Image for The Rot Remains at the Core of Forestry and Government

If you want to see where the wrecking and interference will come from as the conservation movement and the forest industry sit down together to try to work out a 100% solution to the long running dispute over logging of Tasmania’s native forests, you do not need to look far.

A small cabal from the loggers’ power base, so carefully constructed during the 1990s, remains at the core of forestry and government and they are the flashing red light. The remainders include Minister Bryan Green, Bob Gordon FT, Ken Jeffries FT, Evan Rolley, bureaucratic position undefined, Karen Vadasz , Minister Green’s advisor and Barry Chipman,Timber Communities Tasmania.

Their outliers include FIAT’s Julian Amos former Tasmanian Labor MP, and Terry Edwards who recently had his contract extended for another five years and Scott McLean, Tas branch of CFMEU of the John Howard Albert Hall debacle fame. But these Tasmanian branches are in conflict with their national organisations NAFI, Timber Communities Australia and CFMEU and it is these national organisations who are at the negotiating table. Not happy in the cabal!
 
This cabal consists of the people who are ideologically committed to logging native forests, who have embedded themselves in the body politic and for whom an end to the practice is inconceivable. They are already fighting back. Minister Bryan Green’s provocative grant of $3.6 million to pay contractors to drive deeper into Tasmania’s forests at a time when there is no market and when solutions are being touted, was only the first salvo. He followed it up with a statement saying that there would be no end to native forest logging.

Not the kind of rhetoric coming from the Premier. The power struggle inside government will be just as intense as the negotiations outside as the cabal fights for survival. Watch the papers to see who is photographed with whom and who associates themselves and their organisations with which side to get a sense of where the pendulum is swinging.

Who do we look for? How did they get to such positions of influence? Where are they now in the web of forest politics?

This cabal is almost two decades old. They are weakened but the ones who are left form a small group within the government and bureaucracy with close ties to logging industry groups and ex MPs outside. They have been through a lot together, know each other well, have often served as one another’s deputy or personal assistant, Minister or Departmental Secretary and experience no degrees of separation. Why did Paul Lennon sign a new five year contract for Mark Addis just before he left? Did he do the same for Evan Rolley? Which Minister does Evan Rolley answer to and what does he do? Where is Karen Vadasz now?  Who so ham fistedly advised Premier Bartlett to go for a round table with Rob Woolley as Chair when anyone close to either side knew that neither industry nor conservationists were predisposed to such a process? Who thought putting Minister Green and Secretary Norm Mcilfatrick back together after the Community Forest Agreement Grants process was a good idea? Probably the same people who thought Rob Woolley should be the Chair  

Those who fail to remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

After the community defeated the proposed Wesley Vale pulp mill in 1989, North Broken Hill Pty Ltd, predecessor of Gunns, drew up a plan to improve the public image and acceptance of logging, and to embed supporters of the logging industry in the Tasmanian parliament and bureaucracy. They had been shocked by their defeat because they had always had the support of the Labor and Liberal MPs. Now they wanted more.

So began a forest industry plan that reached its zenith in 1998. It resulted in an almost complete takeover of the body politic and the undermining of Tasmania’s democracy with the slashing of the numbers, the destruction of Green representation and the election of Jim Bacon as Premier.

As I wrote in an essay in 1998,

“What more could the Industry want than a Premier, Deputy Premier, Minister for Forests and the Minister for Environment all with their track record of unswerving support for the Industry?

Add to that the Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure Energy and Resources, a crucial position given the Basslink debate and the proposal for woodchip furnaces to generate so called “green energy” and a Forestry Corporation immune from budget scrutiny, exempt from Freedom of Information legislation and blissfully free from any independent scrutiny of its practices. Not to mention the Managing Director of Gunns being also a Director of the Department of State Development.

Gunns would have taken all that into account when making its decision to buy North Forest Products and become the monopoly owner of the woodchip industry in Tasmania exporting approximately six million tonnes of woodchips per annum.Gunns knew it could count on bipartisan political support for native forest logging, for unconstrained supply, for native forest furnaces and any amount of government subsidies including a bargain basement royalty of seven dollars per tonne for old growth forests.

Whilst this situation may appear cosy, it is neither ethical nor sustainable. It is extremely vulnerable to boycott, community protest and adverse publicity as the community continues to mobilise to challenge the replacement of the Hydro Electric Commission with the Forest Industry as the de facto government of Tasmania.”

So it did come to pass a decade later that the situation was neither ethical or sustainable and it crumbled with John Gay and Robin Gray out the door of Gunns and many players dumped, disgraced, or paid out. But some remain and it would be a mistake to think that they and their former puppet masters will not fight back against any attempt to navigate Tasmania beyond the destruction of forests.

The best way to prevent their last hurrah is to name it and to keep a watching brief on the cabal’s red flashing light.

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