First bouquets for Beattie’s forest advisers as boss takes a closer look

Crikey email – 28 November

As predicted, the first of the bouquets for Beattie’s forest policy team started arriving on cue this week.

First up was this fragrant media statement from federal Minister Ian Macdonald which made no attempt to hide his enjoyment . He focussed on the small town social impact but he’ll sleep soundly knowing that if Beattie abandons a switch to plantations it makes life easier for the feds.

After all, if Queensland show that transition out of all natural forests is doable while the rest of the RFAs are woodchipping old growth, the RFAs start to look a bit behind the pace? Hence Macdonald’s obvious satisfaction.

The cowboys at Gunns no doubt love anything which kills off transition talk, and importers like Greenpeace favourite Rimbunan Hijau are probably also quietly rooting for the no-transition agenda. The sooner Queensland locks up more state forests the better for the import business.

Meanwhile, as the flowers from Macdonald sat out at reception waiting for someone to find a big enough vase, the Premier would have looked out the window and seen the horse-riders protesting at being locked out of the SEQ forests. AWU boss, Bill Ludwig, hadn’t sent flowers but did send a pretty blunt message in The Australian saying that the party ought not emulate the federal leaders’s recent mistakes in Tassie. They would be headed down that road if they abandoned existing Labor policy which favours transition to plantations.

The Premier’s incomparable nose for and aversion to bad media kicked in. Within about an hour or so of kick-off at a crisis meeting thrown together by the loggers, unions, and graziers he announced a 6 month extension in wood supply in the Western Hardwoods Area.

A short term reprieve for those facing the sack at Christmas, and a setback for certain advisors and the above-mentioned forces of darkness.

Only problem now for these people is that the community and the media are getting wind of Queensland’s SFP (now known as the “Secret Forest Process”) and now the government doesn’t just have to deal with a few hundred timber workers. Now they have to reckon with everyone from the bee keepers to the graziers to the horse riders and to some mightily dark councillors all of whom want dealing in. Fair enough too.

Will the florists have a busy Christmas? Only time will tell.

Labor and the Greens – Peter Beattie clearly didn’t learn from the federal campaign

Crikey email – 18 November

An obviously well connected green insider from Queensland writes:

“How amusing to watch a bold fire-starter in the Beattie Government throwing yet more chips in recent days on the smouldering bonfire of Labor forest policy. The latest word from George Street is that Beattie office svengali, Damien McGreevy is unabashed. The push is apparently still on to shut down timber mills in a dozen regional Queensland towns over the dead bodies of half the cabinet and without even consulting the communities in question.

“The race is on now to ‘Schultz’ the department and rush it through before Caucus focuses, the towns find out, and the bee-keepers, horse-riders, graziers etc get themselves mobilised. If it’s pulled off it will be perhaps the most spectacular national park heist in Australian history. If election preference deals were done on this with the green movement apparently no-one told the AWU — their regional organisers have been telling members until a few weeks ago that their jobs were safe under a Labor government.

“Not only eyebrows are being raised now in the Caucus and the bureaucracy at the McGreevy crusade. More than a few might be asking whether the Bjelke-Petersenesque hubris of the Leader’s office has now reached such heights that an adviser can pull rank on half a dozen ministers with the relevant portfolios. Some in the Caucus might wonder whether a few hundred more sacrificial preference offerings to the green gods in the form of unionised timber workers sounds like déjà vu? Others might wonder whether twelve more ghost towns will be the beginning of the end of country support for Beattie. Sightings of the ghost of Wayne Goss have been more and more frequent in George Street, they say. The big unknown is whether the “chip’s” crusade is even backed by the “old block” as the Premier keeps an interesting distance behind his adviser on this one. Is he checking the direction of the breeze?

