The Forestry CRC, funded by vested forestry interests, including state government forestry departments and the not disinterested Federal government, seems to be setting the groundwork for embedding plantations permanently and working out ways to expand.

The Burnie presentation of the current work by Kathryn Williams and Jacki Schirmer (Wed 22nd July, “The Socio-economic Impact of Plantations”) presented deep research on attitudes to plantations, changes to employment and changes to population distribution. The studies covered all plantation states and the work was incomplete.

The attitudes to plantations as a land use, the acceptability of types of plantations and the beliefs of people about social and physical impacts of eucalypt plantations were canvassed. The purpose was to “inform policy”. Probably so that governments don’t make blunders like the PAL policy. It was government policy that herded the Indigenous population off the land and on to Wybelenna. How could they do that in a way palatable to the ‘voters’?

There was a tendency for older people and more educated people to be “less accepting” of plantations. Wow – the people who know that alternatives exist, or used to exist actually know better!

The presentation sought to identify differences between the Tasmanian experiences of the destruction of rural communities with the arrival of plantations, which appeared to differ from the experience on the mainland.

In particular, 70% of pre-plantation houses were re-inhabited on the mainland, by a variety of people. The breakdown of types of people was not clear with the nebulous “Sea Changer” category undefined. Members of the audience expressed concern that the types of people returning to live in the area were much narrower than those that had moved out. The loss of diversity was the issue, not the people.

Schirmer said it all when she saw the purpose of their study was to “encourage good outcomes when new people move in.” The policies they will inform assume that Plantations are a done deal and here to stay, when in fact they are totally unsustainable in the long term.

Of course the old houses here are left to be vandalised and then donated generously by Gunns to the fire service to burn down for “practice”. Perhaps recognition of the risk posed by plantations to the remaining residences. Suffice it to say that rebuilding is not possible under current planning laws and the numbers of houses and infrastructure left standing is clearly diminished.

I suspect that the difference is because Tasmania is smaller than other states. Gunns and FT want the room to do what they like. Schirmer found that most jobs created by the plantation industry were created in urban locations rather than in rural ones. Plantations contribute to the rural-urban drift (surprise surprise!).

Although the seminar claimed to be about socio-economic impacts, it did not cover the value added versus the value lost (value of jobs, risk, pollution, amenity, etc), who gained and who lost it and the extent of narrowing of the economic base due to plantations.

The study is rigorous market research for a vested interest, under the cloak of the Australian National University.