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Just a few days before the nominated deadline for the IGA process, when we were all thinking that Tasmania’s monocultural plantation estate of eucalyptus nitens were destined for woodchips and pulp, we suddenly learn from Kim Booth that Plantation Isle can aspire to much bigger and better things!

According to Booth,  “Tasmania’s nitens resource provides an exciting opportunity and a pathway to higher productivity”.  He’s talking about “plantation products such as cross linked lumber, laminated beams, floorings, linings and Ikea style flat-pack furniture for domestic and export destinations”, as well as “new generation structural timber products, which are now replacing concrete and steel even in the construction of skyscrapers.”  Kim’s executive secretary has been spreading the good news via email, spruiking “the latest proof that Tasmania’s eucalyptus nitens plantation timber can produce high-value timber products”, with a photo “of a lovely desk that Kim commissioned to be made from nitens plantations wood to prove to those naysayers wilfully living in the past that it is possible”.

The obvious question to ask is why all that wonderful potential contained in all those Great Southern, Timbercorp and other collapsed MIS plantation schemes has gone to waste, and that the land is even now being turned to other uses, such as farmland? 

But let’s put Booth’s press release within a broader perspective, which extends back to 2009, when it became apparent that some ENGOs were willing to trade with Gunns for a plantation-based Tamar valley pulp mill in return for Gunns exiting native forests.  This was also associated with the formation of Our Common Ground, which had strong links with some of the key ENGOs, and which ran a hugely expensive media campaign spruiking the benefits of a large plantation-based forestry industry.  It was also the time when the penny finally dropped that non-FSC certified woodchips and other wood products were becoming unacceptable in the global marketplace.  It also coincided with the work of Bleaney-Scammell about the impacts of nitens plantations on water catchments.  It is also the time when Gunns shares started their inexorable slide, culminating in the replacement of John Gay, and the beginning of the implementation of Gunns’ sell-offs, sackings and putting all their efforts into a pulp mill which would be plantation-based.

All of these things provide the background to the establishment of the roundtable in May 2010, although there are differing views about how the roundtable was actually established, which is inevitable within a scenario shrouded in secrecy, closed-door meetings and careful exclusion of various stakeholders.  So we have McKim saying that the process began with industry groups approaching the ENGOs, Lara Giddings telling parliament that the process was started to benefit Gunns above all, others saying that Gunns initiated it, and the media implying that it was suggested somehow to David Bartlett. 

Whatever the truth, the intervention of Paul Lennon later in 2010 suggests that the pulp mill was front and centre throughout, as does evidence that the roundtable was working closely to fit in with Gunns’ strategic direction, and also the fact that Gunns facilitated meetings at its Launceston headquarters.  From the time that the SoP was released in October 2010, to coincide with Gunns AGM, the controversy about a pulp mill being included – and the ammunition it provided for Gunns, the State and federal governments and the industry representative signatories to argue a “social licence” had been granted – seriously eroded the credibility of the ENGOs in the process, and also allowed Gunns to launch a campaign to get the Chandler Group on board as a joint venture partner.

Fast forward to here and now, and we have everyone involved in the process trying to salvage their own credibility from the mess.  As the process dragged on and on through 2011 into 2012, Gunns received millions of dollars from public funds to exit native forests and to pay its debts to Forestry Tasmania, and it also became clear why Forestry Tasmania was not a direct “participant” in the process, because it enabled them to ignore all the terms of the agreement, including moratoria on logging contentious areas and on renewing contracts.Jonathan West’s “Independent Verification Group” savaged Forestry Tasmania, attacked activists who were making things difficult for Ta Ann, gave the green light to a broad-acre plantation-based industry, including a pulp mill and a retooled Booth-like scenario.  As well he might, given his background in broad-acre agriculture.

Taking all the bits and pieces from what we’ve heard over the last few weeks from Terry Edwards, Vica Bayley, Bryan Green and now Kim Booth, the central game-plan would seem to be “consolidation and expansion” of the industry in ways basically designed to ensure that all participants in the process look like winners.  The whole thing, after all, is based on “compromise”, which means everyone scrambling to make all the mistakes of the past look like pretty building blocks which weren’t mistakes at all.

