I can’t get over the images shown on the ABC’s Stateline on October 21, images of former Wilderness Society director Alec Marr in control of the boom gate at the Triabunna woodchip mill.
He was on his lonesome, looking out over an empty timber yard, all the machinery idle, his office empty. He took the television crew on a tour of the mill, proudly showing how the chipper was in great working order and pointing out the new conveyor belt to the wharf. It is truly bizarre that he holds this position at the mill, which both governments and industry have said is critical to the future of the industry yet he would seem happiest when there is no activity at all.
But nearly eight minutes into the item, we hear the vintage Alec Marr, when he declares what will and what will not get chipped in his mill and, lo and behold, he tells us that he will bar timber from private land, but we are not told how much or why. Where did that come from?
From the very outset of the so-called forest peace talks we were told that Tasmania’s private forest estate was outside the ambit of those discussions; that they were dealing solely with forests on publicly-owned land. That was the given reason that the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, which represents private forest growers, was not invited to participate in the talks. We smelled a rat then and we still smell it.
First, the intergovernmental agreement on forests has specifically included private forests within its ambit through clause 31, which mandates either Forest Stewardship Council or Australian Forest Standard certification for remaining forestry activity in Tasmania. By implication, that includes forestry activity on private land. Where was the consultation on that?
Then, Mr Marr says he will declare taboo an unspecified amount of private timber at the woodchip mill, yet private forests were not covered by the agreement.
The State Government remains blinkered to our concerns at the outcome of the talks and the forestry agreement. That is why we have taken those concerns to the 15 members of the Legislative Council, who completely understand and who have so far voted 13-2 to block the agreement being effective (the “2” being Labor MLCs).
Does that mean the agreement is likely to be dead in the water in terms of determining the fate of 572,000 ha of public forests? It should be. Would the Gillard Government dare further incurring the wrath of the Tasmanian electorate by again exercising a land use power that is quite rightly Tasmania’s? If it did there would be obvious implications on its support in Tasmania.
The TFGA does not pretend there is an easy fix to Tasmania’s forestry dilemmas, but there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things. You cannot and should not exclude a huge sector of the industry (private forestry represents 26 per cent of all forested land use) and pretend that you have come with an acceptable solution; you cannot condone a unilateral declaration by Alec Marr and those he represents that an undetermined amount of private timber will not be woodchipped at the mill; and you should not have to contemplate a power grab by Canberra to take over land use responsibility of a state.
It is improper and immoral for private forest owners to have been excluded from this latest round and now to be threatened in this way.
They already have had to pay the lion’s share of the price of forest lock-ups under the Regional Forest Agreement and the Community Forest Agreement. Clearing and converting native forest on private land was virtually stopped dead in its tracks 15 years ago and has to end completely in four years.
Governments are elected to govern. They must wear the consequences of their decisions. If there are to be community benefits from restricting the activities of farmers, then the community has to bear the cost. The community must pay, not the farmer. Farmers are not charities.
First published in Tasmanian Country