Tasmanian Times

Economy

I’m not holding my breath

image
ABC pic of Jan Davis

Today has been described as “the last hurrah” for the latest round of forest peace talks. Deputy Premier Bryan Green and federal Environment Minister Tony Burke will enter the room with the ‘negotiators’ in a last ditch effort to deliver a deal that is supposed to deliver peace in the forests.

I’m not holding my breath looking for a magic solution – or, in fact, any durable solution – to come from the meeting today.

From the outset, we’ve said this process is not only inherently flawed, but is destined to fail. It is time to bring down the curtain on this small group of unelected people poring over maps to divide the spoils of Tasmania’s publicly-owned forests, forests over which they have no proprietary rights. It was unwise of the Tasmanian government to delegate its responsibility to these people. That’s what we pay politicians to do.

Let’s focus for a minute on the view from where we sit. Private foresters – many of whom are farmers – own and manage some 885,000 ha of private forests. We have been told since the outset of this process that it would not impact on our businesses because the ‘deal’ was only about publicly owned forests. We’ve said that was nonsense; and even the Premier has now acknowledged we were right.

We are told that the downturn in the timber industry in Tasmania is a result of changing world markets and the high level of the Aussie dollar. I am not convinced that this apparently simple explanation is actually as straightforward as it is presented. Figures clearly show that the market share Tasmanian timber exporters have lost over recent years has been picked up by producers in other states; data released earlier this week shows that demand for timber is increasing both in Australia and worldwide; and imported timber products are flooding into Australia. But let us not argue over that for now – let’s assume for the moment that this is fact. Does it justify locking up the shop and throwing away the key?

Farmers have to deal with the roller-coaster of commodity markets year in, year out, from generation to generation. When times are tough for one commodity on the farm, they look to diversify into other activities. When demands change, they look for new products. They don’t lock up the farm and walk away.

When the bottom fell out of the wool industry, farmers moved into other businesses, such as fat lambs, pyrethrum and poppies. Now wool growers are enjoying good times again. When there was a crisis in milk prices, dairy farmers didn’t put a dozer through their dairy sheds. They looked for other ways to earn an income from the farm. When consumers made it clear they wanted more than two varieties of potatoes (washed and unwashed), or something more interesting than iceberg lettuce, farmers developed and planted new crops – and so we now have a dozen or more varieties of spuds at the supermarket; and more green salad choices than most people can even identify.

Cropping and livestock production and products are cyclical. Good farmers hedge their bets. We have good times and we have bad times; but we don’t cut off our options for the future.

So why is our government proposing to lock up even more of our state simply because they say that markets are changing? Surely, we should be preserving access to that resource for whatever the ‘new forest industry’ we hear so much about will look like.

If there is a lull in the market, then we should ride it out while we do what farmers do: and look for other opportunities. It might be high-end furniture from what we can rightly claim to be the most sustainably managed forests in the world (a message that has never been sold properly); it might be a more clever use of low-grade timber, such as Ta Ann’s product; it might be smarter hardwood plantations that produce saw log quality timber in shorter rotations; it might be biomass for power generation or as a carbon store; it might be a myriad of things we haven’t even dreamt of yet.

Ian Dickenson is a farmer and private forester who has been involved in the forestry debate for decades. He often says that “the trees don’t know there’s a war going on; they just keep growing”. And he’s right.

I certainly don’t have all the solutions to the problems with Tasmania’s forest industry; but I do know that this whole process has hurt much more than the confidence in the public forest sector.

Private forest owners have been innocent bystanders, collateral damage, call it what you will. Our markets have been affected; confidence in our product has been damaged; and this has impacted seriously on our farm businesses, our incomes, our ‘future proofing’ and our lives.

Our state economy is in a parlous condition, and this debate has impacted on all Tasmanians in many ways. Confidence in our willingness to support people and businesses is at an all time low; people are hurting across the state as impacts flow into local communities; and the rest of Australia is looking askance at our seeming complacency with living off handouts and being a ‘mendicant’state.

We need to make sure we keep our options open – at a farm level and at a state level – for whatever the future may bring.

Let’s hope that after today we can draw a line under what has gone before and come out of the trenches, ready to look to the future rather than be driven by the past.

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. David Obendorf

    August 13, 2012 at 3:01 am

    This Monday morning’s ABC 936 interview with Tony Burke gave some insight into the haggling going on in the forest talks.

    http://blogs.abc.net.au/tasmania/2012/08/mornings-on-demand-13812.html?site=hobart&program=hobart_mornings

    The federal minister seemed content on talking about the lowest-value ‘residues’ from forestry rather than the issues like the usefulness of 300,000 ha of E nitens plantations in Tasmania or the way Ta Ann wood supply annual contract for 265,000 cubic metres of high quality peeler billets would be guaranteed under this negotiation.

  2. john Hayward

    August 11, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    No, it’s not corrupt monopolies, or investment in unwanted pulp wood, or MIS Ponzi plantations, or the gutting of Tassie forests for chips, or the destruction of a competitive milling industry, that’s the problem, It’s the all-powerful greenies.

