16 May, 2007
The Age, Opinion, May 16, 2007
Labor got pounded in 2004. Tact and ticker are need for 2007, writes Natasha Cica.
Inching daily closer to the federal election, Labor should not be dazzled by the beautiful set of polling figures that Maxine McKew just scored in the star seat of Bennelong, nor dwell too long in the mines of Western Australia and big city boardrooms.
Tasmania and its forests tend to be left off mainland maps - but only a fool would do that now. Partly because the northern seats of Bass and Braddon are must-wins for Labor: both were lost on forestry policy as the first falling dominoes in Mark Latham's 2004 election defeat. And partly because a Saulwick poll released last week measured first-preference House of Representatives support for Labor in Tasmania at just 36 per cent, compared with 44.6 per cent in 2004. That poll unhelpfully did not deliver the two-party-preferred picture, and indicated 13 per cent of voters were still undecided, but it's fair to say Labor would prefer a trend in the opposite direction. So would the Coalition, whose lower house primary vote was measured by Saulwick at just 34 per cent, down 9 per cent from 2004.
John Howard's riposte to the Bennelong survey was "that poll didn't tell me anything I didn't know" - words he must also have muttered in response to this sampled snapshot of Tasmanian voting intentions in Bass, Braddon and beyond. No fools, both Howard and Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull have visited Tasmania in the past fortnight to press flesh and wedge Labor on this front. Hard cop Howard mainly stuck to forestry-dependent communities in Tasmania's north, labelling opponents of Gunns' proposed Tamar Valley pup mill a "noisy minority" (measured by another poll at almost half the local population) and holding the jobs-equals-logs line. This was a calculated attempt to punch a hole through the somewhat greener deal Rudd cut before Labor's April national conference with Tasmania's pro-logging Premier, Paul Lennon, and the powerful CFMEU, who both walked straight into Howard's arms at the last election. The contours of the final policy product remain to be seen, but part of the promised package involves conserving more forests.
Soft cop Turnbull took a different tack. First, he deflected questions about the democratic dimensions of the Federal Government's environmental assessment process for the pulp mill, which requires all public submissions to be sent through Gunns - a corporation notorious for running the "Gunns 20" litigation against environmentalists, and recently hoist (again) on the pointed pen of Tasmanian novelist Richard Flanagan, writing for The Monthly and London's Daily Telegraph.
Turnbull quickly turned to whacking Lennon's Labor for neglecting its environmental responsibilities on Macquarie Island, a world heritage area ravaged by rabbits and rats. "This is a state government that has put $15 million into (Hawthorn) Football Club but is not prepared to put one cent into an island that has been part of Tasmania since 1825," thundered Turnbull, singing from almost the same songsheet as cultural commentator Leo Schofield, now resident in rural Tasmania.
After the bloodletting surrounding Lennon's March fast-tracking of the pulp mill - featuring hardline attacks on the reputations of local objectors, including a former Supreme Court judge, a senior CSIRO scientist, 14 University of Tasmania specialists in ethics, governance and law, an award-winning broadsheet journalist and a dissident state Labor parliamentarian - Schofield mounted his own protest.
He denounced Lennon as an "uberbogan" who brings ridicule to his office, attracting "nothing but scorn and disdain from thinking members of our population", and who "seems to think anyone who admires a tree or who is moved by poetry and beauty is a dickhead or worse".
Apparently appreciating that Tasmania has historically been both Australia's poorest state and home to its boldest environmental activism, Howard and Turnbull have walked and chewed gum at the same time, playing to two different galleries. To beat that, Rudd and environment spokesman Peter Garrett will need to go one better - uniting Tasmanians on forests. Rudd made the wise opening move of drawing Lennon and friends into his consultative tent. Federal Labor must also ensure its forestry policy passes Rudd's own future test, setting young Tasmanians up for working futures in the 21st century, not the 20th or worse. All this will demand enormous reserves of ticker and tact. But if all else fails, Team Rudd can always fall back on Greg Combet's winning line from ABC TV's waterfront epic Bastard Boys: "Change hurts, John."
