On 18 May 2011, The Wilderness Society suspended its participation in Tasmania’s forest peace talks. Is this the beginning of the end for these negotiations?
Perhaps, but only because the solution emerging from the talks is predicated on a deal that many Tasmanians find objectionable.
What’s the background to this agreement?
In the dying days of the 2004 Commonwealth electoral campaign, Mark Latham, then leader of the opposition, offered the Tasmanian forest industry and its workers an $800 million restructuring package in exchange for protecting 250,000 hectares of high conservation value forests.
The proposal backfired, however, and the impressive package was spurned by Tasmanian politicians, industry and workers.
Those workers subsequently gave John Howard a standing ovation in the Albert Hall, Launceston, when he promised to abide by the terms of the 1997 Regional Forest Agreement, providing $50 million to reserve an additional 150,000 hectares.
In what has turned out to be a cruel irony, Howard also reassured them that no jobs would be lost in the forest industry.
In hindsight, it’s clear that Tasmania’s forest industry looked a gift horse in the mouth. But back in 2004, industry strategists were convinced that their high-volume, low-value, all-eggs-in-one basket industrial forest strategy was a winner.
Between 1999 and 2004, exports of hardwood woodchips from Tasmania almost doubled from 2.6 to 5.1 million tonnes. The industry launched its newly minted Australian Forestry Standard (AFS) certification scheme to prove its sustainability credentials to overseas buyers.
A booming Japanese market enabled Gunns, the State’s forestry behemoth, to earn $105 million in profits and Forestry Tasmania to return over $5 million to the State’s coffers.
Things were not as they seemed, however …
Fred Gale is a member of the Forest Stewardship Council and a founding member of the Australian national inititive, FSC-Australia.
• You must remember this ...
Examiner, 27 March 2008 Courtesy of Ross
• Meanwhile, today:
• Million-dollar man