Aug 16, 2012

Tassie forest negotiators stuck between Stockholm and Abilene

Tasmanian forest negotiators must be inflicted with Stockholm syndrome. A new interim agreement to end the 30-year war doesn't get very far, reports Bruce Montgomery in Hobart.

In 1974 US newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Over the course of the next three months she warmed to their cause and embraced it; she slung an M1 carbine over her shoulder and pulled a bank robbery for them. Hearst may be the classic example of the Stockholm syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which hostages eventually identify with their captors. I bumped into a professional negotiator in the street in Hobart this week. We discussed the interminable Tasmanian forest peace talks that have gone on for something like two years now. "It's a mess, a blend of the Stockholm syndrome and the Abilene paradox," he mused. If you have never heard of it, you will soon comprehend the Abilene paradox and appreciate how common it is. A family member suggests that they all drive 53 miles to Abilene that night for dinner. One by one they agree. Great idea. They drive to Abilene; the meal sucks. And on the way home they all confide they actually didn’t want to go to Abilene in the first place. So do we have the Tasmanian forest negotiators stuck somewhere between Stockholm and Abilene? Last night, they revealed the detail of an interim agreement to end the 30-year war in the Tasmanian forests, the war between an industry that goes back to European settlement and an environmental movement that goes back to the battle to stop the Hydro Electric Commission flooding Lake Pedder and that then evolved into the battle to save the Franklin River and then the forests. The forest negotiators, representing the industry, contractors, unions and conservationists, own no trees but lay claim to the public forest estate for their own ends. At stake is 572,000 hectares, purportedly the latest holy grail for conservationists (though Bob Brown reckons it should be 585,000 hectares and all protected as World Heritage or in national parks). As the negotiators pore over the maps to share the spoils and run their calculators over compensation to sawmillers and contractors for lost opportunities, Deputy Premier Bryan Green and federal forests minister Tony Burke shout the pizzas. Meanwhile, the private forest industry, mainly farmers responsible for 26% of the total forest cover here, don’t get a look in, don’t figure in the calculations as the infrastructure of a key component of their industry (fellers, trucks, sawmills) is decimated. The interim agreement revealed yesterday does not expose how much land the industry has been prepared to cede to the conservationists, nor where, nor their protection status. Nor do we know where the industry will source sufficient timber to maintain viability. It is understood that they have agreed to lock up about 525,000 hectares, most of it in the original ambit claim and that the sawlog target is down to 130,000-140,000 cubic metres a year. (In 1997 Tasmania’s Regional Forest Agreement had provided for a minimum 300,000 cubic metres.) The latest proposition has been sent off to Forestry Tasmania to do yet more modelling to determine if it can work. We wait another four to six weeks for the response. The previous modelling work does not provide any confidence that the targets can be matched. Devoid of that detail, the interim agreement is a collection of motherhood statements. While it talks about government compensation to those leaving the industry, we are not told of the guarantees the conservation groups -- the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Wilderness Society and Environment Tasmania -- are able to give that will rein in the opposition to, and the market sabotage of, the Tasmanian forest industry. Today these three groups are the moderates in a field of campaigners. So, we look at the faces of the principal negotiators, Terry Edwards of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania and Phill Pullinger of Environment Tasmania, to try to glean whether they are in Stockholm, Abilene or really going nowhere. *Bruce Montgomery is a former political correspondent with The Australian and former communications manager with the Forests and Forest Industry Council.

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8 thoughts on “Tassie forest negotiators stuck between Stockholm and Abilene

  1. krissd6

    Thank you Crikey. Just want I wanted. An article about conservation struggle from an ex Murdoch hack who then worked as a spruker for the forest industry. I always like that my ideas are challenged by the wide views presented on Crikey but this is probably just a little to biased for my taste.

  2. Microseris

    OK Crikey we have already heard the views of the timber industry on this issue and further examples like the above piece by a former industry spin doctor with undertones of derision for the environmentalists position do nothing to advance the debate. It is important to remember the motives of the respective sides. One driven by self interest and the other purely altruistic.

    In the interests of independent media balance can’t we have the alternate view? Someone like Miranda Gibson would be a good candidate and demonstrate the commitment of someone who has put her life on hold to spend the last 8 months sitting on a platform 60 metres up in a fork of a mountain ash tree to try to protect the forests in question.

  3. Dave Sag

    I hate to get picky (well okay I love it actually) but surely “the the classic example of the(sic) Stockholm syndrome” is the 1973 robbery of the Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm. Sorry stopped reading at that point as, if the author can’t get that right, how can I trust him with the rest of the story.

  4. Bruce Montgomery

    My goodness, we have the bitter and the twisted emerging from the woodwork today.

  5. rupert moloch

    Sorry Bruce, but its hardly champagne journalism. This doesn’t provide any more information than I’ve already gleaned from the MSM (& which is not much). Original research? Hard data? Negatory – just a florid rewrite of already-existing reportage. And kindly spare us the editorial rhetoric – the Tasmanian industry’s failure to achieve FSC compliance is hardly “market sabotage”. Unless you consider it self-sabotage? I suspect there’s a fascinating story on this caper, but you haven’t written it (yet).

    & somewhat on-topic: Gunns??? Ben Butler’s piece for The Age last week blankly alluded to their multitude of obfuscations. When can we expect the expose? Waiting…

  6. Joel

    My goodness, we have the bitter and the twisted emerging from the woodwork today.

    That would be “people who disagree with you”, correct?

  7. John Bennetts

    Thanks, Crikey, for showing us in one short article just how the forest industry operates.

    First, they claim an asset which is part of the commons as though it is their own. If there was a real forest industry, it would be based on growing trees which they own, on land which they own, but it is not. This article makes very clear that X number of hectares is available for forestry. X is perhaps 530,000 hectares, but it is only a number.

    Let X be any number between 1 and a million and the result is always going to be the same. If we start with a very big X and then periodically take away a percentage, the remaining forest which, I remind readers, still is part of the commons and has never been owned by the timber industry, becomes ever smaller. Repeat till X=zero.

    That is the logic of the timber industry, whether in Tasmania, elsewhere in Australia or a third-world country such as PNG. Regardless, also, of whether the timber industry is owned by Australians or any other nationals.

    If the author had started out by saying what the timber industry proposed to do on their own land and the greenies challenged that by saying that some of those private trees should be left to provide shelter, shade and oxygen for the animals of the world, the article might make sense.

    What I can’t get my head around is why the timber industry reps consider themselves to be entitled to tell us, the public, whether through threats to government or through articles such as we have just read, what can or should be done with PUBLICLY OWNED trees.

  8. Bo Gainsbourg

    Yep pretty ordinary article by an ex industry spinner. Kind of tired, world weary but substance free backhander to the conservation argument. Ironically the only hope the industry has now for a decent transition is probably the involvement of the greenies. Forestry Tasmania, CFMEU and the woodchippers themeselves have dug their own enormous hole and now are looking to green endorsement for yet another massive taxpayer bailout given the markets have mugged them yet again with reality. Hope something decent can be worked out for the workers sake, watch out for Tony Abbot promising yet another super tanker load of subsidies for the industry to stagger on in native forests. They should have got out years ago and focussed on a sustainable plantation industry. Unfortunately chaps like those above just prolonged the misery.

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