Tasmanian Lawmaker Protests Forest Pact

When is enough enough?

An interim conservation agreement was signed last month between the governments of the Australian state of Tasmania and the national government and didn't it produce a commotion.

It was determined 2000 hectares of forest should be accessed by Forestry Tasmania to meet existing contracts while 428,000 ha would be put into interim reserve until further assessment was conducted.

This produced many a tantrum from Sen. Bob Brown, the leader of Australia's Greens, and his cronies, but really it was just a taste of the wobbly they will throw if the conservation movement doesn't get every single demand met when this sham process finally concludes?

The forestry negotiations process has been a complete failure and this is demonstrated in a number of ways. Firstly, it was hyped up as a peace process to resolve the conflict in our forests once and for all.

If anything the protests have intensified - in the forest and in our markets. The ineptitude of the state and federal Labor governments has allowed the green groups' claims to be used as a weapon against our industry in local and global markets.

You have to give credit to the environment groups' marketing skills. They have nearly every media outlet using their language and creating the perception in the community that 430,000ha or even up to 572,000 ha is going to be saved.

No mention that these areas are merely "claimed" by environmental groups as "high conservation value" (HCV). None of it has been formally assessed as HCV nor in fact is there, or will there, be any definition of HCV determined under this process. Thus the environment crusaders are free to run around merrily making their claims with impunity

The fact is that Forestry Tasmania will not be able to meet contractual obligations for saw log supply as promised to industry if anywhere near 430,000 ha is reserved. So how can there be peace in the forests?

How is this process going to work? And under what principals will the assessment be conducted if there is no definition of HCV?

My guess is that there will be attempts to redefine the principals under which the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) assessments were conducted - the JANIS and CAR principals - to ensure the outcome is what the green groups want.

The nationally agreed reserve criteria and Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative principles were established to define areas and ratios for protection during the development of the RFAs and they form the foundation of many of our conservation decisions.

They were developed over a considerable period and with extensive consultation.

The unfortunate thing is that this "redefinition" will happen inside the black box of the Intergovernmental Agreement process. There is no opportunity for peer review or scrutiny and - once the modified principals have been used in Tasmania - the pressure will be on to transfer them everywhere else.

Every land user in the country will be accused of being in breach of these principals and pressured, some might say blackmailed, into locking up more of our productive land.

Concern over this process should be widespread - not just in Tasmania.

Talk about putting Dracula in charge of the Blood Bank.

It is well known that it is the ambition of the Australian Greens and environment groups to end all activity in our native forests. Senator Bob Brown has said so, as has his colleague Christine Milne.

Greens groups told Smithton sawmiller Glenn Britton on the first day of the original Statement of Principals process: "If you don't go along with what we want, we will…destroy your business and markets."

They also said in the Mercury newspaper on the 4th August last year that there would be no peace while there is a chain saw in the forest - but it's ok to have a chainsaw in the forest if you are using it to cut branches out of trees to put up protest platforms.

I know I have said this before but it is worth repeating: Gunns Ltd's move out of native forest activity was an opportunity that now looks wasted.

Gunns exit from native forests provided an opportunity to reduce the intensity of harvest across the state, giving better environmental, forestry and economic outcomes but the Greens, Labor and the environment groups could not accept that.

The Greens, Labor and the environment groups are instead intent of squeezing what is left of the industry into an ever smaller area. This will most likely result in higher harvest intensity, bringing us more pain in a few years time and certainly no peace.

(Richard Colbeck is a senator for Tasmania and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry.)