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ABC pic of Vica Bayley and Terry Edwards (FIAT)

A response to: I don’t agree

Dear Richard,

You write under the banner ‘I don’t agree’ ( Here ) with a forest agreement and the legislation that will try to implement it,  then spend an article attacking, alleging, denigrating and condemning the people who have been involved realising it. You don’t write with questions? You don’t seek to understand or ask why it has been supported? You do not muse about the various options and invite opinion, even if it is counter to your own.

You simply disagree with it and therefore it is wrong. Worse, you offer no alternative.

To disagree with someone is not a problem and never should be. To be ignorant as to their deliberations and motivations, quick to condemn and devoid of any solution is.

You write of the dark days in Tasmania including the destruction of land and corruption of public life. Indeed the past decades have been blanketed in a grey cloud of out-of-control logging, monopolistic companies, subservient governments and a community divided and riven with hate, angst and despair. Over the 2000s we often shared the stage to rally people with a message of hope and change, of protecting magnificent wild places and restoring some cohesion across our community.

I don’t recall rallying people around deliberately and completely collapsing the logging industry.  We didn’t campaign to protect all 1960’s regrowth or all native forest.  We didn’t advocate letting workers languish while the foundations of their industry crushed down on top of them. And we didn’t advocate a position of oppose at all costs, even if it costs us the forests themselves.

The forests agreement and its legislation can be a game changer and take Tasmania towards a new paradigm, provided we permit it. Provided people on all sides don’t allow the ghosts of their past, the scars of past failures and the depth of their entrenchment preclude them from seeing the opportunities, Tasmania can move forward.

The antithesis of the dark decade you write about, the Agreement was born from discussion, dialogue, compromise and consensus.

To still call this Agreement secret is an easy out for someone who doesn’t agree. But where’s the secret? The notion of a negotiated agreement has been debated for three years. It was published in four different iterations with increasing levels of agreement. It has been subject to three public Inter-governmental Agreements, there has been draft legislation, amended legislation, three months of committee hearings, further amendments, debate in parliament and passage into law.

In response you offer no solution. No alternate plan. How do we get a government to unilaterally give us everything you want? Which Upper House member will change their vote to protect everything you want and pass law to stop logging in the rest of the forests? Your writing focuses on the what, ignoring the how and it re-runs the same words of mistrust and anger and a sad history of past failures. Tasmania has no future built on these decaying foundations.

The agreement does frame a new way of doing things in Tasmania and offers relief from conflict, condemnation and tit-for-tat media messaging. It protects forests. Logging is legally banned in over 500,000ha of forests, to be called ‘Future Reserve Land’ and transferred to the management of Parks and Wildlife Service. There is no logging in the beloved Styx, the Weld, the Upper Florentine, the Blue Tier and Wielangta and if we allow, indeed make this legislation work, there never will be again.

You write like the dark days are something to be avoided but, like the opposite side of the same coin, are on message with the Liberals. Together you urge all to tear up what is now on offer, reject what is being done differently, say no to the opportunities an agreement presents Tasmania and instead, take us back to the past. You appear to hold onto the past, dive back into it, revel in it and allow it to blind you to what is possible in the future.

The legislation the Upper House created presented all of us a range of options. The easy option, at a personal, political and practical level was to reject it, blame the Upper House, escape with the high moral ground and start again. For what? To find a scapegoat? What then?

Re-run the past decade?

We chose not to look at this amended legislation and compare it to the Agreement we struck, or indeed the bill before it went to the Upper House. Rather, we compared it to what we had during the dark days of the last decade and what we’d have over the next decade without it. 

During the parliamentary debate the Liberals painted a picture of their vision - no reserves, biomass, strengthening the criminal provisions for protest and building the industry by government support - read taxpayer dollars. While the industry will continue to collapse at a cost to jobs and forests, it will hang on and fight, have no option to accept the Libs’ false promise and spend time and taxpayers dollars pushing more roads into remote places, like a wounded bull smashing the crystal vases in its death throes.

Just like the last decade.

And while on taxpayer dollars, please take some time to deconstruct and understand how different things are today, compared to your dark decade. While there is significant public money helping to implement the Forest Agreement, is it really to “resuscitate at vast public subsidy (reportedly $350 million) the worst aspects of a dead forest industry employing less than a thousand people” as you claim?