    John Hayward

  3. David Obendorf

    August 11, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    According to the Sunday Examiner 12 August 2012 – ‘it could be weeks before the Intergovernmental Forestry Agreement was finalised’.

    Federal environment Minister, Tony Burke said it was now up to forest signatories to decide when they were ready to sign an agreement.

    Tony Burke: “Today [Saturdayt] we are certainly still not there but we are a hell of a lot closer than we were last night. Whether we get there or not is not a choice for governments but a choice for the parties.”

    “Whether that momentum is enough to carry us through or not, I don’t. We need to work on the basis that every step of the way there remains a chance that the forest wars of old could be resumed.”

    http://www.examiner.com.au/story/202791/forest-peace-talks-fail-to-reach-a-deal/?cs=95

  4. David Obendorf

    August 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Sunday 12 August, the Examiner FINALLY has had a rush of courage and called Gunns Ltd (and metaphorically John Gay) – ‘a weakened bull, bleeding from all limbs, waiting for the kill’.

    After years of denial Launceston’s local newsparer,The Examiner is going in for the kill…. as they call it.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

    http://www.examiner.com.au/story/202801/what-killed-gunns/?cs=95

  5. David Obendorf

    August 10, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    According to Premier Giddings- as quoted in the Examiner today: “Our hope is that we will have a good pathway through to either agreement or an understanding that agreement will never be reached.”

    Either course is a hard serve back to the politicians in power because they will have to ‘sell’ that agreement or non-agreement to the people of Tasmania. [Tough gig politics but they made a mess of the process once again.]

    Without ownership from the Tasmanian community – too many groups were deliberately excluded – there will be consequences, the politician cannnot to that ignorant not to realise that!

  6. David Obendorf

    August 10, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    David Killick in the Mercury has few choice quotes today:

    Tony Burke’s tweet on Friday: “About to fly Sydney to Hobart for the forest peace talks which have become more difficult than ever. A lot at stake.”

    Lara’s take on things: “…they [the signatories] know that this [negotiation] is the only way through for a forest industry that is in decline at this point in time…. but we [politicians] stand strong in our belief that this is the best way to try to find solutions to long-held divisions.”

    And according to sources advising the Mercury the last hurrah on these signatory talks is ‘expected by the middle of the week’.

  7. David Obendorf

    August 10, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Jan Davis says: “From the outset, we’ve said this process is not only inherently flawed, but is destined to fail. It is time to bring down the curtain on this small group of unelected people poring over maps to divide the spoils of Tasmania’s publicly-owned forests, forests over which they have no proprietary rights….We have been told since the outset of this process that it would not impact on our businesses because the ‘deal’ was only about publicly owned forests. We’ve said that was nonsense; and even the Premier has now acknowledged we were right.”

    Many Tasmanians agree this narrow focussed and unrepresentative process has been the knell that rings in the ears of this signatory group and the political minders that created it back in 2010.

    Today we learn via the ABC that the signatories are doing some fact-finding, ground-truthing running around in vehicles to check out what the forests look like! Hopefully they will all see the same thing – forests AND wood.

    This last minute reality-check would have to tell you something about the hood-winking and ignorance that is in-built in these protracted, flawed roundtable process.

    Who is kidding who hear? If the politicians accept this 2-year long unrepresentative, secretative process as the only Plan on offer, then we all deserve to own the consequences.

  8. john hawkins

    August 10, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Am I being Simple?

    If the Governments native forests are locked up and out of the equation then those in private enterprise her customers have seen off the competition and control the market much to their financial benefit.

    How say you Jan?

  9. David Obendorf

    August 10, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    #8 Jarrah Vercoe asks: “Why is this fact never discussed by those who position themselves as representatives of private forest owners?”

    Well, Jarrah some probably have tried and still do …the majority are too fearful or initmidatd to rock the FT GBE boat for fear of retribution. That’s how Tasmanian Incorporated has operated for well over a century.

    You now see even the Tasmanian Greens Party – bless ’em – have a subtle version of ‘see no evil-hear no evil-speak no evil’.

    I call it Tasmania’s culture of compliance…. Jon Kudelka’s cartoon in the Mercury today shows us where all that ‘gravy train’ largess ultimately finishes up.

  10. William Boeder

    August 10, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Robin, do you recall exactly what the principal discussions were to be based upon within the perameters that occasioned the need or even concept of, the creation of the round table talks, (these that supposedly held no political overtones?)
    For there seems to have come about such an enormous amount of negative outfall from its very inception?
    Then another item of importance for relevant discussion is the way the talks were stacked with 7 X pro-forestry, against only 3 X opposed to the methods of forestry and logging up until that time.

    A sort of Kangaroo Court might best describe the style and substance of this round table process.