Natasha Cica is director of management and communications consultancy Periwinkle Projects.
14 May, 2007
Independent Online Edition
14 May 2007
In the next 24 hours, deforestation will release as much CO2 into the atmosphere as 8 million people flying from London to New York. Stopping the loggers is the fastest and cheapest solution to climate change. So why are global leaders turning a blind eye to this crisis?
The accelerating destruction of the rainforests that form a precious cooling band around the Earth's equator, is now being recognised as one of the main causes of climate change. Carbon emissions from deforestation far outstrip damage caused by planes and automobiles and factories.
The rampant slashing and burning of tropical forests is second only to the energy sector as a source of greenhouses gases according to report published today by the Oxford-based Global Canopy Programme, an alliance of leading rainforest scientists.
Figures from the GCP, summarising the latest findings from the United Nations, and building on estimates contained in the Stern Report, show deforestation accounts for up to 25 per cent of global emissions of heat-trapping gases, while transport and industry account for 14 per cent each; and aviation makes up only 3 per cent of the total.
"Tropical forests are the elephant in the living room of climate change," said Andrew Mitchell, the head of the GCP.
Scientists say one days' deforestation is equivalent to the carbon footprint of eight million people flying to New York. Reducing those catastrophic emissions can be achieved most quickly and most cheaply by halting the destruction in Brazil, Indonesia, the Congo and elsewhere.
No new technology is needed, says the GCP, just the political will and a system of enforcement and incentives that makes the trees worth more to governments and individuals standing than felled. "The focus on technological fixes for the emissions of rich nations while giving no incentive to poorer nations to stop burning the standing forest means we are putting the cart before the horse," said Mr Mitchell.
Most people think of forests only in terms of the CO2 they absorb. The rainforests of the Amazon, the Congo basin and Indonesia are thought of as the lungs of the planet. But the destruction of those forests will in the next four years alone, in the words of Sir Nicholas Stern, pump more CO2 into the atmosphere than every flight in the history of aviation to at least 2025.
Indonesia became the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world last week. Following close behind is Brazil. Neither nation has heavy industry on a comparable scale with the EU, India or Russia and yet they comfortably outstrip all other countries, except the United States and China.
What both countries do have in common is tropical forest that is being cut and burned with staggering swiftness. Smoke stacks visible from space climb into the sky above both countries, while satellite images capture similar destruction from the Congo basin, across the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo.
According to the latest audited figures from 2003, two billion tons of CO2 enters the atmosphere every year from deforestation. That destruction amounts to 50 million acres - or an area the size of England, Wales and Scotland felled annually.
The remaining standing forest is calculated to contain 1,000 billion tons of carbon, or double what is already in the atmosphere.
As the GCP's report concludes: "If we lose forests, we lose the fight against climate change."
Standing forest was not included in the original Kyoto protocols and stands outside the carbon markets that the report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pointed to this month as the best hope for halting catastrophic warming.
The landmark Stern Report last year, and the influential McKinsey Report in January agreed that forests offer the "single largest opportunity for cost-effective and immediate reductions of carbon emissions".
International demand has driven intensive agriculture, logging and ranching that has proved an inexorable force for deforestation; conservation has been no match for commerce. The leading rainforest scientists are now calling for the immediate inclusion of standing forests in internationally regulated carbon markets that could provide cash incentives to halt this disastrous process.
Forestry experts and policy makers have been meeting in Bonn, Germany, this week to try to put deforestation on top of the agenda for the UN climate summit in Bali, Indonesia, this year. Papua New Guinea, among the world's poorest nations, last year declared it would have no choice but to continue deforestation unless it was given financial incentives to do otherwise.
Richer nations already recognise the value of uncultivated land. The EU offers €200 (£135) per hectare subsidies for "environmental services" to its farmers to leave their land unused.
