It is the international timber markets, not environmental groups, that are hurting the Tasmanian forestry industry, writes Greens Leader NICK McKIM.
MANY of the architects of the current crisis facing the Tasmanian forest industry were prominent in the media last week. And no, I don’t mean conservation groups or the Greens.
I mean the Liberal Party, many of our Legislative Councillors and the Forest Industry Association of Tasmania, all of whom seized on the announcement by Ta Ann that up to 40 jobs would be lost and tried desperately to blame someone, anyone, for their own failures.
These are the very people who helped set up an industry that has gouged the public purse for decades while shedding thousands of jobs and trashing high-conservation-value forests.
And these are the very people who set up and cheered on a failed business model that sees Forestry Tasmania interfering in the market, over-allocating the resource, and unable to meet its obligations under the Government Business Enterprise Act, despite its massive subsidies.
They are the cause of the current crisis and the long-term problems, and yet all they can demand is more of the same.
It’s like hearing the howls of the last of the dinosaurs, stuck fast and sinking in a swamp of their own making.
Their attempt to wash their hands of any responsibility and allocate blame to the conservation movement was a brazen effort at rewriting history. It was also a public abrogation of responsibility the likes of which Tasmania has rarely seen.
The simple fact is that it is not environment groups hurting our timber industry, it is truth.
Ta Ann itself is on the record admitting that its veneer products have been labelled as “certified eco-wood” sourced from plantation. The 2010 Annual Report of Ta Ann Holdings Berhad, the parent company of Ta Ann Tasmania, which is available online, states that the company produces “environmentally friendly eco-products”. These claims are not just misleading, they are false. And it would hardly be surprising if downstream users of these products, having now learned the truth, are very concerned.
The world has changed, the market no longer has an appetite for wood products sourced from high- conservation-value, carbon-rich forests. That is at the heart of what is happening to the timber industry here in Tasmania.
The timber supplied to Ta Ann by Forestry Tasmania is sourced from native forests, including those which are nominated as high conservation value and listed for protection under the Forests Intergovernmental Agreement. The signed agreement between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Premier Lara Giddings last year explicitly required 430,000 hectares of these areas to have been immediately protected from logging, and yet the trees continue to fall as fast as ever.
The recent independent reschedulers report made it clear that the ongoing logging within the 430,000 hectares is due in part to the Ta Ann contract.
The recent debate has also been notable for suggestions that I should not speak my mind on these issues simply because I am a Cabinet minister. Well, you don’t leave your conscience at the door when you walk into Cabinet, and neither do you surrender your vocal chords nor your right to speak out.
The protocol that the Greens ministers have with the Premier allows us to hold different policies to Labor, and, to articulate them.
This model of government is new to Tasmania, and is the result of two political parties genuinely trying to stay true to their values and work constructively in Tasmania’s interests.
It’s also worth noting that this model is based on similar models used in South Australia and Western Australia to enable representatives of different parties to work constructively in stable government.
Of course there will be times when we disagree publicly, but that is a sign of a mature democracy, not government instability.
To Julian Amos, who argued in these pages last week, and failed to disclose his previous association with FIAT, that it’s inappropriate for a Green Cabinet minister to criticise Labor policy, I say prepare yourself for more disappointment.
Almost one-in-four Tasmanians voted Green at the last election precisely because of our position on these and other issues.
We won’t be backing down.
There have also been suggestions that I should somehow censor environment groups who continue to campaign to save forests.
Let me be clear that the Greens have no intention of demanding that any group behaves in a particular way.
For Members of Parliament to advocate this type of action, as have Opposition Leader Will Hodgman and some Upper House Members, is reminiscent of regimes like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe or current day China.
As is labelling people “eco-terrorists” and “saboteurs”, as one Upper House Member did last week, simply because these conservationists choose to express their views. This kind of language demeans us all by stirring up division and hatred where we should be striving for healing and collaboration.
It’s time for us all to face facts. The markets have spoken, and Tasmania’s timber industry will never be the same. The only question before us is whether we attempt an orderly transition to a viable forest industry of which we can all be proud, or stand by and watch while it collapses around us with a massive community and human cost.
Despite the recent heated debate, there is still an opportunity for an orderly transition for our timber industry, and to deliver the conservation gains that most Tasmanians want.
While industry outcomes have begun to flow from the Intergovernmental Agreement, not one single conservation outcome has been delivered. As a sign of good faith, the Premier and the Prime Minister should hold to their word and cease the logging immediately in the identified 430,000 hectares of high conservation value forests.
A strong, prosperous and sustainable timber industry is something every Tasmanian wishes for, including the Greens.
This will not happen by censoring free speech or continuing to mislabel our products overseas.
It is not too late for Tasmania’s timber industry to enjoy the benefits of shifting to sustainable practices, plantation timber and selective logging of native forests. This is what the markets want, it’s what the conservation movement wants, and it’s what most Tasmanians want too.
In fact, it’s our only option.
First published in Mercury here