela last week) has destroyed its credibility with working people, as evidenced at the Burnie rally.

Mining and forestry are two industries that rely on resource availability, and are concerned about resource security.  Both have been stalwarts of the Tasmanian economy for decades.  Both have employed thousands of Tasmanians.  Both are now under attack.

The Premier will need to do more than say “We support the mining industry” to regain credibility with her base.