“How typically silly, though, that when the Greens finally get a gunner in the Premier’s office they use him to shoot themselves in the foot. They could be using Queensland timber industry willingness to exit all native forests in exchange for a 100% transition to plantations as a way to show other states that the switch is achievable. But no – that smacks way too much of common sense. Instead, the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society has sold the Premier’s office on an agenda which does the exact opposite. Rather than proving the viability of a move to hardwood plantations it plays right into the hands of NAFI and the Howard Government who are doing their level best to show that a transition is impossible and therefore access to state forest (including old growth) ought to be allowed in perpetuity. Standing ovation for Damien McGreevy all the way from the Gunns Board Room and the Coalition Party room in Canberra: “nice work – kill off hundreds of local union members to help the Liberal Party cause nationally and that of the old growth loggers — the bouquet is on the way, comrade…

“Meanwhile ARCS diva, Aila Keto, has been remarkably quiet about these PNG rainforest timber imports which Greenpeace activists were arrested for protesting about only this week in Brisbane. Could it be she realises that if McGreevy gets her agenda up and shuts down the state forests in the Western Hardwoods Region that Queensland will become market number one for “exotic” hardwood timber imports. With people moving north in droves, and construction in Queensland set to boom against the national trend what better way to boost importer incomes than to shut down the local industry and oppose a plantation transition. It has some greens here in Brisbane wondering whether it’s time to take the A out of ARCS and some in the Caucus wondering why the L is still in ALP. Ah Queensland, Labor, Greens and forest policy – disastrous one day, horrible the next.”

The mess that is Queensland’s forests policy

Crikey email – 17 November

A mysterious green-tinged pro-tree-lopper from Queensland writes:

How amusing to watch a bold fire-starter in the Beattie Government throwing yet more chips in recent days on the smoldering bonfire of Labor forest policy. The latest word from George Street is that Beattie office svengali, Damien McGreevy, is pushing ahead with plans to shut down timber mills in several regional Queensland towns over the dead bodies of some cabinet Minister and without properly consulting the communities in question.

The race is on now to ‘Shultz’ the department and rush it through before Caucus focuses, the towns find out, and the bee-keepers, horse-riders, graziers etc get themselves mobilised. If it’s pulled off it will be perhaps the most spectacular national park heist in Australian history. If election preference deals were done on this with the green movement apparently no-one told the AWU – their regional organisers have been telling members until a few weeks ago that their jobs were safe under a Labor government.

Not only eyebrows are being raised now in the Caucus and the bureaucracy at the McGreevy crusade. More than a few might be asking whether the Bjelke-Petersenesque hubris of the Leader’s office has now reached such heights that an adviser can pull rank on half a dozen ministers with the relevant portfolios. Some in the Caucus might wonder whether a few hundred more sacrificial preference offerings to the green gods in the form of unionised timber workers sounds like déjà vu? Others might wonder whether twelve more ghost towns will be the beginning of the end of country support for Beattie. The big unknown is whether the “chip’s” crusade is even backed by the “old block” as the Premier keeps an interesting distance behind his adviser on this one. Is he checking the direction of the breeze?

How typically silly, though, that when the Greens finally get a gunner in the Premier’s office they use him to shoot themselves in the foot. They could be using Queensland timber industry willingness to exit all native forests in exchange for a 100% transition to plantations as a way to show other states that the switch is achievable. But no – that smacks way too much of common sense. Instead, the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society has sold the Premier’s office on an agenda which does the exact opposite. Rather than proving the viability of a move to hardwood plantations it plays right into the hands of NAFI and the Howard Government who are doing their level best to show that a transition is impossible and therefore access to state forest (including old growth) ought to be allowed in perpetuity.

Standing ovation for Damien McGreevy all the way from the Gunns board room and the Coalition Party room in Canberra: “nice work – kill off hundreds of local union members to help the Liberal Party cause nationally and that of the old growth loggers”.

