State election and the future of the forest industry

With the State election over I guess I need to make some comments on the outcome and what it means for the future of the forest industry, special timbers and blackwood. I’ve been a passionate supporter of forestry and special timbers for many, many  years, but it has been a very hard road. The next few years will most likely bring no relief.

There is no doubt the election was a resounding defeat for the incumbent Labor Government. But in my experience of Australian elections, if there is a change of Government the story is primarily about dissatisfaction with incumbents. In very few cases I have witnessed have Governments changed because of Opposition policies. The main reason Opposition parties win elections is because it is mostly a two horse race and one horse goes lame. Some people call this the “Bradbury effect” (no relation by the way).

Another thing that was absolutely perfectly clear in the election campaign was that Labor and the Greens promised to uphold and support the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement (TFA), while the Liberal Party made it perfectly clear they had a very strong adversarial forest policy. No Liberal candidate I heard or read said anything about peace in the forests. A vote for the Liberal Party was a clear vote for a return to chaos and conflict in the forest industry.

For the Liberal Government to now say that the people have spoken and all opposition to Liberal forest policy must cease is just nonsense. This is akin to saying that opposition parties in Parliament must cease questioning Government policy. I never saw Will Hodgman behave in this manner when he was in opposition. That elections are a clear decision-making process on any single issue is in my opinion drawing a very long bow indeed, but that is the game politicians like to play.

So like it or not Tasmanian’s voted overwhelmingly for a return to chaos and conflict in the forest industry.

If I was Alan Kohler on the nightly TV News I would now be showing a chart of Sovereign Risk in the forest industry plotted against Investor Confidence. And guess what? The former line would now be rocketing skyward, while the latter (if it was visible at all) would be negative and heading south.

The new Liberal Government has promised to tear up the TFA, and to rescind part of the recent additions to the World Heritage Area. Under these conditions the chance of Forestry Tasmania achieving Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification is now very slim indeed. No FSC Certification means very limited market opportunities for Tasmanian timber. Forestry Tasmania is technically bankrupt and cannot survive for much longer under these conditions.

The special timbers industry, which is currently mostly dependent on logging old-growth public native forest, must now play the final game. My guess is that the new Government will allow this logging to resume, at increasing taxpayer’s expense. Perhaps even allowing logging within our National Parks. It will be a complete and very expensive disaster. When the political tide turns again there will be nothing left.

In some ways this should bode well for a blackwood growers cooperative. Markets should begin calling for alternative sustainable supplies of special timbers, which are profitable and free of politics. What will likely happen however is that media and political attention will focus entirely on the drama and spectacle of the escalating forestry wars. Options for the future will be ignored. Unless members of the blackwood and special timbers industry want to be swept away in the coming tsunami then they had better think carefully about their future.

And all of these shenanigans impact the forest industry Australia wide. Tasmania continues to be the pariah that infects the whole country. As has been the case these last 30+ years, forestry is all about politics in this country. It has very little to do with commerce and business. And so it shall remain for the foreseeable future.

It’s going to be a very interesting and entertaining year.

One response to “State election and the future of the forest industry

  1. Excellent summary. As someone who believes strongly in a sustainable forestry industry, I am appalled at the attitude of the incoming government.

    If the foresters are to be truly considered the ‘real conservationists’ of the forests, then they will need to step up to the plate and take a stand against an unsupportable, unsustainable, un-economic and unwanted practices.

    If the current Federal (and I suppose, the State Government’s) position is that there is no more corporate welfare, then ALL subsidies to forestry should be withdrawn. If Ta Ann is getting its logging quota, then I expect to read that it has returned all the payments made to them for the loss of those quotas. I won’t hold my breath.

    Let there be some assurances to the General Public that the foresters will NOT clear fell Old Growth, that they will NOT destroy the parts of Tasmania that the MILLIONS of tourists come to see.

    I am just a lowly member of the public who would like to be able to say to the next generation that we tried to hand the State over in as good a state as we found it, if not better. For everyone.

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