My thoughts on the IGA

My local corner store had a sign out the front recently telling customers that they also employ 40 Tasmanians; presumably an allusion to the latest round of the forestry wars. The vital pieces of missing information on the sign were:

1.   They employ 40 Tasmanians AND are profitable;

2.   The Tasmanian taxpayer is not out-of-pocket as a result of the activities of this corner store;

3.   The store was established with NO government financial support; and

4.   The store enjoys strong community support.

My corner store is just a typical successful commercial business.

My thoughts on the IGA come from the perspective of a forester who has spent the past 30 years watching the forest industry in Australia fall slowly into decline and disrepute. A truly bizarre and frustrating situation.

In the 21st century in an era of increasing concern for renewable resources and the environment the forest industry in Australia should be enjoying unprecedented levels of commercial, political, and community support. Instead the opposite is true.

Something has to change.

In fact quite a lot has to change. A commercially successful, politically and community supported forest industry could be very profitable and achieve a great deal of good in the 21st century, just as it is in New Zealand. But opportunities for change are rare. To my mind the IGA represents a pretty good opportunity, but few people seem to recognise this. Instead the disparate and polarised positions within the debate make finding a solution difficult, and support for the IGA is thin on the ground.

Yes the IGA is a flawed process but what forestry agreement hasn’t been. But a “business as usual outcome” will be of no benefit to anyone. The forest industry will not survive if the forestry wars continue. I guess having no forest industry is one way to resolve the forestry wars!

There is no single road to reform, and no perfect solution to the forestry wars. But for the future of Tasmania, find a solution we must. If the IGA fails due to lack of industry, community and political support there will be no “better” solution to replace it. Certainly the politicians cannot provide a better outcome, although they will make those kinds of promises. Change must be driven by the industry and the community. Instead of standing back and criticising the Agreement, it is time for people to step forward with support, ideas and energy to help keep the reform process going. The IGA is only the first round.

Will the IGA bring peace in the forests? Of course not!! There are issues that are fundamental to the functioning of the Tasmanian forest industry that are not addressed in the Statement of Principles. Issues of management, of governance, of commercial performance, accountability and transparency, issues to do with ongoing communication and relationships. Many of these issues focus around the Government, Parliament and Forestry Tasmania. The forestry wars will most certainly continue unless these issues are also addressed.

Actually my major criticism of the IGA is that it fails to identify the major issues facing the forest industry. So people are left with the assumption that putting more forest areas into reserve is all that is required for the forest industry to regain commercial, social and political relevance. I suspect this is one of the reasons why the IGA has had so few supporters. People understand that by itself the IGA cannot deliver what it proposes to deliver, and no one has outlined the rest of the process.

Reform in the forest industry is vital. The IGA is just the first step. A blackwood growers cooperative will only survive and prosper if the IGA is supported and successful, and further reforms are pursued.


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