This Tuesday, 26 August and Wednesday, 27 August the Tasmanian upper house will debate the Liberal Government’s farcically-named Rebuilding the Forestry Industry Bill.
|IMAGE: Blue Tier, North East Tasmania | Matt Brain|
If successful, the bill - a landmark in cynical and self-defeating anti-environment politics - will replace the historic Tasmanian Forest Agreement (TFA) Act, ripping up protection of 400,000 hectares of spectacular forest in places like the Blue Tier, the Tarkine, Bruny Island and Weilangta.
The Tasmanian Forest Agreement Act - passed just last year - was the result of four years of negotiation, 30 years of campaigning, and a strong desire by the Tasmanian community to end the forest conflict.
The TFA laws protected forests, supported top-flight forest certification for consumers, and encouraged collaboration between government, environment, industry and community groups to keep the hard-won peace in the forests.
Polls have shown the majority of the Tasmanian community want a new future for the island state that doesn’t involve conflict over forests. Instead, the Tasmanian Government’s proposal will rip up agreed forest protection, open a million hectares of existing forest reserves for logging, and threaten the Forest Stewardship Council certification that is the No. 1 requirement for the forestry industry.
The Liberals spent years in opposition criticising those seeking a fair outcome for the forests, the industry and for workers. Now in government, they are unable to admit that the future of the industry it claims to support depends on protecting forests.
With questions and opposition from the independent upper house and key stakeholders - including environment groups - flying thick and fast, and the novice Government amending its own legislation on the fly, the bill may yet fail or be heavily changed in the coming days.
What is clear, however, is that if the bill passes, the Tasmanian Government is lining itself up for years of pain. The Tasmanian community will hold the Government responsible for damaging the environment, hurting Tasmania’s reputation, and taking an axe to a forestry industry slowly recovering as a result of unprecedented collaboration between former adversaries.
The Government will be judged on the consequences of re-injecting cheap, conflict-driven politics, when Tasmania’s community is crying out for an end to the forest ‘wars’.
The Tasmanian Forest Agreement has already delivered a securely-protected World Heritage area, kept the chainsaws away from half a million hectares of forest, and shown that a strong commitment to working with past adversaries can deliver for nature.
Regardless of the outcomes of the impending vote, the Wilderness Society is committed to working with the community to see Tasmania's old growth forests and wild places protected - forever.