October 06, 2004
The trees are the winners
Now a timber worker would understand the philosophy stated in this cartoon, and the way that it works against their short-term interests:
The economy is in conflict with the environment. So any attempt to protect the environment undermines the economy is the timber worker's position. The Greens will close down the forest industry. Laatham is aiding and abetting that.
Hence yesterday's strident reaction to Latham's $800 million forest policy package:"we've been sold out to shore-up Labor's support in the mainland marginal electorates." It is outrage tempered with a hope that the LNP will come good and look after the industry. That is the job of governments.
Some of the writing in The Australian is so biased that it is a distortion of what is going on. Consider this piece by Denis Shanhahan:
"LABOR'S forest policy was unravelling and John Howard was thinking about just standing back and letting it form a tangled mess at Mark Latham's feet...After dangling expectations in front of Latham and the electorate, the Prime Minister considered sitting back and letting Labor implode ... Labor is living in fear and expectation that Howard would delay committing himself and would just slip through to the election without harming the Liberals' chances of picking up a Tasmanian seat."
The piece is all about the ALP's unravelling and imploding and Howard's Cheshire grin at the waves this is causing. Not a hint of acknowledgement that the ALP's forest package was good public policy; or that it was good public policy to protect the old growth forests in Tasmania.
The news reports are carrying stories that John Howard is expected to unveil his forest policy to protect core areas of high-conservation old-growth in Tasmania. Richard Herr, a University of Tasmanian political analyst, suggests that a middle-ground forest policy by Howard would allow the LNP to minimise defection of green-conscious Liberal voters (eg.,the doctors wives) while maximising support amongst the disenchanted timber workers in Tasmania.
Whichever the way this goes, the old growth native forests in Tasmania are going to be the winners. There is no turning the clock back now. Despite industry claims that the ALP policy would shut Tasmania down, logging old growth forests deserves a similar fate as damming the Gordon-below-Franklin River for hydro. Logging is ruled out by any cost benefit analysis that puts a realistic value on the environmental qualities of the region.
Howard has now come out as a friend of workers, loggers and the Tasmanian Government. Howard's forest plan is a minimal one: it would preserve an extra 170,000 hectares of Tasmanian old-growth forest; it would ensure no job losses for timber workers; it does not alter the Regional Forest Agreement signed in 1997;and promised to spend $50 million on initiatives including research into alternatives to clear-felling, saving the Tasmanian devil and improving forest workers' skills.
The irony is the television footage of timber workers cheering Mr Howard as their saviour. They see the Coalition's forest policy represented a much better deal than Labor's policy. It locks up around 140,000 hectares of the forests that can't be logged under existing forest management; are located on the steep-terrain North Styx which would always have been very difficult to log; or are lined streams and rivers, or forests at the top of mountains already excluded from logging.
So the Coalition appears to be protecting forest that, under the state-federal agreement, the forest industry was not going to touch anyway.
Will this strategy swing at least two Labor seats in the Tasmania (Bass and Braddon) to the Liberals? Many are saying that Howard has been shrewd in his forest gamble in wedging the ALP's traditional blue collar workers. Ah the judgement and timing they say. The forestry branch of the CFMEU has split off and has sided with the National Party (in Gippsland) in the name of resource security. The views of these timber workers are little different from that of the foresty industry, including Forestry Tasmania.
But will Howard's policy swing the Liberal seat of Adelaide to the ALP through the anti-John Howard sentiment in Adelaide's leafy,"small l" liberal eastern suburbs? Or has Howard done enough to win back the disaffected liberals?
Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at October 6, 2004 09:15 AM
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Posted by: Guido at October 6, 2004 01:19 PM
Looks like finance panic to me. Aren't they going to get lots of subsidies from an ALP Government ? So they won't be out of pocket.
Why the fuss?
What is missing in all of this is an industry along the lines of the Button Plan for the automobile industry in the 1980s. A plan that would elp the forest industry value-add.
There is something odd in this panic from teh above report.
Latham's policy is about protecting old growth forests. Gunn's core business is woodchips. Gunns doesn't use old-growth forests for woodchipping, because that is used for high-quality timber and veneers.
So why all the fuss? Strikes me as a beatup. There can be no change to the woodchipping empire in the corporate ALP state.
Tasmania does not need to modernize, go high tech, or become part of the information economy. It can stay being a third world plantation economy. That is what the ALP state government seems to be saying.
Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at October 6, 2004 03:00 PM