$120 million is set aside for regional development projects, the overwhelming majority of which are not in the logging industry but other targets aiming to diversify the regional economy and move it beyond artificial dependence on logging. Most of the rest is spent on paying out contracts to reduce the required legal logging cut from 300,000m3 to 137,000 m3 of logs each year, exiting contractors and supporting workers through change, including change where some of them lose their jobs.

You reference workers in your article by noting the significance of May Day and treating them with ‘respect and dignity’. Today, most money is invested in creating the opportunity to reserve forests and supporting workers to move on, to find alternatives to logging the forest we love, and find respect and dignity in another part of the industry or another industry altogether.

In this new paradigm we should treat everybody with respect and dignity. We would never be so disrespectful, nor naïve as to try to silence you Richard. The Leg Co committee was told repeatedly that our job isn’t to control protest, we have never claimed we could prevent protest nor would we want to.

But while protest is a right we will defend and retain, the right to protest does not equate to a licence. Just because you can protest, doesn’t mean you must. With rights comes responsibilities and with this legislation or not, ongoing protest such as we have seen over your dark decade could cost new parks and reserves. That is a big responsibility and a big price to pay. The responsibility I accept is to not condemn protest or dissenting voices, but question the message, the timing, the tactic, the targets and voice my organisation’s opinion on the Agreement, the forests it protects and anything that threatens that protection. 

Neither the Agreement nor the legislation is perfect and no-one has said that they are. They hold no guarantees of success and, while the alternative government keeps to its stated policy, there remains a blanket of uncertainty over the gazettal of some reserves and a range of industry outcomes. However, the one option guaranteed to fail the forests was to reject it outright.

If the Liberals are coming, give us the chance to stand with the Industry and the Tasmanian community and say no to the certain void that comes from ongoing conflict. Give the forests a layer of legal protection that must be undone to restart logging. Give the Future Reserve Lands status and the agreement of the industry itself that these areas are now off limits. Set industry off on an FSC path that they must achieve to survive. Halve the logging rates and continue the reform of industry and its agencies. Maintain a dialogue, forum and mutual respect with industry and workers that offers them a range of outcomes better delivered via collaboration than the conflict offered by the Liberals and the regression back to old growth logging.

You rightly identify the World Heritage extension as a significant achievement and it is one we can all celebrate, as a consequence of 20 years’ collective work together.

But in the real world, how was this achieved? Was it really the result of ‘negotiations’ in February by Bob and Christine? Why did they wait until February 2013 to strike this deal and not secure it as part of negotiations to support Labor governing in 2010?  What, if the Greens negotiated the Minister’s commitment to the World Heritage nomination, did they offer Tony Burke in exchange? A very public political divorce delivered just weeks later?

You, Bob, Christine and so many others have been tireless advocates for World Heritage forests for many, many years for which we are profoundly grateful. However Richard, right now I question your analysis. I think that actually delivering this spectacular outcome will take a combination of historical actions and new optimism. The old is the unsurprising and very logical way that politics works, and the new is the collaborative way of working with it.

Tony Burke nominated the World Heritage extensions in January because he had the support of his party. He had the support of his party because the nomination had the support of the Tasmanian Government. The nomination had the support of the Tasmanian Government because it was called for by industry. It was called for by industry because it was written into an agreement. And it was written into an Agreement because, for days on end, people had worked through seemingly intransigent issues, understood alternative perspectives, offered something in return and come to consensus.

You pay tribute to your old foes from the logging industry as having masterminded through ‘bluster, flattery, bullying, and dogged persistence’ a rise from the ashes back to a ‘pre-eminent position in public life.’ Your tribute is both well targeted and ill informed. Rather,  tribute them as having the ability to change their positions, shift long-held values and beliefs, move their constituencies and support our World Heritage aspirations to tip the balance and realise the nomination we as a lone movement have failed to achieve for 30 years.

Yes, we can maintain the rage of the dark decade, fight the machine, find a scapegoat, blame someone else and retain the high moral ground without giving an inch. No compromise. No difficult decisions. No friends lost.

But, no new reserves and no forest protection. 

Beautiful losers. Glorious to the end with nothing to show for it but our high morality and the vitriol needed to keep people writing comments in blog columns.

Regards,

Vica

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