Image for The rabid attachment to the past

The rabid attachment to the past by the Forestry Minister Paul Harriss is an heroic act in the twilight of the problem, but an utterly forlorn hope. The die is cast and has been for a long time.

Recreating the forestry industry of the past including financial sweeteners of dubious legitimacy only recreates a past of dubious legitimacy in the conduct of forestry in Tasmania. 

It was an industry of pioneering entrepreneurs and struggling small business but also of cowboys and opportunists, with a history of gross waste and environmental indifference.

The collapse of the forestry industry with the demise of Gunns and the appalling MIS tax plan concocted by Costello has left a residue of financial pain, anger and frustration.

It is real and justified but anyone who believes the future lies in the past is deluded. Step back from the issue; take a broader historical perspective and the elements become clearer. 

It may seem ridiculous but the best comparison is Japan in the 1600s. After the rise of the Tokagawa Shogunate, exploitation of forests soared causing real problems.

By 1700 the consequences of environmental degradation were clear and the central government stepped in to severely control logging and to actively re-afforestate. 

By 1800 forest cover was restored and has remained that way since. You now have to put up your granny as guarantee before you cut down anything.

Today 74% of Japan is forested ...

Today 74% of Japan is forested. Let me repeat it because no-one will believe it - 74% forest reserve, the most wooded area of Asia, compared with 13% in China. What this demonstrates is that the issue is old and universal, not some recent invention by born again Bob Browns.

Ironically, while conserving its own resource, Japan has ruthlessly exploited less rigorous regimes elsewhere, first Tasmania (in the past) and now places like Brazil.

The problem is just that – a loose regime of exploitation in the past that has led to the present dilemma.

Along with that has been a callous company culture of community indifference.

Gunns has done more damage to northeast Tasmania than any government policy ...

Make no mistake, Gunns has done more damage to northeast Tasmania than any government policy, yet the community rallied to their support - and was treated like dirt.

We can visit the past, ascribe blame and wish for better but it will change nothing. There is a forestry future - not as large as before - plantation based, more specialised and professional, but a sound and vibrant future nonetheless.

It will take time, initiative and enterprise, which is no consolation to those decimated by previous policy, but it will happen.

Ironically it is another disastrous government decision that provides part of the solution. The massive MIS schemes – rolled gold tax evasion for city slickers – left huge forest plantations that are now not worth a crumpet yet these in part will be the foundation of a future sustainable industry.

They may be worthless now but they don’t stop growing and if managed and not neglected (a real issue) their worth will be realized.

Be bitter by all means but be resolute as well. A future forestry industry is a reality if the build begins now.

*Dr Michael Powell is Lecturer in History, University of Tasmania.

SUNDAY July 5 ...

• Peter Henning in Comments: It was just a couple of weeks ago that Rick Pilkington raised the issue of the repetitive nature of the debate taking place on TT, over and over, not moving on, but stuck, with the same old stuff, arguing strongly that it was actually wrecking the site, turning people away, turning them off. It’s a good point, but my response then was that Tasmania hasn’t changed since the Tasmanian parliament licked Gunns’ boots and did their bidding, hasn’t learned, doesn’t want to and won’t.  Gunns has been replaced by others, that’s all. The politicians want to pursue the same policies they always have in relation to forestry.  We shouldn’t forget that after the collapse of Gunns there was still great hope within the Giddings government and then the Hodgman government that the pulp mill would rise from the dead and pollute the Tamar Valley for decades into the future, sucking public funds into its maw like a huge vacuum. It is beyond strange that this stuff keeps going round and round. It’s like a recurrent disease.  Maybe we should identify the obsession with clear-felling water catchments of their vegetation for woodchips which have to be subsidised to sell, then napalming the clear-felled site in order to eliminate competition for monocultural exotic p[lantations which will never earn a buck, as Easter Island syndrome. …

• Simon Warriner in Comments: re 8, so what to do about this dismal, atrocious and sad situation, Peter? That is what we are all searching for isn’t it? We could agitate for a corruption inquiry, but the mainstream media here quite obviously cannot be bothered getting off its collective arse to give it the push it needs even when the math as presented by independent rep Wilkie in the federal parliament is beyond question. no go there. We could wait for the greens to use their collective political clout with the media to get the issue up. no go there either as the greens in their infinite wisdom have supported the plantation industry. We could babble endlessly on Tasmanian Times but that is quite clearly not getting us anywhere …