Updated: October 29, 2012
Tasmanian forest talks collapsed by industry – but we're not giving up
After two years of intense negotiations, the Tasmanian forest peace talks between the environment movement, which the Wilderness Society are a key leader of, and the timber industry, spectacularly collapsed over the weekend. Despite strong support for an outcome by most industry groups, a handful of old growth sawmillers walked away from an historic opportunity to protect hundreds of thousands of hectares of wild Tasmanian forests.
But we’re not giving up because of a shortsighted brain explosion from vested interests.
24 challenging months of negotiating to protect forests and deliver the timber industry and workers a sustainable wood supply broke down when the peak industry body representing the three big remaining old growth saw millers, the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania (FIAT), took a short sighted approach and took Tasmania back down the path of forest conflict.
Two months ago the talks were deadlocked when it became clear that our claim (backed by an independent scientific process set up by the Tasmanian and Commonwealth Governments) for the protection of approximately 500,000 hectares would not provide enough ongoing timber to sustain the existing native forest based timber Industry.
Despite this deadlock, both sides agreed (and the data confirmed) that we were on the verge of finally making real progress in these negotiations; one third of the remaining native forest logging companies in the industry agreed to be bought out by the Tasmanian and Federal governments to free up the wood supplies needed to protect our forests. This is when FIAT dug their heels in. They demanded that all of the wood supply sold back to the taxpayer be given back to the remaining sawmills, rather than used to protect forests.
Most of the logging industry recognises the need for change. Sadly, some industry leaders, like FIAT, have refused a government-mediated restructure package, despite over 5,000 forestry workers losing their jobs in the last four years and further heavy job losses predicted without change.
Because of the failure of negotiations and the shortsightedness of FIAT, Tasmanian business could now lose $100 million in Commonwealth funding to assist regional economies and create jobs. Both the Tasmanian and Federal governments have acted with good will and our relationships remain strong with most of the other industry groups and unions.
This kind of irrational and greedy decision making by the peak industry body not only damages the future of old growth forests in Tasmania, but also the prospects of their own industry and all of the workers who are relying on them to make decisions in their best interest.
Tasmania's conservationists have made significant concessions throughout this process and negotiated in good faith to secure an agreement. It now falls to governments to address the crisis in Tasmania's forestry industry to prevent further job losses and protect iconic native forests like the Styx Valley, Upper Florentine and Blue Tiers.
The hardest pill to swallow in this whole saga is that an historic opportunity to end decades of conflict over Tasmania's native forests was the closest it had been to a workable outcome in years, but now lies in tatters due to the misguided will of a rapacious few.
So where to from here? Tasmania’s forests still need protecting, and its forestry industry needs reform. If the old growth sawmillers come to their senses, there may be a chance for win-win outcomes. And the Wilderness Society will continue to encourage governments to ensure high-conservation and world heritage value forest is protected for future generations.
In the meantime, the market will decide if the native forest logging industry has a place in today’s society. If recent low demand for native timber, continued job losses, sawmill closures and logging company bankruptcies are any indication, the industry is in for a pretty rough ride.
While we are frustrated and at a loss to comprehend FIAT’s unreasonable decision making processes, this only steels our resolve to continue the fight for Tasmania’s native and old growth forests.
We will fight on, and with your help, we will ultimately succeed for the forests.
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The Wilderness Society Inc