Richard Flanagan

I was pleased to see that Piers Akerman is once again seeking to draw the nation’s attention to an article I wrote almost two years ago ( Gunns: Out of Control ) published in the The Monthly magazine and delighted that Piers is now embracing recycling — in this case from an article he first ran in June 2007, which in turn regurgitated a speech made by Eric Abetz.

Although there are some differences — in this case Piers has dropped the anti-Tasmanian jokes that earned him a Media Watch mention last time — your readers may be interested to know that of the 70 errors of fact Abetz claimed I made, he could only list five, and these are all easily refuted.

To give but one example: Abetz said, ‘And contrary to Flanagan’s repeated assertions, old-growth forests aren’t harvested for woodchips. They’re harvested for craft wood, furniture, sawmilling and veneering. It is the residue which is chipped for paper, rather than simply being wasted.’

Perhaps Mr Abetz and Mr Akerman might wish to re-examine the forest industry’s own documentation.

On page 92 of Forestry Tasmania’s Annual Report for 2005-2006 we discover that out of the 2.77 million tonnes of native forest logged, 2.19 million tonnes were chipped. That’s 79% of Tasmania’s forest chipped according to their figures. The real figures are even worse because Forestry Tasmania was forced to admit in 2004 that logs marked as sawlongs are in fact pulped and have been since the 1970s, and because the residue from sawlog and veneering is also pulped.

In his speech Eric Abetz revived Paul Lennon’s old favourite of the ‘10,000-plus forest workers whose jobs Mr Flanagan seeks to destroy’.

The most recent employment figure for the industry as a whole in 2005-2006 given in the Schirmer Report (2008) — including all softwood and plantation sectors — is 6,300 people employed in the equivalent of 5,870 full-time jobs. According to FIAT’s own report, published in 2004, before the present industry downturn, there were 1,345 jobs in old-growth logging.

It’s interesting that while I have consistently argued for a timber driven — as opposed to a pulp driven — forest industry that would employ more people, it’s been Eric Abetz’s party donors, Gunns, which has been sacking workers.

Maybe it’s time we stood up for our forests and for our workers by no longer giving credence to those who echo the rich few who have destroyed both. Maybe it’s time we asked for politicians and columnists who seek to bring us together rather than continue to tear us apart.

My Monthly article concluded by calling for a royal commission into the Tasmanian forest industry ( Flanagan’s call for a Royal Commission ). The subsequent unfolding of scandals and sleaze makes that royal commission — or commison of enquiry as they are now known — more necessary than ever.

Richard Flanagan
West Hobart