So the monocultural plantation estate has to stay, with a really magnificent future, because the Greens and the ENGOs have always supported it as the salvation for old-growth and HCV forests.  If that disappears as the industry saviour then so does all the arguments the Greens-ENGOs have used for years.  Hence Kim Booth’s latest press release.  The industry doesn’t much like it, but they like to argue that it’s all the fault of the minority government and Gunns, and they’re the victims.  Hence heaps of money from the public purse for them, with the promise of more to come.  So that’s a win.

But let’s not forget the bits from Bryan Green that you won’t hear from Kim Booth of VicaBayley.Green told us all the other day that the pulp mill is “still front and centre” to the IGA process!  According to Bryan, “part of the IGA (is) that a pulp mill is in the end the downstream processing opportunity we need for our plantations going forward…  We just need Gunns or a company to build it”. 

Moreover, the pulp mill “is ready to go.  The site has been cleared and its ready to build and that was done over a 12 month period with little or no protest right through. I think that there’s some localised concerns in the Tamar Valley about the pulp mill but, but overall, I think most people understand that it’s a plantation-based mill”.

Then there’s also Ta Ann to consider, and they’re “desperate to get a decision” for the goodies which will flow from the IGA.  As VicaBayley said, Ta Ann is part of the Tasmanian industry and has to be looked after.  So that’s another couple of boxes ticked off.  Then there is Forestry Tasmania, called a “rogue agency” by Kim Booth in the past for continuing to plunder native forests while the talks needed to have “clear air”.  Well, now they’re doing all the modelling for everyone on the IGA, right, left and centre, and Hans Drielsma is also now inside the tent, so that’s all very soothing. 

Obviously, the problem of being a “rogue agency” has evaporated like water from a muddy puddle on a hot day, prompting cold showers for all and sundry.

Another couple of bits and pieces are floating around waiting for the IGA to grow wheels.  One is the Triabunna woodchip mill.  Another one is Gunns, hiding in a trading halt while things get sorted out which might get things back on track.  After all, if we’re going down the Plantation Isle trajectory, with all that expensive retooling to be done, there’s going to be heaps of stuff just lying around waiting to be chipped, maybe even more from clear-felled nitens than from native forests.  Not to mention, as Bryan Green has said, “the ENGOs at the highest level understand full well that the (native forestry) industry is sustainable and that we do need to have a volume of native forest going forward to supply our sawmills and high quality furniture makers utilising specialty timbers”. 

So that about sums it up.  Everyone’s a winner.  Native forests for Ta Ann, sawmills and specialty timber users, Plantation Isle for pulp and for “engineered” products, money for Forestry Tasmania from the forward estimates, and money for industry players for all sorts of things.  Anyone miss out?

Oh, and by the way, this is not about “an unrepresentative group of people making decisions for Tasmania”.  There’s legislation sitting on the table waiting to go.  Thank goodness everyone has ignored all those issues raised about the monocultural plantation estate.  How wonderful to know that Alison Bleaney was was kept well away from the roundtable-SoP-IGA process.  And all like-minded people, it must be said, who had any doubts about the wonderful future for Plantation Isle.  How wonderful to know that all of them were excluded so completely way back in May 2010 when David Bartlett and Nick McKim set it all up.

And just think how lucky we are that Frank Strie’s “holistic” position, which involves community participation to get any worthwhile certification – at least in the global marketplace –has been effectively excluded.

Just thank heavens that Tasmania still has all that nitens coming on, going forward, as our favourite pollies like to say.  Let’s not be naysayers.  Let’s get those MIS schemes back in the main game. 

“The smart money is on plantation timbers”, says Kim Booth.  Plantation Isle forever!

• ABC 7.30: A former Gunns contractor calls for industry reform

Posted August 03, 2012 20:22:00

A former Gunns contractor says Tasmania’s forest industry has to change.
Airlie Ward

Source: 7.30 Tasmania | Duration: 7min 59sec

Watch here

(a transcript will be posted)

• Woodchip prices fall

Wood chip prices fell throughout the US and Canada in the 2Q/12; the US South continues to have the lowest chip prices and Eastern Canada the highest, reports the North American Wood Fiber Review

Prices for softwood chips have trended downward in both the US and Canada during the first six months of 2012, according to the North American Wood Fiber Review. The biggest declines came in British Columbia and Alberta because of lower market pulp prices. Chip prices in the US South, the Lake States and the Northeast experienced only minor price adjustments during the first half of this year.

The full article can be downloaded here: GTWMU_US_Canada_wood_chip_prices_2Q_2012.pdf