Image for My Cry from the Heart: When we have justice there will be peace

The Tasmanian Government fails in its Duty of Care to the Traditional Owners, people, electors and future generations, in its mismanagement of the land, resources and infrastructure of this Island.

The creation of short-term corporate and private profit from the people’s public forests at the expense of the long-term health and wellbeing of our people, our communities and our bio-regions is inequitable, unjust and unacceptable. A tradition of exploitation is no excuse for its continuance.

Successive Tasmanian Governments have legislated to the benefit of corporate and private forestry interests, but to the detriment of the Traditional Owners, people, communities and the environment of this unique Island. The links between various forest industry corporations, contractors, lobby groups and Forestry Tasmania, also Tasmanian politicians past and present, illustrate some of the issues in regards to questionable behaviour and the forest industry that have been the subject of calls for a Commission of Inquiry into Forestry and Land Management in Tasmania. Questions also arise as to the roles others have played in the land grab, ‘environmental’ corporate non-government organisations and unions should realistically also be subject to scrutiny.

Notwithstanding unresolved sovereignty, the current situation is that Forestry Tasmania acts in a management capacity administering our public native forest and soft wood plantation estates. The handling of our Special Species forest resource highlights some of the on-going difficulties the mismanagement of our forest industry creates. It is problematic that the persons responsible for the wasteful destruction of countless volumes of special species timbers, thus creating a rare commodity, have also been the same persons promoting and administering the trade in these same rare woods. Again questions arise as to the ethics of these administrators.

Forestry Tasmania and their associates have not so far proven themselves to be good corporate citizens; blatant disregard for the welfare of their workforce and of the health and well being of the Tasmanian community is evidenced everywhere. Current forestry practices on this Island result in harm; the poisoning and degradation of our soil, air, water, and endangerment and extinction of flora and fauna are in contravention of International Conventions relating to the environment, health and indigenous and human rights. Further, there is evident failure to establish preservation of indigenous cultural and heritage sites and world heritage high conservation value forests in perpetuity.

The exemption or part-exemption of Forestry Tasmania and their associates from Freedom of Information laws, Threatened and Endangered Species laws and Land Use Planning and Approvals laws, together with enabling legislation has meant that Forestry Tasmania have become a law unto themselves, creating a climate of cynicism, cronyism and corruption. That portion of the Island designated to their custodianship has suffered immeasurably.

It is a mockery of justice that our Island’s forests are literally locked up by Forestry Tasmania. We face restricted access to and restricted enjoyment of the multiple uses of our public forests and the community is hindered in the monitoring and witnessing of the unethical practices of the Forest Industry. Exclusion zones are used as a pretext to justify attacks on the public, by public servants.
Civil disobedience arrests challenge questionable legislation. Real risk comes from the reactive random acts of Forestry Tasmania and associates, employees, contractors and Police, dictated to by a government that continues to serve private corporate interests at the expense of its own electorate. Legitimisation of coercive and intimidating behavior through unprincipled legislation that criminalises citizens acting on their conscience, and smear campaigns against activists, seek to shift the blame from the perpetrators.

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There is a widely prevalent sentiment in the community that we are seeing a failure of due legal and democratic process. Lack of Freedom of Information, allegedly due to Commercial In Confidence means that the people of Tasmania cannot be sure of the terms and conditions of the leases of the people’s forests and lands that Forestry Tasmania negotiates. Therefore, they cannot make an informed choice as to the benefits or not of industrial scale forestry practices such as proposed woodchip mills, pulp mills or wood fired powered stations.

There is concern that tenure of State and Crown Lands is in jeopardy. There is concern that the leases on Tasmanian people’s State Forests and Lands may, through forestry operations, and future legislation, be converted to private leasehold. Are the corporate forestry leases on public forests held in perpetuity after future enabling legislation?

Are instances of what appears to be Police protection for private corporate forestry operations, and Forestry Tasmania officer’s actions against members of the public opposing their mismanagement, part of the terms and conditions? The implications for the people of Tasmania when Gunns sell out, most likely to overseas corporate interests, are sad and scary to contemplate. Issues that have been revealed on investigation into Ta-Anns operations overseas and at veneer mills here, gives some indication of the sorts of problems that could arise.

Given that many issues remain unresolved, the possibility that even more public resource and public land may come under the control of corporations such as Gunns, Ta Ann and Artec due to proposals such as woodchip mills, pulp mills, veneer mills and wood fired power stations is unreasonable and unjustifiable. We remind the Tasmanian Government, Forestry Tasmania and their associates that the directing or misplacing of public assets into private or corporate hands by the Government is irresponsible and could have serious repercussions.

The Government’s pursuit of and investment in private corporate interests through subsidies, loans, tax breaks and enabling legislation, is at the expense of its electorates and taxpayers. The Government’s delinquent behavior in regards to provision of health, education, housing, human services and infrastructure, is a failure of Duty of Care, and calls in to question issues of justice and equity, accountability and responsibility. The inhumane agenda of economic rationalism belittles us all.

Social and environmental as well as economic audits, by independent actuaries into the management, practices in and uses of Tasmanian public forests would shed some light on the actual cost to the Tasmanian Community of subsidising the export of our forests as woodchip, veneer and whole logs by corporations such as Gunns, Ta-Ann, Artec and associated contractors, for private corporate profit. The resultant loss of everything, from irreplaceable ancient ecosystems to prime agricultural lands and communities that are destroyed, causes disadvantage for future generations.