And yet there is no agreement on placing a value on the vastly more valuable land in developing countries. More than 50 per cent of the life on Earth is in tropical forests, which cover less than 7 per cent of the planet's surface.
They generate the bulk of rainfall worldwide and act as a thermostat for the Earth. Forests are also home to 1.6 billion of the world's poorest people who rely on them for subsistence. However, forest experts say governments continue to pursue science fiction solutions to the coming climate catastrophe, preferring bio-fuel subsidies, carbon capture schemes and next-generation power stations.
Putting a price on the carbon these vital forests contain is the only way to slow their destruction. Hylton Philipson, a trustee of Rainforest Concern, explained: "In a world where we are witnessing a mounting clash between food security, energy security and environmental security - while there's money to be made from food and energy and no income to be derived from the standing forest, it's obvious that the forest will take the hit."
02 May, 2007
May 2, 2007
Prime Minister John Howard has ruled out any further protection of Tasmanian old-growth forests, leaving any pre-election bidding on the contentious issue to Labor.
Mr Howard said the 2005 forest deal struck with the Tasmanian Government over jobs and forest protection should not be disturbed. "I'm against any change to the existing deal, full stop," he told The Age.
"I think the present deal is a good deal and my worry is that you will get attempts to lock away further areas, which will endanger jobs, and I'm against that."
In the 2004 federal election, Mr Howard outbid the ALP with a proposal to save 170,000 hectares of old-growth forest and offer an industry restructuring package. When it was signed in 2005, the $250 million Tasmania Community Forest Agreement protected about 140,000 hectares of old-growth forest, missing its benchmark for some of the most contentious tall eucalypt forests.
Since then Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon has raised the prospect that some of those trees could gain protection under a federal Labor government.
Mr Lennon said if value-adding timber projects could be achieved, that would allow his Government to consider conserving forests that had been subject to political debate.
Last weekend the ALP agreed to a platform that includes further protection of Tasmanian old-growth forests, rainforests and other ecosystems.
But the industry flatly opposes further protection. "The bottom line is that any further forest reservation is going to lead to significant job losses," said Terry Edwards, chief executive of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania.
Mr Howard said it appeared that federal and state Labor leaders had reached some understanding to buy out timber workers' jobs in Tasmania.
"I don't want to hear any weasel words about undoing the compact that was reached two years ago," Mr Howard said.
The Wilderness Society said Mr Howard was missing an opportunity to make good on his 2004 promises. "He said he would save the tall old-growth of the Styx and the Florentine valleys, and instead he is destroying these forests," said the society's campaign manager, Geoff Law.
"He's also missing a colossal opportunity to deal with climate change by locking away the carbon in those forests."
01 May, 2007
May 1, 2007
The use of timber floors in new homes has won another last-minute reprieve after the Victorian Government decided not to enforce a deadline for the introduction of green regulations.
Changes in energy-saving regulations that were to take effect from today would have added to pressure on builders to use concrete slabs rather than timber floors.
Timber floors were exempted from five-star energy efficiency standards when the rules were introduced nearly two years ago. But the timber floor exemption deadline has been extended until August 31 amid concerted lobbying from the building industry. Builders argue the end of the exemption would add to costs and reduce consumer choice.
It was the second reprieve the industry has received after an earlier 12-month extension. Only last week both the Building Commissioner Tony Arnel and Planning Minister Justin Madden said the exemption would end on April 30.
The Housing Industry Association's executive director Victoria, Caroline Lawrey, welcomed the extension but said it needed to be timed to the introduction of software — which is due for release in July — that calculates energy use and rates timber floors more favourably than the previous software version.
Mr Arnel said the exemption was not extended due to delays in the software's introduction. He said some builders and suppliers may "require a little more time" to prepare for five-star but doesn't expect more extensions."