  11. Robin Halton

    August 10, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    #8 Jarrah Vercoe, correct the IGA does not have representation from TFGA which is most unreasonable given the private tree growers are not represented in the overall forestry debate in Tasmania.
    Another reason the IGA should be scrapped.

  12. Garry Stannus

    August 10, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I found this article confusing. Why does she want the IGA to fail? Why does she want public native forest open for logging when her constituency has its own private forests? I’m confident there are reasons, I’m not sure I’d accept them.

  13. Jarrah Vercoe

    August 10, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    When trying to pin point the reasons for the collapse in markets for privately owned forest resources, the impact that Forestry Tasmania have had over the past decade or more must be given far more weight than the purported impact from the IGA.

    The moment that Forestry Tasmania entered the fray and started selling (giving away) the public wood resource into the same markets that were avaliable to private forest owners was the moment that private forest owners lost their market share.

    Why is this fact never discussed by those who position themselves as representatives of private forest owners?

  14. TGC

    August 10, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    #6 We all “knew” the outcome! It was inevitable.

  15. phill Parsons

    August 10, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Funny old world. Jan knew the outcome @ 3.24am, hours before the meeting started.

  16. Robin Halton

    August 10, 2012 at 2:29 am

    I think that many of Jan’s tree farm investors would be shocked at the revelations spilling forth from Kim Booth’s Plantations, Putting the value above… nothing Article.
    TFGA will asking many questions as the market value of their members tree farm investments fall in value.
    Those who have advanced clearwood plantation on their best sites, prepared to carry out thinning probably non commercial at this stage may eventually see some cash flow after 25-35 years as “larger” diameter laminate peeler logs become available!
    Hopefully Ta Ann may accept some of this material leading up to 2027, the end of their State Forest eucalypt regrowth contract!
    Unlike radiata Pine I would still question the maturity factor affecting sawn timber from eucalypt plantation material as it may not be so promising for a return during the working life of the average Tasmanian farmer!

  17. TGC

    August 10, 2012 at 1:39 am

    “Talk’s cheap” unless it’s to do with Tasmania’s forests: then it’s expensive and ultimately futile. There will not be an outcome from the current round of talks that wil be any more satisfactory than the previous 30 years of ‘talking’
    Unless those opposed to cutting down trees- any trees, anywhere in our forests- public or private-achieve that goal then there will always be “trouble at (saw)mill”
    Not even those who might- in a moment of concilliatory gesture-be considered ‘reasonable conservationists’ can control the rabids stalking the planet with “buy anything from Tasmania and we’ll rip your bloody arms off” And it’s those extremists who receive the strongest political support especially from parts of the Tasmanian Cabinet.

  18. Russell

    August 9, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    Re #1
    “Maybe I’m old fashioned but to me it would make sense to assess industry demand, then look at available resource before deciding what reserves should be created not the other way around.”

    I agree, but without anyone participating in the process who are or have been involved in the SoP/IGA debacle.

    Why the hell harvest what the market doesn’t want, and, worse, why practically give it away?

    Re #2
    “Any contracts that have been renewed or extended during the so called ‘peace talks’, should be ruled invalid”

    Also totally agree, with particular respect to any new or renewed contract entered into by FT, Ta Ann and any other person/group remotely involved in the IGA/SoP process.

  19. TV Resident

    August 9, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Any contracts that have been renewed or extended during the so called ‘peace talks’, should be ruled invalid, IMO. This renewel or extensions of contracts has been a dirty, underhand way to literally ‘stuff’ any peace deal. The forestry minister and FT should be dragged over the coals for any underhand crap that they have colluded on. But then this is Tasmania with the pro forestry (demolition squad) at the helm in the form of the lab/greens and a bunch of demolition squad, hasbeens in the upperhouse, who are only worried about their next fat pay cheque and will argue against anything that will protect the wildlife and their natural habitats, for the sake of ‘short term’ greed.

  20. Andrew Denman

    August 9, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Well said Jan.

    The problem is the government and ENGO’s are painting all the industry with the same brush. Sure chip is affected by the high Aussie $$ but other sectors of the forest product industry (such as the value adding sector of which I own a business in)have high demand levels, mainly in the domestic market. If more reserves are created without considering ALL industry participants needs – not just a select few then the whole sector will be in decline.

    The IVG promised me in writing a full Value Adding sector resource demand study as part of the verification process – down to individual users requirements for species and volume per annum. This never occurred and still has not occurred. The figure of 12,500 cubic metres espoused as the “industry” claim for special timbers has never been verified.

    Yet today could quite easily see a minority of unelected people reserve the majority of special timber areas available for harvest to supply this sector. Maybe I’m old fashioned but to me it would make sense to assess industry demand, then look at available resource before deciding what reserves should be created not the other way aound.

    The majority of people from all sides of politics claim to want a sustainable, high value adding timber industry to flourish in Tasmania yet no one in the IGA process wants to put some substance behind this claim and guarantee required supply for the sector.

    Like the farmers/private forest owners, my sector has also been colateral damage in the IGA process.

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