Image for High Farce

In September 1938 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew back to England brandishing an agreement and declaring “peace for our time”, oft misquoted as “peace in our time”.

Thus did Julia Gillard fly back yesterday from the killing fields of Tasmania to claim an end to hostilities in the forests, before reclothing to resume her role as Boadicea of Carbonia. Don’t look behind you, Julia.

I spent 20 years at The Australian, trying to explain to its readership, in words of not more than three syllables, what the Forest Wars were all about as each stage of the campaign unfolded. To resume the tale today the writer would best follow the example of Lewis Carroll. It has descended into high farce.

Largesse with $276 million of taxpayers’ money does not terminate Tasmania’s forest wars. The ABC would have people believe, for instance, that this peace deal will end native forest logging in Tasmania.

It won’t.

It ends native forest logging on public land, that is, Crown land. Private foresters own and manage 26 per cent of Tasmania’s native forests, 885,000 ha of them. They were not invited to participate in the peace talks. They were deemed irrelevant, the rationale being that if you close one segment of native forest harvesting, it has no effect on the overall demand for Tasmanian native timbers. They overlooked the theory of critical mass.

The peace deal was therefore negotiated by nobody who actually owns and manages forests. Land use in Tasmania is being determined by vested interests and pressure groups that do not actually own or manage any of the resource. And what’s to become of the mineral resources below the ground, underneath the trees? Are they locked up, too? What is the economic benefit foregone?

One of the negotiators was Terry Edwards, chief executive of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania. As a precondition to his signing, he wanted this guarantee:

“The other thing that is fundamental to us and one that we will expect to see honored is that there will be peace delivered in our forests and our markets as a result of this agreement.”

It is not going to happen. In fact, the situation is worse. The Greens want no part of the peace deal. The Australian Greens and the Tasmanian Greens want greater forest protection.

So, instead of the Wildos going to Tokyo or Europe to plead for bans on importing Tasmanian timber, it will now be the Greens themselves or non-signatory groups acting on their behalf. Other forest activists will continue to block logging in Tasmania with the imprimatur of the Greens. To the outsider, Bob Brown is Australia’s de facto deputy prime minister and Nick McKim de facto deputy premier of Tasmania.

They will have more clout in the marketplace than any of their predecessors.

Meanwhile, back in the Wonderland forests, there has been a changing of the guard. The future is now in the hands of two former directors of the Wilderness Society, Jonathan West and Alec Marr.

Marr, who first came to notice in 1986 as a champion tree-sitter at the Battle of Farmhouse Creek, is the new gatekeeper at the Triabunna woodchip mill, recently acquired by conservationists Jan Cameron and Graeme Wood.

West, now an innovations guru, has been charged with determining which forests should stay and which should go under the Gillard/Giddings Heads of Agreement. He also will advise on regional economic development opportunities.

Lewis Carroll wrote: “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”