18 May, 2011

Forest Peace Undermined

Reporter: Martin Cuddihy
ABC 7:30 Report Transcript, Broadcast: 18/05/2011

The historic peace deal between Tasmanian loggers and conservationists appears to be on the brink of possible collapse.

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The historic peace deal between Tasmanian loggers and conservationists appears to be on the brink of possible collapse. One of the key players, the Wilderness Society, has suspended its involvement in the negotiations meant to end the decades-old conflict. The green groups' blaming both the state and federal governments for its withdrawal, as Martin Cuddihy reports from Tasmania.

TERRY EDWARDS, FOREST INDUSTRIES ASSOC (to Vica Bayley): You bloody caused all the trouble, you mongrel.

MARTIN CUDDIHY, REPORTER: There's no love lost between the timber industry and green groups. Today was no different. The latest confrontation stems from a decision by the Wilderness Society to suspend its involvement in peace talks.

VICA BAYLEY, WILDERNESS SOCIETY: We are expressing our frustration by stepping back from the process, by suspending our involvement in these talks.

TERRY EDWARDS: The whole thing may blow up in everyone's faces and we may end up without a forest peace process at all.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Forestry is more than a polarising industry. It's a decades-old dispute, one that has seen mass protests and rallies, arrests and even violence.

Last year's peace deal was hailed as a breakthrough. It was meant to ban all work in high conservation value forests and phase out logging in native forests.

The agreement was brokered by Our Common Ground, a new player that helped bring together loggers and greenies. In truth, it was more like a cease-fire than a peace treaty. But at the time there was a mood of optimism.

DAVID BARTLETT, TASMANIAN PREMIER (Oct. 2010): They have persisted and have made this once-in-a-generation opportunity come to fruition.

PHILL PULLINGER, ENVIRONMENT TASMANIA (Oct. 2010): We do believe that we've now got a unique opportunity to move beyond the decades of conflict over our native forests.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: But despite the opportunity, the Wilderness Society pulled out late yesterday. It believes federal and state governments are dragging the chain.

VICA BAYLEY: What we need to see is a clear commitment from government that they are on board, that they will back this agreement, that they make serious commitments about protecting our forests and restructuring an ailing industry.

TERRY EDWARDS: There's no doubt the Wilderness Society position makes the reaching of an agreement that much more difficult than it was before their withdrawal.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Other signatories, particularly the Forest Industries Association, are fuming at the decision to suspend involvement.

TERRY EDWARDS: This seems to be much more about the Wilderness Society wanting to pursue their agenda outside of the negotiations process.

LARA GIDDINGS, TASMANIAN PREMIER: What it shows is when the going gets tough, the Wilderness Society walk out.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: It's not the first time the Wilderness Society has pulled out of a forestry peace deal. Twice in the 1980s and '90s, with the Salamanca agreement and the regional forests agreement, both similar sorts of peace deals, the organisation withdrew when negotiations weren't progressing favourably.

With respect, you didn't actually address the question there. I said you have pulled out of two of these agreements previously. Is this just simply a stunt?

VICA BAYLEY: We make our decisions based on what we believe are going to deliver real outcomes.

NICK MCKIM, TASMANIA GREENS LEADER: I think the Wilderness Society's genuinely frustrated about the lack of progress and I understand that frustration, but the Greens still do support this process.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Six weeks ago, the facilitator of the talks Bill Keelty handed down an interim report, but as yet there's been no response from either government. In a fortnight, some of the peace delegates are scheduled to meet with the Government in Canberra. The Prime Minister insists she's upheld her end of the bargain.

JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER: Well, I certainly believe the Federal Government has done enough. What I would say to the people in Tasmania, the representatives who have been sitting around a table, is: now is not the right time to walk away from that table.

PHILL PULLINGER: Despite today's setback, remaining players are vowing to continue the peace process. This agreement is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Tasmania to both protect our native forests and to get a strong future for the timber industry.

TERRY EDWARDS: We remain committed to trying to produce an outcome from that process and we will continue to participate positively in that process with a view to trying to achieve an outcome.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: And there remains the looming threat that the whole peace deal could fall over, meaning a return to the days of conflict in Tasmania's forests.

LARA GIDDINGS: If there's any danger of it falling apart, it's because parties at the table walk away, just like the Wilderness Society have now.

TERRY EDWARDS: It's very tempting for the other signatories to now decide to walk in and out of the process whenever we feel like it. If it's good for the goose, it's good for the gander.

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