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The forest wars « Previous | |Next »
July 24, 2007

How do you save the trees when working class jobs are at risk? Dr Judith Ajani , who has just written a book entitled The Forest Wars, recently had an op ed in The Australian where she wrote:

The union-dominated factional preselection system means that if, or when, Labor returns to office, its approach to forests is unlikely to be driven by an interest in building a healthy wood-processing industry generating jobs and caring for the environment. Raw power will prevent it.

Well, we have seen the implications in Rudd's me tooism forest policy when in Tasmania. The bare bones are a $20 million support package for the forestry industry, including a $9 million national fund to increase forestry exports and no more protection for Tasmanian old-growth forests outside the existing Regional Forests Agreement and Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement, if Labor won the next election.

This firmly severs any links to the Latham forest policy. In order to win back the two seats of Bass and Baddon in Tasmania the technocratic Rudd Labor Party has sacrificed conservation for the sake of propping up a woodchipping industry that Australia no longer needs; one poised to double the volume of native forest woodchip exports. Rudd's policy, like the Coalition's, is all about jobs. Is there any difference?

Rudd's policy was welcomed by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's forestry division, a key part of the ALP's Tasmanian power base. These redneck Luddites led by Michael O'Connor, the national secretary, have traditionally understood the issue in cartoon terms of trees versus jobs. They have traditionally spoken with the same voice as Gunns and Forestry Tasmania. So the forestry debate is simply framed as militant green protestors chained to trees on one side, angry loggers with chainsaws on the other.

Does jobs versus trees mean that the Florentine, the Weld and the Blue Tiers - will be open to logging? The Tasmanian old-growth forestry today is mostly about wood-chipping for export, not high-value timber.

What this jobs versus trees framing misses is that there is a real choice now between logging native forests and fully utilising Australia's considerable stands of plantation timber. We are now faced with the possibility that Australia's existing tree plantations can meet the nation's wood needs for paper and timber without having to log native forests.

That's Anji's argument. She argues that there is no irreconcilable conflict between development and environment when it comes to forests and that policy inaction is the result of silenced plantation interests, failing bureaucracies, destructive union behaviour and government-created super profits from native forest woodchipping.

Where is the voice of Peter Garrett? He's notable for his silence on Rudd's announcement of the Coalition's forest policy. Did the former Labor leader Mark Latham really lose two Tasmanian seats at the last federal election because of a conservationist forest policy? Or is that a myth created by the ALP in Tasmania and their union backers to ensure subsidies for a minority of people in a few marginal seats in order to win the next election?

As Anji points out they--especially O'Conner-- peddle the line that the environment movement's campaign against native forest chip exports for what it really is - a campaign to cripple the forest and forest products industry by denying it access to native forests and so jeopardise the survival of 60,000 workers and their families. O'Connor obscures that "this one industry" comprised two competing sectors, with plantations being the biggest, the fastest growing, the largest investing and highest employing.

Since 80 per cent of Australia's timber industry manufacturing depends on plantations the environmentalists' demands to stop logging old growth native forests would not "cripple the forest and forest products industry" or jeopardise the survival of 60,000 workers and their families.

Another core issue is that forestry is a battleground in Tasmania, between corporate & government interests intent on cleaving the land, and changing legistation to suit their purposes, and the local citizens whose livelihood and lifestyles are directly affected - fisherman, farmers, enviromentalists, local people whose water catchments are at stake.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 09:46 AM | | Comments (11)


This is not a good sign. For Tasmanians already experiencing health problems associated with the industry, which can only get worse when the pulp mill starts, I hope it turns out to be a non-core promise.

Rudd as a lumberjack is not a good look. Mark Latham had a word for this kind of electoral pose--suckhole.

if plantations are now part of the solution as Judith Ajani argues, then what is not part of the solution is the clearing of native forest for plantations in the future.

Michael O'Connor, head of the forestry division of the Left-controlled Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, has form. He was described as a "Labor rat" by Paul Keating who argues that while claimed to be a trade unionist representing workers, he never tried to help the Labor Party in office.

Paul Keating, as prime minister, was in 1995 forced to deal with a damaging split in the Labor caucus over the forestry debate. This culminated in a blockade of parliament by loggers.

Michael O'Connor also played a key role in attacking Mark Latham's 2004 election policy to lock-up Tasmania's old growth forests. He was in turn attacked by senior party figures after the election defeat.

Paul Keating, when asked why the ALP had not drummed O'Connor out of the party, responded: "Because people are too gutless, that's why. And nobody these days likes the fights." It's consensus time in the Rudd ALP.

