In October 2004, Prime Minister John Howard promised to protect 18,700 hectares of old growth forests in the Styx and Florentine valleys. But in May 2005, after a deal had been struck with Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon, the Government admitted that it had saved only 4730 ha.
Worse, the Governments allocated millions of dollars of taxpayers’ funds to allow logging to proceed in the unprotected old growth forests. These funds would pay for new logging roads and for the costs associated with modifying clearfelling operations so that cosmetic clumps of trees could be left standing.
The Upper Florentine is an example of the sort of forest sold out this week by Labor Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd. In proclaiming that no more timber resources would be protected in Tasmania (and using almost the exact words that Federal Forestry Minister Senator Eric Abetz had demanded that Mr Rudd use), Mr Rudd has consigned the Upper Florentine to the bulldozers and chainsaws.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Win-win opportunities exist. Mark Latham’s $800 million attempt to seek a win-win outcome was fundamentally sound. The release of this policy could have been handled better, but its effect on the seats of Bass and Braddon has been exaggerated; opinion polls showed that Labor was on the way out of these seats well before either party’s forest policy was announced.
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Even so, 55% of Tasmanians voted for Latham’s $800-million attempt to fix the Tasmanian forestry imbroglio. Tasmanians do want to see our politicians strive for a win-win outcome.
An average of 35,000 hectares of native forests are logged in Tasmania every year. 15,800 hectares of this consists of clearfelling and burning. About 60% of the clearfelled forests are converted to plantations (regimented rows of monoculture tree crops) or bare land.
The logging and wood-products industries employ 5000-7000 Tasmanians depending on market conditions. The vast majority of these are employed in parts of the industry that are not contentious. Tasmania’s largest sawmill operation – the Scottsdale mills of Auspine — employ over 300 workers cutting and milling pine logs from the state’s north-east plantations. The newsprint mill at Boyer employs over 400 people using pine logs and regrowth. The paper mills at Wesley Vale and Burnie do not use native forests.
It was estimated by alternative industry group Timber Workers for Forests in 2004 that 300-400 people are employed in old growth logging. Other analysts have said the figure is closer to 1000. That figure may well have dropped as plantations continue to come on stream. And that’s the number of people we are talking about keeping happy by allowing the logging of Tasmania’s old growth forest. Oh, and the unions. And Gunns.
There are plenty of ways in which Tasmania can have the best of both worlds – protecting our stunning natural landscapes and developing a vibrant timber industry not dependent on trashing the things that make Tasmania special. We have about 250,000 hectares of plantations already in the ground. Many of the logs cut from these plantations are exported whole. They provide no manufacturing opportunities in Tasmania, a fact galling to the workers at Auspine whose jobs are threatened by a decision to allocate their resources to a different company – one that does not even have a mill yet! What a lose-lose situation.
Gunns has proposed a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley that has caused great conflict and division. If it had been sited at Hampshire, on the doorstep of Gunns’ own vast plantation estate, with more benign chemical processes, and dependent only on plantations, there would be little opposition to the project.
Instead Gunns wants to pulp native forests and keep exporting plantation logs as woodchips. Yet another lose-lose situation.