Despite warnings for many years of the urgent and absolute necessity to transition out of industrial scale forestry on this small Island, we still experience the horrific impact of cable logging, clear-fells, regeneration burns, managed investment scheme monoculture plantations on prime agricultural land, and questionable road building contracts.

As a consequence of industrial scale high volume forestry there are serious issues and ongoing problems with regards to Land and Marine Ecosystems, Air Quality, Fires, Poisons, Water, Extinction of Flora and Fauna, Erosion of Rivers, Desecration of Indigenous Sites, Displacement and Dispossession of Communities, Occupational Health and Safety, Community Health and Safety, Export, Transport, Roads, Infrastructure, Monoculture Plantations and detrimental impact on Tourism, Agriculture and Fisheries.

The debate on risk is certainly pertinent to assessment of the actions of the Government of Tasmania, Forestry Tasmania, contractors and forestry corporations whose regime of high volume industrial scale forestry practices puts at risk the health and well being of all life in those bioregions effected.  The Tasmanian Government has failed to exercise precautionary measures despite years of dire warnings from many expert sources. 

Given that all corporate Forestry bodies face massive compensation, regeneration, restitution and reparation bills for the damage they have already done to this Island’s people, heritage and land, it would be imprudent to proceed without due reflection. An audit would, for example, enable determination of the surety Gunns would have to stand before commencing their proposed pulp mill.

There have been suggestions that Forestry Tasmania and its associates such as Gunns, Artec and Ta-Ann could in some way mitigate the damage they have already done to this Island’s public forests by relinquishing contracts that effect high conservation value forests and heritage sites.

Extinguishment of contracts leading to heritage preservation in perpetuity and new management regimes of our public forests would provide a better outcome than further payments of public money to an industry whose rapacious greed has caused so much damage to our Island and communities. 

A failure to earlier implement transition strategies has led to a shrinking of stock of our available valuable native forest. Planning for a low volume, non-industrial timber industry, in those remaining state forests outside protected areas would see a return to smaller scale local sawmills and portable mills.  This has always been part of many communities’ vision of transition with the low impact selective felling of mixed age mixed species timbers providing high employment forestry that has potential for local value adding and better environmental outcomes. Changes need to be made to the planting and management of plantations from monoculture to ecologically sustainable, diverse forests that are safe and useful to human and non-human communities.

Recognising and developing the multiple use values of our public forests such as beekeeping, tourism, recreation, and carbon sinks are some of the alternatives that would also provide better outcomes for local communities.

Current world environmental and economic factors and the current government administrators, means the situation for Tasmanian forests remains dire. Even as supposed ‘peace talks’ take place and we await a true moratorium, industrial scale forestry operations continue to smash old growth forests with deleterious effects. Implementation of transition strategies that create ethical and lasting change is imperative.

Legislative review must be undertaken, as part of the process of transition from redundant industrial scale forestry in forests of high conservation and heritage value and on prime agricultural land. Relevant independent consultants must be contracted to do assessments and report on all aforementioned concerns, and put forward recommendations, after community consultation, to remedy all adverse environmental and social impacts from industrial scale high volume logging and its consequences.

There is an urgent need to review all relevant legislation and repeal that legislation which does not provide good governance and healthy outcomes for our communities and environment. Indeed, beside a review of adverse legislation, there also needs to be new legislation drafted that creates ecological justice and social justice and better serves the ethos of a democratic state.

Similar issues and problems that we have faced with corporate management of our forests are currently being seen in the privatization of our water supply. As our Government’s governance and mismanagement plays into the hands of the global corporate seizure of our commons, we are witnessing the disempowerment of local governance, and violation of our human and ecological rights.

Calls from some quarters to further merge water management bodies are part of this process - proceed with caution.

Tasmania contains many sites of immense cultural significance to the people whom have traditionally cared for this Island, the Aboriginal Communities of this Island, the Traditional Owners. Many of these sites have been destroyed and many sites are at risk of destruction. Indigenous Heritage legislation is in urgent need of review and re-drafting. The issue of Sovereignty on this Island has never been resolved. Native Title has never been relinquished. We have repeatedly reminded the Tasmanian Government and other players, in the land grab that is played out with forestry, that this land is not theirs to make deals over.

The founding ethos of the administrators of this Island’s colonial penal   settlement plays out in today’s land grab. The same corrupt cronyism and obsessive brutality that seeks to destroy any resistance to exploitation for profit, continues to criminalise its own people for asserting affiliation and responsible reciprocal relationship with this Island. 

The empire building ventures of resource extraction and land clearing for the purposes of economic ‘growth’ continue, but at a pace and scale beyond the comprehension of the first white man to wield a steel axe here. Since first colonisation, governments have created legislation that enables the desecration and destruction of our communities, our heritage and our beautiful, diverse, life-giving environment with dire consequences.

The enactment of corrupt legislation creates bureaucratic subversion and the systemic disadvantage and systemic violence that has for many become an element of life on this Island, an Island with a history of brutal colonial conquest and an inherently corrupt administration that panders to private profiteers. 

When we have justice there will be peace.