Keating has a point. Dick Adams, a Tasmanian Labor MP and Michael O'Conner, head of the Forestry Division of the CFMEU, hate the Greens and have very close links to the timber and woodchip bosses. O'Connor actually organized the rally for Howard in 2004. His union is a used tool of the forestry industry.

Paul Lennon, the Tasmanian premier, is an Old Grouper, and so conservative that he, like Adams and O'Connor, would put his relationship with the forestry industry above that of the ALP. In 2004 Dick Adams actually campaigned for the Liberal Party in another Labor Mp's electorate.

Aren't these classic examples of political treachery?

Gunns and the like also make great efforts to exploit the masculinist/manual worker/nationalist angle vs. effete/feminine/cosmopolitans. It is very useful for rallying the troops in a similar manner to other authoritarian movements, where people privilege cultural or identity interests over class or personal economic interests.

very interesting.

So there is a contradiction within Rudd's persona---he is the effete/feminine/cosmopolitan posing as the lumberjack. Will the socially conservative masculist workers cotton on that all is not as it seems?

Yep, they stabbed the Australian people in the back in 2004. According to an article by Brad Norrington in the "Australian" after the last election, Howard cemented the alliance with the cfmeu days before the election with a $4 million grant .
And how pitiful the responses from Turnbull lately and worst of all, the Great Hero Garrett yesterday. Next time he visits the 'loo he needs to check downstairs to see what's missing.
Starting with his manhood.

Garrett has sold out his conservation policies for power. He knew the devil he was making a pact with at the cross roads. The implication is that Garrett is about Garrett--personal ambition.

So he is prepared to wear the flak from conservationists when he defends Labor policies, even when these go against everything he once stood for.

Judith Ajani has an op-ed in the Canberra Times entitled Rudd's forest policy sees him right alongside the PM in which she analysis Rudd's policy. She makes some good points:

Labor's "forest" statement begs the question: which election is Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd fighting, and on whose side? It reads primarily as an anti-Latham policy, aligning Rudd with Prime Minister John Howard's position going into the 2004 election. It demonstrates little appreciation of the enormous structural change in the wood products industry since Labor governed a decade ago. It fails spectacularly to grasp the very real opportunity for resolving the forest conflict in an economically and environmentally satisfying way.

She says that Labor's policy statement uses the word "forest" or "forestry" 40 times, but never clarifies that within the "forest" industry there are two fundamentally different forest sectors one based on native forests and one based on plantations.

She then restates her main argument:

Australia-wide, plantation processors now generate 80 per cent of Australia's manufactured wood products sawn timber, wood panels and the wood used to make paper. Native forests generate 20 per cent, and that production share continues to shrink. Australia's two million hectare softwood and hardwood plantation estate can meet virtually all of Australia's wood needs and support significant exporting of processed wood products.

Then she draws the consequences that, despite Australia's wood manufacturing moving so thoroughly out of native forests and into plantations, the Government has sent public native forests to the woodchippers.

There is no need to because today:

between 80 to 90 per cent of the log cut from Australia's main native forest logging regions is woodchipped. The choice about forests native forests has narrowed essentially to a choice between woodchipping them or using them for carbon sequestration, water catchment protection and biodiversity conservation.

From reading her text it appears that Labor's forest policy is written by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's forestry division who want woodchipping to be subsidised. It's a form of protection that has nothing to do with environmental protection.

The inference is that Labor values 11million hectares of public native forests more for woodchip exports than for carbon sequestration, water catchment protection and biodiversity conservation.

the commentators reckon that Rudd's decision is bad conservation but good politics.It will help him win the election.

But it is bad policy because the future of Tasmania does not lie in woodchipping from cutting down old growth native forests. It lies in tourism. That is the emerging industry in this small state economy, given the cheap air fares. Anyone who has visited, travelled around, and spent money there can see that.

Garrett is now a Labor party hack dancing to the tune played by the bruvvers on their tin whistles. He's even gone quiet on saving the Murray these days. They should give him the arts/tourism portfolio to save his credibility. Then again maybe the Luddite forestry union/MP crowd want 'to do him' slowly and painfully with a thousand cuts.

The editorial in todays Australian Financial Review says:

We are in the thick of a phoney election campaign of numbing populism. Serious policy development appears to have gone out the window.

Says it all really. Reinforces what Ken Henry, the Treasury Secretary, says about the high risk of bad policy rising the nearer we get to an election.

I never cease to be amazed at the parallels between Tassie woodchipping and the Murray Darling, concerning examples like "water policy" and operations like Cubbie Creek mega cotton farm in Queensland.
My goodness, there must be some figures of money disappearing into numbered accounts these days.

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