And the people watch ... the public gallery in the House of Assembly, State Parliament

The thing that springs to mind upon being hit full frontal with the roundtable-SOP-IGA-West-round-the table-again-“give us clear air” farce is simple.  It’s called exclude the “social”.  By all means let’s clear the air – and while we’re about it let’s clean the water as well.  But this isn’t about clear air at all.  Clear air, in any normal definition, means visibility.  But clear air as used by the SOP signatories means closed meetings and secret deals between carefully chosen participants, all selected on the basis that that they were known to be willing to trade anything where the social costs would be excluded from consideration.
It is now two years since the roundtable of ENGOs and forestry industry representatives began their secret meetings, helped along by Bill Kelty and Paul Lennon, and even by a meeting in Gunns’ Lindsay Street base in Launceston.  The key characteristics of the process, right from the start, were the deliberate exclusion of those with independent expertise and a commitment to include all stakeholders, not just representation of environmental and industrial groups. 

So it was that any community representation which was known to be unwilling to trade on the Tamar Valley pulp mill on the basis of social costs in any way, was deliberately excluded.  In a very real sense, anyone who had expressed a coherent view articulating a triple-bottom line holistic approach incorporating the social-environmental-economic was automatically excluded.  This is because Gunns’ pulp mill was at the forefront of the roundtable agenda from the beginning.

It is no accident that any person who had professional understanding of sustainable forestry management, and was able to articulate a view based on practices which are not in accord with clear-felling regimes, was persona non grata.  Similarly, any known critic of the monocultural plantation estate, especially any critic who had an articulate rationale focused around social issues, was persona non grata. 

Those who had written carefully researched alternative ways forward for Tasmanian forestry which included social issues – even social imperatives – were deliberately ignored.  Anyone who tried to bring a discussion of international experience into the local situation was dismissed with a flick of anger and arrogance.  At the height of the roundtable charade, in July 2010, Ian Johnson wrote a very valuable contribution (Cutting through the forest feud), which was studiously ignored by the roundtable participants, by the SOP signatories and therefore, of course, by the rest of the process, including the IGA, the West report and the on-going Kissinger-type Paris peace talks.

At the time many of the “social” voiceless applauded the propositional sense of what Johnson was saying, especially from a professionally-based model for sustainability with a triple bottom line approach – inclusive of the social-environmental-economic areas of importance.  All these voices were ignored, even when Johnson’s paper was widely distributed.  I remember sending it one of the ENGO fellow travellers and asking for a comment, but being greeted with a stone wall, and then this same fellow traveller and the rest continued to say that those excluded from the process – the “social” – had nothing to offer!

Exactly the same happened when Biggs-Bound-Godfrey-Maddox-Thorne put out a thoroughly sensible way forward (From Forestry Destruction and Public Subsidies to Profitable and Sustainable Forestry Practices, TT here).  They were greeted with a wall of silence, and the ENGO-Greens and everyone else involved in the process regarded what they had to say as something that should be rendered invisible.

Even last week, ET “clear air” proponent Phill Pullinger claimed that the current process was involving the “community”, when the community has been clearly excluded by him throughout the whole period since May 2010.

Those who participated in the deliberate exclusion of the “social” from the whole roundtable-SOP-IGA process, have consistently and dishonestly conflated the “social” with the “environmental” or with the “industrial”. The politicians who established the roundtable, or who have backed the IGA have always talked about the “community” being part of the process, and all the signatories have emphasised that the agreement signifies community support in one way or another.  But neither the industry representatives nor the ENGOs represent the community.  They represent their own interests, nothing more.  To suggest otherwise is a lie.  It has always been a lie from the time the process was concocted, whenever that was, probably in late 2009.

The fact is that there are good reasons – hideous reasons actually – why those in the process don’t want “social” voices to be included.  There are reasons why they don’t want voices which speak about the holistic picture of social-environmental-economic, because they’re not interested in delivering on that combination.  That’s why they have excluded the voice of Frank Strie, for example, no matter how much information he has placed in front of them about sustainable forestry management and high value-adding options which have existing models in the wider world.  That is why they have excluded the voice of David Leaman, for example, because he has a thorough understanding of hydrography.  That’s why they have ignored the Ian Johnsons and the others who have proposed inclusive models for reform.