Meanwhile ARCS diva, Aila Keto, has been remarkably quiet about these PNG rainforest timber imports which Greenpeace activists were arrested for protesting about only this week in Brisbane. Could it be she realises that if McGreevy gets her agenda up and shuts down the state forests in the Western Hardwoods Region that Queensland will become market number one for “exotic” hardwood timber imports.

With people moving north in droves, and construction in Queensland set to boom against the national trend what better way to boost importer incomes than to shut down the local industry and oppose a plantation transition.

Ahh Queensland, Labor, Greens and forest policy – disastrous one day, horrible the next.

Beattie’s forests head-ache

Crikey email – 15 November

Beattie takes aim at his forest policy foot as ALP sawdust settles in Tasmania:

More forest policy comedy by Labor – this time up in the “Smart State” – as the five ministers who probably should be making policy in Queensland on the future of the state’s hardwood forests wait to be told what the Premier and his staff want to do. Five out of five ministers (McGrady – State Development; Palaszczuk – Primary Industry; Robertson – Natural Resources; Pitt – Communities; and Boyle – Environment) are all thought to support a transition out of state forests into hardwood plantations in the Western Hardwoods Region as is already occurring in the South East Queensland region. The former Environment Minister, Mickel is also believed to like the idea along with a majority in Cabinet, and big Bill Ludwig who’s AWU members’ jobs are on the line.

Under the Ministers’ plan, Queensland could become a net exporter of hardwoods, instead of one of the big growth markets for ancient rainforest timber from places like PNG and Indonesia. At just about the time other states are renegotiating their RFAs, Queensland would have all its state hardwood forests in reserve permanently. No wonder the Premier was so proud of the plantation transition deal in SEQ that he launched a Statewide Forests Process a few years back to replicate the SEQ outcome statewide.

With the Queensland timber industry bucking the national trend by agreeing to exit all state forests in exchange for a plantations transition, and the greens singing the praises of the SEQ deal, the Cheshire Cat thought he was on to a winner and gave Canberra the bird on its RFA process. So, the Western Hardwoods decision should be a no-brainer, right?

Wrong… How things can change. The Queensland timber industry must feel a bit silly now and they would be regretting that they have to learn that painful lesson about the greens never being satisfied. Not content with the SEQ deal, the greens now reckon a plantation transition ain’t good enough and the Western Hardwoods Region ought to be shut down now. Some propaganda corkers like the need to “save baby trees” even seem to have completely taken in the Premier’s office.

They’re convinced that baby trees are baby seals and the five ministers with relevant portfolios are left scratching their heads and wondering why they and their departments even bother showing up to work. All the kudos-winning consensus between industry and the greens is gone, the Premier’s forests process teeters on the brink, and his office has caught green religion as yet another Labor forest policy train wreck begins to take shape. As if the Premier needs yet another headache. As if Labor needed a re-run of Tasmania.

Just recapping – the Premier’s dark sandwich options once again:

  • Take the advice of the five ministers who he ought to be relying on and back a transition to plantations in the Western Hardwoods. The problem with this is that his staff would have to back down now and it’s a little tricky because he would incur the “wrath” of the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society, whose leader he crowned with the Premier’s Millennium Award for Excellence in all the excitement after the SEQ deal. (See: http://www.rainforest.org.au/news.htm where it is still apparently front page news, though interestingly the link at the Premier’s site seems to have vanished); or
  • He can back ARCS and abandon the plantation transition idea which is what his office is apparently pushing. ARCS will be thrilled, five relevant ministers will have gone under another political train, the Statewide Forests Process will be toast, and hundreds of jobs from a dozen Queensland towns will have been exported offshore to boost demand for rainforest timber from our near neighbours. So, expect another controversial PNG visa application on the way from the people at Dateline, expect Greenpeace boats winding up in the Port of Brisbane protesting about the increase in imports and expect more very pissed off unionists howling about more dumb Labor forests policy.

Another fine mess you’ve gotten me into, the Premier must be thinking as he walks into the office.

Peter Fray

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