IT’S CHAOS! UNCERTAINTY HIGH / PEACE PROSPECTS LOW / FOREST PROTECTION NIL

Hopes are receding for secure protection of Tasmania’s outstanding forests that are on the chopping block for logging destruction, and the forests peace talks are in jeopardy.

We are reminded of the famous Monty Python skit about the dead parrot. In that hilarious swing at misleading claims, the assertion that the bird was not dead, only resting was undermined by the fact that it was actually nailed to its perch.

The forest industry itself has dramatically increased the levels of uncertainty around Tasmanian forest products by staging a walk out that will make markets nervous. The Forest Industry Association of Tasmania (FIAT), The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) and the national forest contractors body claim to have merely suspended their participation in the negotiations, but this suspension will only be revised if their absurd and unacceptable conditions for resumption are met. Not dead, only resting?

This shambolic state of affairs has been cast even further into disarray by the dramatic resignation of the Chair of the Board of Forestry Tasmania, and the open defiance of government by a top executive of the public corporation. The agency has gone rogue.

At issue is the decision by the Tasmanian government to heed independent expert advice and reform Forestry Tasmania, the Government Business Enterprise charged with managing forestry on public land. It has been propped up by $640 million of federal and state grants in the last decade and is making huge ongoing losses predicted to be as much as $35 million per year over the coming 5 years. These losses are impacting the constrained public purse and the delivery of vital health, education and policing.  Forestry Tasmania’s current structure and functions have been assessed by URS (consultants engaged by Treasury) as a failed business model for these times.

Neither Forestry Tasmania, nor the forest industry, will accept the preferred reform option that was presented to government and endorsed by Cabinet. This model would enable government to implement its wishes for the forests that belong to the people of Tasmania and put its management of forestry onto a more sustainable footing. But subsidies that benefit industry would end.

It is now about who is actually in charge here, the government or the industry? The likelihood of the government acceding to the bullying and tantrums is not high, and if they do then the impact on the forest talks will be to gut them. Additionally minority partners in government, the Greens Party, have flagged withdrawing their support for government if it reneges on the agreed reforms.

No agreement to protect in secure reserves even one stick of the expanses of high conservation value forest has been reached. Such forests are still being logged and the product of that forest destruction is ending up in the markets. Further, we suspect that Forestry Tasmania is actively planning to log new, highly controversial areas of the reserve claim and to push new roads into World Heritage value forests.

Interestingly, the Monty Python dead parrot sketch segues into the equally famous lumberjack song. The character gives up trying to pretend that the parrot is alive and cuts to his real ambition – ‘I never wanted to be a pet shop owner, I always wanted to be a lumberjack’. Hmmm.

By TaAnn

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