The key to the roundtable-SOP-IGA-West-round-the table-again-“give us clear air” farce – the exclusion of those who won’t trade on social imperatives – is not unique in any way.  It reflects the political paradigm.  It explains how it is possible for the Tasmanian budgetary process to allocate $100 million to Forestry Tasmania while raising taxes to do so.  The losses of Forestry Tasmania are socialised, and have been for many years, while at the same time contracts have been made with companies such as Gunns which has enabled a few people to make a lot of money. 

What we are seeing in Tasmania with the current Kissinger-style faux “peace talks” is no different to what we saw with the passage of the Pulp Mill Assessment Act in 2007.  All social considerations were deliberately excluded through the whole process.  No social cost analysis.  No baseline studies.  All social costs, whatever they might be, to be borne by the victims.  The only real difference between the Labor-Greens on one side and the Liberals on the other, at this stage, is that the Liberals would exclude the environmental voices as well as the social, and leave it as a more complete focus on corporate welfare.

One thing that we have learned about the Greens since they formed a partnership in government with the Labor Party in Tasmania, is that they share the same paradigm in how political decision-making should take place.  Their first instinct is to exclude the social agenda, to make those in society who can least afford it to pay the costs.  We saw that last year in their support for the health cuts, and for the proposed slashing of the education budget.  Now we see it in their willingness to sell off public assets in the energy sector.  Everywhere in the world where this has been done the result has been higher costs for those who can least afford it.  The reason is simple.  The private sector is about making profits, and about increasing the wage divide between the executive level and the wage earners. 

Excluding the social imperatives is an automatic response for all political parties in Tasmania, whether knee jerk or not.  They’re so brainwashed by the prevailing neo-liberal orthodoxies, even in the face of the stark evidence of its hypocrisies and its disastrous social consequences, that they don’t even have the sense to see how, for example, that cynical approach has just wrecked the mainstream political party system in Greece, as well as creating social carnage.  They don’t have a Keynesian bone in their craniums.  Just a gut instinct for political survival. 

So we come full circle.  But the circle is not inclusive.  It’s like a cake where someone has stolen more than half of it and left a vacant space which is hidden by camouflage icing.  The nature of the cake is well demonstrated by the fact that Gunns has just been given over $400,000 of public money to clean up its act at the large Seaview property it bought on the east coast in 2007, adjoining the George River catchment, so important for water supplies for some east coast communities, including St Helens.  All the hard yards which have been done over the years, including attempts to stop Gunns clear-felling the place, have been undertaken by socially-motivated individuals at huge personal cost in time, effort and their own resources, including trying to cover the expenses of a $15,000 management plan for the area.

Now Gunns has been granted over $400,000 of public funds, based on the management plan initiated by local people, not by Gunns.  It is a classic example of the way the political system works in terms of capitalising profits and socialising costs. In essence, Gunns receives over $400,000 of taxpayers’ money to restore the damage created in making a profit from it.  It should be Gunns who foot the bill for this, not the taxpayer.  Furthermore, none of that money will go to people in the local community who feel bound to mount a monitoring watch to ensure that the money is used appropriately and not misused.  That’s just another element in the social cost. 

Let’s not forget either, that this grant has been given to a company which has eschewed certification processes for years which were socially inclusive, with a 360 degrees stakeholder participation if you like.  It has only been in the last couple of years that the forestry industry in Tasmania has admitted publicly (rather than ridiculing publicly) the need for consideration of FSC certification.  But there was nothing altruistic about that.  The global market set the bar. 

But just as the locals on the east coast feel compelled, from a sense of social responsibility, to watch carefully what Gunns does at Seaview, the real question about whether there will be an open and honest implementation of FSC certification of forestry, if it ever occurs, revolves around the issue of whether the ENGOs and the industry try to get control of the social chamber.  That is a stupid question, of course.  Their first response will be to exclude the social by conflating it with the environmental and the industrial. 

The reason why Forestry Tasmania, Gunns and the main political parties have always been vociferously opposed to any adoption of a certification process like FSC for years, until it became apparent that the global market wanted that benchmark, was because of the social considerations as basic requirements.  Now they’re in a real bind, created by their own exclusionary behaviours.

Bu they continue with the same old paradigm which has created the current mess.  The name of the game continues to be to exclude the social as far as possible, whatever the party, whatever the policy.  Let’s face it.  Who is going to pay the cost for the failed plantation estate, whenever it finally falls over?  It won’t be the profiteers.  It will be the social base, public funds, and public health and welfare which will bear the costs.  The current process calling for “clear air” has already set that in train.

It’s called exclude the “social”.