Tasmanian Times

Bronwyn Williams

Frolicking with the pixies at the bottom of Lara’s garden


Last Monday I purchased a hard copy of the Mercury – something I haven’t done in months – and spent an enjoyable few minutes reading it from cover to cover. Amongst several pages of otherwise exemplary journalistic endeavour, I found two apparently innocuous, but very disturbing, errors of fact.

Firstly, Mr Greg Barns, in ‘Talking Point – Chipping Away at Profit’ on pages 22-23, asserts that ‘FT has a dominant role in the Tasmanian forestry industry. It has changed over the years and has grappled with extraordinary political pressure placed on it by its relentless taxpayer-funded enemy in the form of the Wilderness Society’ (italics added). Is Greg saying the Wilderness Society is in receipt of government funding? That appears to be the case.

I am not a Wilderness Society supporter, but a correction is necessary. The Wilderness Society is entirely funded by public donations – it receives no government funding. In light of the recent autocratic activities of its Tasmanian management, in the fanciful pursuit of a forests agreement, it is, in fact, something of a cruel joke that thousands of people donate to the Wilderness Society to do their bit for the environment, but are systematically denied any say in its activities.

Greg’s statement is nothing more than a further iteration of the green bogeyman myth plaguing this state – to publish this untruth merely exacerbates the fear of regular citizens.

And, Greg’s thesis – that FT is a profit-earning powerhouse just waiting for liberation from its government owners, is frankly bizarre. Neither FT, nor its predecessor, the Forestry Commission, are, or were, capable of earning their keep. If Greg believes that partial privatisation will reverse this decades-long trend, he may have stayed too long frolicking with the pixies at the bottom of Lara’s garden.

Secondly, on page 10, under the byline, Matt Smith, the item ‘Tassie police back brothel legalisation’, states that ‘Opinions within the public submissions are heavily divided, with many calling for Tasmania to adopt legislation from Sweden that makes it illegal to purchase or sell sexual services’.

The sale of sexual services is NOT illegal in Sweden. The Swedish (or Nordic) model of sex industry legislation specifically decriminalises those who sell sexual services. Instead, the laws target demand for sexual services, by making it a criminal offence to purchase those services.

The Swedish law also provides support for prostitutes wishing to leave the sex industry.

This information is readily available online, but if Mr Smith is struggling to keep his research up to date, might I suggest Wikipedia at


where he will read that ‘The laws on prostitution in Sweden make it illegal to buy sexual services, but not to sell them’. For further detail, he could enter ‘Swedish prostitution laws’ into his Google browser.

Given the volatile nature of debate on this issue, and the imminent consideration of legislation to amend Tasmanian’s prostitution laws, inaccuracies such as this are unforgiveable.

Some people still read the Mercury and believe what is printed. At least do them the courtesy of researching the facts.

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  1. Steve

    August 21, 2012 at 1:32 am

    #13; Have to agree jack. E.Nitens seems to be a bit low density to make quality firewood.

  2. William Boeder

    August 18, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    #13. Well blow me down jack lumber, I found John Lawrence to be smack on the button with his well presented comment?

  3. jack lumber

    August 18, 2012 at 12:06 am

    Re #9 John you do your self a disservice by the attempted joke re nomenclature .

  4. john lawrence

    August 17, 2012 at 12:46 am

    John (#11) I didn’t say that FT might be better if privatised. I only said it is difficult to argue with Mr Barns’ proposition that a private operator wouldn’t produce better returns.

    Not sure about the analogy either? For a while the Enron guys were the smartest in the room. The forestry guys however pale by comparison.

  5. john Hayward

    August 16, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    I can’t get enthused about John Lawrence’s suggestion that FT might be better if privatised.

    Given the quality of personnel found in both FT and the Govt, it seems likely that it would simply become another Gunns or Ta Ann.

    Privatisation is what made Enron possible. It seems you just can’t keep bad men down.

    John Hayward

  6. William Boeder

    August 16, 2012 at 1:23 am

    #2. Mr Mark Poynter, how would you describe a person who has actively gained his daily bread for many a year through his meddling about in the Crown Land forests of whichever State of Australia?
    Could a person of this habit consider himself as a libertine or a type of free-loader?

    #4. One would consider that Mr Barns by his very own history, (as we read and attempt to understand his jottings,) especially in his having such a range of obtuse and at times, “contrary to the Tasmanian people” views, (of which he expresses in the occasional ‘article-opinions’ offered by him as an itinerant writer for the Mercury newspaper,) should not be too greatly disconcerted or discomfited in misjudging the respect he warrants is his due?

  7. john lawrence

    August 16, 2012 at 12:38 am

    I agreed with the basic thrust of Greg Barns’ Mercury article on forestry. He at least made an attempt to fill the void by raising future policy options for the forest industry—- privatising FT where possible and curtailing Government assistance.

    He was right when he said

    • The current system of subsidies makes the Australian car industry look economically rational.