May 1, 2007
Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd:
Kevin Rudd's well-oiled Labor machine is out to tame Tasmania - and exorcise Mark Latham's disastrous electoral legacy.
The winter cold is sweeping into the Upper Florentine, a seasonal change that makes this remote Tasmanian valley seem even more forbidding.
From the Florentine's furthest ridges, you can look out to a long westerly horizon untroubled by any human presence, and watch the rain march towards you in lines of gray from distant mountain ranges.
Shafts of sunlight occasionally break through clouds to spotlight otherwise untracked ground. The shrieks of black cockatoos and currawong song coast across the treetops to meet chainsaw buzz and machinery clank.
The Florentine is on the fringe of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It's where tall, old-growth forest borders the island's uninhabited south-west. And on some of the valley's upper slopes, logging is under way as it has been in more accessible reaches of the Florentine for generations.
Since October, Ula Majewski's friends in the group Still Wild, Still Threatened have been blockading in the Upper Florentine. There have been 23 arrests so far. And loggers, supported by Barry Chipman's Timber Communities Australia, have been cutting it. They are extracting high-value sawlog and veneer timber, along with a great weight of logs for woodchips.
These people stand at opposite poles of Tasmania's intractable forests dispute. Neither Majewski nor Chipman are happy with Labor's new forests platform. But it is in a domain such as the Upper Florentine that this reinvented strategy will be tested.
Tasmanian forests policy came to symbolise the collapse of Mark Latham's Labor at the last federal election. It split the ALP in the final days of the campaign, was rejected and then ditched.
Nearly three years later, the ALP appears to have learnt a lesson. Last weekend the party's national conference agreed to a resolution with enough broad support to allow hope within the party that it could succeed. The platform, on which Labor's more detailed federal election policy will be built, calls for a sustainable forest industry in the state, with no overall job losses, and further protection of some forests.
So what will this mean for the Upper Florentine?
In early 2004, Latham flew over these forests by helicopter as Labor leader on a two-day tour in which he was first hosted by the industry, and then Greens leader Bob Brown.
Latham pointed to the existence of other protected forests in the area as proof that there was a reasonable balance, only to drop a bombshell on the Tasmanian Labor government, forest industry and unions in the election campaign's last days. He vowed to end logging in the "overwhelming majority" of Tasmania's old-growth forests - 240,000 hectares of forests with disputed high conservation values, offering an $800 million package.
It was a gamble that was trumped by Prime Minister John Howard. Within 48 hours, Howard announced his own package that would protect 170,000 hectares of Tasmanian forest. But, crucially, he had the support of the industry, the union and even some desperate state Labor figures.
Again, the bidding included the Florentine.
After the Howard Government convincingly won the election, development of what was called the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement took another six months. The industry was offered $250 million in restructuring money to develop plantations and help country sawmills retool.
The Coalition claimed that its extra 170,000 hectares of reserves would take the total area of Tasmania's old growth now in reserves to 1 million hectares.
In fact these "old-growth" reserves include scrubby coastal dry forests and melaleuca swamps as well as myrtle rainforests. Many of these old-growth trees were also left outside the level of protection given by a national park or world heritage listing.
Gains in the protection of rainforest were countered by losses among tall eucalypts where the community forest agreements fell far short of their own benchmark. Contentious areas of the Upper Florentine and nearby Styx missed out. Instead of reserving the 18,700 hectares. pledged at the election, the agreement set aside only 4730 hectares.
The battle over the symbolic trees of Tasmania - tall, old-growth eucalypts - was unresolved. The king of the forest, old-growth eucalypt regnans, gained only 970 hectares in protection under the Howard package. About 44 per cent, or 5800 hectares was still available for logging.
This is part of the legacy for the next election. This, and an industry already in upheaval as Tasmanians await the decision on the $1.5 billion Gunns pulp mill, which will generate employment, and consume more native forest.
