Image for Deal or no deal? Reflections on Tasmania’s forest agreement

A great deal of head scratching will take place in Canberra and Hobart in the coming days as politicians and bureaucrats try to make sense of last week’s Signatories Agreement for Tasmania’s forests.

Brokered by Bill Kelty, the draft agreement was released prematurely as a result of an “administrative error” and has yet to be signed by all parties.

The error sparked a media frenzy that subsided only when several parties reaffirmed their commitment. Positive statements were forthcoming from the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania, CFMEU, Environment Tasmania, and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Even The Wilderness Society, which a month ago suspended its involvement in the negotiations, responded favourably. A spokesperson for the organisation stated they would be prepared to re-enter the process once the two levels of government publicly commit to negotiate outcomes.

‘Compensation all round’

Despite the parties’ compromises, there are legitimate concerns about whether the Agreement can really deliver peace to Tasmania’s weary forest warriors. The current draft not only lacks vision, but is also schematic, poorly structured, contradictory in places, full of typing errors, and unsigned.

No doubt some flesh has been put on the bones of the earlier Statement of Principles that the parties negotiated and signed in October 2010.

The current agreement recapitulates the same basic arrangement and consists, to paraphrase McEwen, of “compensation all round”. Gunns Limited, Tasmania’s debt-ridden timber company, will be compensated for surrendering wood supply contracts, contractors for losing their businesses, and workers for losing their jobs.

Show me the money

Various estimates for this compensation package exist: they range from $100 to $800 million. The higher figure, redolent of Latham’s 2004 failed Tasmanian forest package, appears very unlikely to materialise. The Tasmanian State Government is broke and intent on curbing public expenditure. Its recent budget will see school closures, health care cuts, and police force retrenchment. The Government simply does not have the money to fund a huge forestry bailout package.

The State’s Premier and Treasurer, Lara Giddings, will thus be in Canberra seeking alms. However, the Commonwealth, committed as it is to returning the federal budget to surplus in 2013, is itself strapped for cash.

Tough questions will likely be posed….

Read the rest on The Conversation: HERE

Fred Gale
Senior Lecturer at University of Tasmania

Fred Gale is a member of FSC International and a Founding Member of FSC Australia. He has consulted for both groups and is currently Chair of FSC-Australia’s Pesticide Policy Advisory Group. In 2004, he received a grant from the Australian Research Council to undertake comparative research into forestry and fisheries certification in Australia, Canada and the UK.