The newly elected Liberal Tasmanian Government, led by Premier Will Hodgman, has revealed plans to hastily scrap the Tasmanian Forest Agreement; a piece of legislation enacted by the previous Labor government in 2011 that protects 400,000 hectares of native Tasmanian forests. The swiftness of this policy announcement has stunned industry leaders, who were under the impression the new government would be seeking input from all concerned parties to develop balanced, sustainable policy that satisfies that state’s economic needs whilst preserving vital environmental concerns for some of the planets oldest and most precious natural regions. But, with most things pertaining to Liberal governance, they have seemingly charged ahead without honouring pre-election promises.
The announcement comes as Tony Abbott and the Federal Liberal party attempt to reverse protection for 75,000 hectares of forest that was placed onto the World Heritage list last year. Baring in mind that the World Heritage list has no provision for the removal of areas that attain the status. And, furthermore, that no World Heritage site in Australia satisfies more criteria for World Heritage status than the Tasmanian wilderness, qualifying as a site of both natural and cultural significance.
The new legislation, which political opponents have criticised as being “tricky” and “weak” will provide provision for the 400,000 hectares of once-wholly protected forests to be logged, but only if it’s deemed necessary, and only after a six year deferral to allow the embattled Forestry Tasmania to rebuild the industry and gain accreditation from the Forest Stewardship Council, an organisation that acts as a watchdog over forestry practices with an eye towards environmentalism, social interest, and indigenous concerns; accreditation that Forestry Tasmania currently does not have.
Tasmania’s new Resources Minister, Paul Harriss stated, “These groups have no reason to complain, protest or attack our markets,” and that the policy was an “elegant solution” for Tasmania’s forestry industry. However Opposition Leader Bryan Green was far more blunt in his assessment, “The whole thing is just flawed and gutless.”
The problem, as it stands, is that the Liberal party’s core forestry promises during the election campaign revolved around increasing volume of available forests. But the reality of this legislation is that it’s a simple ripping of covers, whilst promising that in six years time there might be some room available. Tasmania’s forests are of global significance and must be protected. At the same time, a vibrant and sustainable (both economically and environmentally) timber industry is vital to Tasmania’s financial survival. But when a new Government that’s mere weeks into its elected term is this willing to charge gung-ho into major legislative change, seemingly without so much as a shred of outside consultation from the industry groups on both sides of the argument, what hope does the state have of achieving the kind of balanced policy that is so very necessary to the future success and sustainability of the state’s major economic and ecological resource?
Photo: Lisa Maree Williams via Getty Images.