Mar 6, 2012

In Tassie politics, it’s hard to see the sense from the trees

Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings seeks to offer some insights today into the island's future in her annual State of the State address. The forests remain top of the agenda, writes Bruce Montgomery.

Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings seeks to offer some insights today into the island's future in her annual State of the State address. She gets to her feet amid an increasing air of despondency about the state economy. There is low business confidence, the high Australian dollar and low demand threaten an already struggling tourism industry and two major power users, BHP's Temco and Rio Tinto's Alcan. As significantly, there is Tasmania’s structural dysfunction -- too many public sector jobs, too few sustainable private enterprise jobs and too many of the population on welfare, as much as one-third. All this confronts Giddings, a committed and competent politician who leads a minority government that includes two Green ministers who march to the beat of their own drum and not the government’s. One of them, Nick McKim, undermines international confidence in Tasmania’s ability to provide sustainably produced forest products at the same time as his Labor colleagues seek to save those markets; his colleague and life partner, Cassy O’Connor, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Affairs Minister, deeply offended local Aborigines by referring to them as "a vulnerable community" after it appeared they might get their hands on some of the forests she and McKim want locked up in national parks. Veteran activist Michael Mansell bagged O’Connor’s ill-thought commentary as "patronising" and "condescending", which bodes ill for future relations between that minister and her indigenous constituency. As a former correspondent for The Australian here, I know how incomprehensible and therefore tiresome Tasmanian forest politics can be for the rest of the nation. We argue incessantly about forest policy and environmental outcomes; one villainous forest company disappears off the hit list to be replaced by another; stunts aimed at the media become more risible yet still the cameras turn up; meanwhile, Tasmania falls further and further behind other states economically. Those states are again asking why, through GST revenue distribution, they should be made to subsidise a mendicant poor cousin whose major growth industry seems to be left-of-centre pressure groups who want not only to stop the clock but to wind it back to deliver a form of Tasmanian prehistory; this at a time when Western Australians get back 70 cents of each GST dollar they pay to the Australian Taxation Office while Tasmanians get back $1.60. The challenge of painting a long-term economic vision for Tasmania eludes MPs. Far easier, it seems, to engage in tragic-comic sideshows, such as the doomed intergovernmental forest agreement with the Gillard government. The Upper House, the Legislative Council, will scupper it or an incoming Liberal government will shred it. It has no future. Then there is the extravaganza spun by Forestry Tasmania, the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania and Michael Mansell’s Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC). The TAC is courting the forest industry to give Aborigines the forests that the environmental groups covet for national parks under the IGA, the attraction being that Forestry Tasmania would manage the forests for the TAC for conservation (and a suggestion of some logging access) while the rest of us can engage in hunting, shooting and fishing the local fauna. It is a deliberate "up yours" to the Greens but it has no future. There is a flaw in the IGA concept and the land hand-back to the Aboriginal community. The use of Tasmanian public forests is not for environmental groups or the forest industry to determine. That environmental groups have been able to nominate another half a million hectares or so of public forest to investigate for lock-up is fundamentally undemocratic. That the forest industry can barter public forests with the Aboriginal community is delusional. The industry does not own the forests. Forest use is rightly the preserve of Parliament and, in the end, the Legislative Council is where the action will be. But the fiddlers at the sideshows play on, as the economy burns.

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10 thoughts on “In Tassie politics, it’s hard to see the sense from the trees

  1. Bo Gainsbourg

    As woodchipping rates in Australia skyrocketed, employment crashed. More forest was being chipped for less jobs. If Bruce thinks that’s a good economic model he should take up a position at the Australian….oh…wait…

  2. Microseris

    Parliament had control of forest policy in Tasmania and where did that end up? Rampant corruption with both sides of politics in bed with Gunns. Liberal premier Robin Gray, who was exposed during the trial of Edmund Rouse who attempted to bribe a Labor MP to keep Liberals in power, with Rouse giving Gray a “donation” of $10,000 which he kept in his wardrobe! Gray later ended up on the Gunns board. And a Labor premier having his house renovated by a Gunns subsidiary. Governments were merely Gunns puppets.

    The industry blew their chance as well, wasting unfettered access to a public asset by converting huge areas of high conservation value forests into clear cut wastelands for woodchips, then replanting non indigenous species so the ecological function of these forests were lost forever.

    The public made it quite clear during the Gunns period they don’t want their forests destroyed for the benefit of vested interests. This is currently the case in Victoria where VicForests makes a loss of several million dollars each year and in return we have 6,000 ha of forest destroyed. Why are we subsidising these fools?

    This sort of partisan rubbish may have passed with the audience at The Australian, but won’t wash here.

  3. Freja

    That’s some of the worst execution of writing I’ve read from a news source in a very long time.

    Just talking about the style, not the obvious political bias.

    Crikey, please don’t do that to us again.

  4. mattsui

    I think it’s good that Crikey publishes articles like this. It shows us what the straw men are made of and helps them (Crikey) to water down their wacko lefty image.
    If Tasmanian Tourism is only on the soft because the dollar is high, it stands to reason that the apple isle will return to economic form along with the rest of the world.
    Laying waste to the forests in the mean time is probably a little short-sighted.

  5. johnd

    “All this confronts Giddings, a committed and competent politician…”

    I can’t believe I read that! Lara is committed only to the next election and various interest groups, and is one of the worst premiers Tasmania has ever had. Her only saving grace is that she is not out-right corrupt, like some premiers in recent memory.
    Moreover, her bowing to forest industries and the TCCI continues, doing nothing unless these two groups agree to it.
    She continues to demonstrate how out of touch with reality she is. After all, if Tasmania has the financial problems she claims, then she was a very active member of the government that caused it. Not once has she apologised for her appalling performance.

  6. Michael Rowland

    I thought it was a rubbish piece of writing too.

  7. The Old Bill

    I for one am doing my bit for our poor Tasmanian cousins and supporting a clean green sustainable Tasmanian Industry. Please join me in a healthy Tasmanian Smoked Salmon Snack. ( It’s on special at present at your local supermarket.)

  8. AR

    Tassie was/is a good example, writ small, of what happens when corporations rules governments. How different to the mainland where…. oh…

  9. Thalas Loramar

    I suppose what we should do is scrap the forest peace deal, let Ta Ann cut and clear and burn the irreplacable old growth carbon stores, and subsidise them to do so by giving away the wood for free as we have always done. Wood that no one wants to buy anyway.

    What does this achieve? The government effectively trades priceless old growth forest for a few hundred jobs. Why not just pay the loggers to sit at home? It would cost the same amount of money. It would save the forests.

    That’s what the peace deal is about. But the looggers at Forestry Tas can’t get their heads around that fact.


    Its good Crikey seeks to broaden its content by sourcing stories from freelancers, however with comment such as. “Nick McKim, undermines international confidence in Tasmania’s ability to provide sustainably produced forest products at the same time as his Labor colleagues seek to save those markets; ” the credibility of this writer hits the floor. The Tassy timber industry is a woodchip driven industry and it is on the rocks, a victim of the flooded international market for low value woodchips – the main product of the Tassy “sustainable” timber industry. The industry is clearly not economically sustainable and doesn’t even get to first base on a measure of ecologically sustainabitly. So perhaps next time Crikey looks for a “freelancer” from Tassy they select one with a basic knowledge of the issue they are writing – that would make the articles worth reading.

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