19 October, 2010

Era of protest ends in a principled peace

Andrew Darby , Hobart
Sydney Morning Herald (article), October 19, 2010

A forests peace deal has finally been reached in Tasmania to shift loggers from wild forests into a sustainable plantation industry.

Marathon talks aimed at ending a generation of conflict will culminate in the handover today of a statement of principles, already signed by both sides, to the Premier, David Bartlett.

The industry bowed to environmentalist demands at the last stumbling block, a clause that restricts the burning of timber as biomass fuel, sources said. Green groups in turn agreed to recognise existing wood supply contracts.

The struggle between activists and loggers over Tasmania's old-growth tall eucalypt forests began in the mid 1980s.

Despite several federal government interventions that protected more forests and compensated industry, the logging and the protests continued as recently as last week.

The roundtable peace process began after a Labor-Green government was elected in Tasmania in April, and as international markets moved against the logging of native forests.

Held behind closed doors, the talks involved the National Association of Forest Industries, the Forest Industry Association of Tasmania and the CFMEU from the industry side. Green groups were led by the Australian Conservation Foundation, The Wilderness Society and Environment Tasmania.

At its core, the statement recognises the need to protect high conservation value forests and end ''industrial forestry'' of them in a timeframe to be agreed. It still allows for specialty timbers to be logged from these forests, for purposes such as craftwood.

It also calls for a move to ''a strong and sustainable industry based on a range of plantation-based industries including a pulp mill''.

No mention is made of the controversial $2.2 billion Gunns mill project, and there is no calculation of compensation required, or jobs that will be shed, or gained, by the transition.

But it says the state should call upon the Commonwealth to help rebuild the industry to ensure timber communities are able to be more economically resilient than they have been until now.

Yesterday another 120 jobs in the timber industry were lost when Gunns confirmed the long-feared closure of a pine sawmill at Scottsdale in the north-east.

"Sadly, this is more evidence that doing nothing is not an option," Mr Bartlett said. "Many, many commentators have said difficult change is coming to the forest industry, whether we like it or not.''

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