Despite the cold and wet, Majewski and Still Wild, Still Threatened have been out in the Upper Florentine trying to draw attention to what she calls "this beautiful forest" for about six months. Access to it has been restricted. Sporadically, small groups of protesters walk in to the logging coupes and erect precarious seats in trees to halt work.
The state agency, Forestry Tasmania, describes this forest as an important source of valuable eucalypt sawlogs, veneer and special species timbers. "Ninety per cent of the Upper Florentine remains unavailable for harvesting," says assistant general manager, Steve Whiteley.
But groups such as Majewski's are arguing for an end to all old-growth logging, not only for these forests' physical attractions, but because as carbon sinks they enter the climate-change equation.
Against them stands the industry group Timber Communities Australia. "TCA said loud and clear that the boundary has been achieved," says Chipman, the organisation's Tasmanian manager. "There is no room to rejig. We cannot accept one more hectare of forest being reserved."
As they absorbed the new Labor platform, each side focused on the role in its development by Michael O'Connor, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's forestry division national secretary.
Famously, O'Connor stood on the same stage as Howard on the eve of the 2004 election. Images of Tasmania's forestry workers cheering Howard helped the Liberals pick up two seats in the state.
The ALP is not about to make the same mistake twice.
Before last weekend's ALP national conference, Brown suggested that O'Connor should get the boot from Labor. Instead he was given the stage to publicly back the new platform.
"I can, with 100 per cent support, recommend this (deal) to the (ALP) conference but more importantly recommend it to our members." O'Connor said at the weekend.
It was a deal struck behind doors with Rudd, O'Connor and Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon. It ensures Labor consults Lennon and the union before announcing its final forests policy.
"We are concerned about any secret deal between Mr O'Connor and (Opposition Leader) Kevin Rudd," says Majewski.
For his part, Chipman says that despite respect for the CFMEU, Timber Communities Australia is worried about two elements of the ALP platform: the proposal to increase protection of some forests, and the pledge that there would be no overall job losses.
"We would much prefer to see job enhancement," he says.
O'Connor just seemed glad to have a platform he could put his name to. "At the last election we had a ludicrous policy," the union leader says. "It was put together without any understanding of its consequences. To us, what we have now is a resumption of a sensible policy development process where agreements are made, and commitments are kept."
Lennon, who also rejected the Latham policy, has signed on for Kevin Rudd too. "The platform provides no concern to me," he says. Instead, he sees useful trade-offs ahead.
"I want value-adding timber projects in Tasmania, employing Tasmanians," Lennon told the ABC. "If we can achieve that, then that will enable us to give the necessary consideration to conservation of other areas of forests that in the past have been subject to political debate."
Labor's shadow environment minister, Peter Garrett, denies that any deal has been struck to protect jobs. But in the bitter politics of Tasmanian forests, the industry worries that it will again be caught in a struggle for votes - perhaps this time for Greens' preferences.
Federal Forests Minister Eric Abetz stoked these fears as he warned against taking the risk of supporting Labor.
"There are some strong and loud voices at play which are determined to shut down the forest industry, no matter that it has great environmental and economic credentials," Abetz says.
Labor's task in developing the policy - in deciding whether a forest such as the Upper Florentine will finally be protected, or its loggers' jobs - is full of hazards.
The novelist Richard Flanagan wrote a long essay on the state forest industry's power that was published yesterday in The Monthly magazine. His conclusion? The battle for the forests in Tasmania is as much about free speech and democracy as it is about wild lands.
THE ALP PLATFORM
- Labor supports the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement.
- Labor is committed to sustainable economic, environmental and community outcomes for Tasmania's forests, based on the principles of: a sustainable forestry industry plan, developed in consultation with unions, industry and the Tasmanian Government and based on the use of plantation timber, selective use of native timber, value-adding and downstream processing; no overall loss of jobs in the forestry industry; further protection of identified Tasmanian high-conservation- value, old-growth forests, rainforests and other ecosystems.