    • The heavy reliance of the Tasmanian timber industry on woodchip exports means that the Government-owned Forestry Tasmania is having to subsidise woodchip exporters who are losing money on their exports.

    Mr Barns didn’t suggest “that FT is a profit-earning powerhouse just waiting for liberation from its government owners” as the article states. He merely suggested private owners might produce better returns.

    Hard to argue with that.

    Mr Barns’ arguments may even have been enhanced if he’d bothered to read FT’s financials. But really, reading financials has never been a prerequisite for anyone outlining policy prescriptions for FT. That convention is invariably honoured in the breach rather than the observance.

    • FT did have an equity share in Ta Ann’s business but the shares were progressively redeemed, the last year being 2009. Hence there is no longer an interest that can be sold.

    • FT does own Newood subsidiaries, but these were last listed on the balance sheet at $62,000, so no great windfall there.

    • The latest Preliminary Outcomes report for the General Government flags yet another write down in FT’s assets. If one reads FT’s reports for the last few years and in particular the valuation findings of James W Sewall, there is little value in FT’s hardwood plantations,many are tied up in JV arrangements, and even less in native forests.

    • It is most unlikely given present values that the management rights for FT’s native forests have any value.

    The sale of any FT assets is unlikely to cover FT’s liabilities.

    More plantation land is not required at this juncture. In Tasmania there are 106,000 ha of GNS MIS plantations that will soon need replanting with appropriate species, as well as 35,000 ha of FEA MIS plantations that are even closer to harvest.

    Not to mention other private plantations with E Nitens var firewoodii.

  8. Karl Stevens

    August 15, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    John Hayward 6. Thanks for the historical background. Interpreting the sayings of Mr Barns should be considered a sign of respect. I had no idea a taxpayer-funded entity was relentlessly pursuing another taxpayer-funded entity on an island that could be called a charity. Aren’t these two entities supposed to be working together to put Australian sawmillers out of a job in preference to sawmillers from Borneo?

  9. John Powell

    August 15, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    love your work. I would take just one exception with your comment. I would have put “extraordinarily” in front of the word incompetent and “on all reasonable economic, environmental and social measures” afterwards.
    Watcha reckon all you old Jurassics out there in TT land?

  10. John Hayward

    August 15, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Karl, #1 & 3. Notwithstanding his job as a professional champion of human rights, Barns has been known to take legal umbrage at people, such as Linz and myself, who treat him with insufficient respect.

    I hope you get to read this.

    John Hayward

  11. lmxly

    August 15, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    #2 A glance at FT’s annual financial statements will show that indeed, it has not been ‘capable of earning its keep’. It has paid no tax for five years, no dividend for six and last year made an operating loss – which is expected to be even greater this year. The purpose of a GBE like FT is to manage public resources in such a way that it can make a profit for the owners – us- through paying a dividend and taxes which contribute to other activities of government on our behalf. It’s not a huge ask, regardless of the demands Mr Poynter enumerates; which any competent management should be able to handle. The only conclusion has to be that FT’s management is incompetent.

  12. John Powell

    August 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    Is Forestry Tasmania also a “tax-exempt” charity? LOL

  13. Karl Stevens

    August 15, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Thanks for fixing-up comment #1 Linz.

  14. Mark Poynter

    August 15, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    “The Wilderness Society is entirely funded by public donations – it receives no government funding”

    You are wrong on this in the sense that The Wilderness Society and all other ENGOs enjoy tax deductable status conferred on it by Government. Which means that those donating to it can get a tax deduction, meaning that donating is a more attractive proposition.

    Maybe this doesn’t matter for people in the street dropping a few coins into a tin held by someone dressed in a koala suit, but it would matter to larger investors from the business and philanthropic community which would make up the bulk of the $15 million annually donated to TWS.

    Under the Charities Act, groups soliciting for tax deductible public donations are supposed to demonstrate that they engage in on-ground works and do not engage in political activism. None of the mainstream ENGOs fit this criteria yet the Govt permits them to retain their tax deductible status. The Howard Govt attempted to change this in 2006 by amending and more strongly enforcing the Charities Act but this ultimately failed.

    “Neither FT, nor its predecessor, the Forestry Commission, are, or were, capable of earning their keep”

    And your expertise for making such an assertion is……?? Let me guess, the ‘Tasmanian Times’ group think which knows little about the costs and demands of managing multiple use forests including maintaining access, fire protection, recreational use, and dealing with almost continual on-ground issues from well-funded professional protestors working to destroy their log markets.

  15. Karl Stevens

    August 15, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    I would say Greg Barnes was trying to say the Wilderness Society doesn’t pay tax. It is a ‘tax-exempt’ charity. You wonder why government planning in the forest sector has been outsourced to a tax-exempt charity? Governments are also ‘tax-exempt’ charities in my view so using charities as paid consultants is inappropriate.

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