February 17, 2004 | Peter

Old-Growth Forests Re-Run

Watching the ‘Four Corners’ report on the destruction of Tasmania’s old growth forests gave me a real sense of déjà vu. The slippery government dealing, the dodgy forest management agency, the huge private firm with tentacles everywhere, and the various passionate people appearing on either side all reminded me of the long and strong debate over WA’s old growth forests.
In WA it was also successive Labor and Liberal state governments that failed to resolve the question decisively right until it became such an issue that independents (like Liberals for Forests) stood on the matter and Geoff Gallop’s Labor government read the popular mood and got tough. Labor finally moved to protect remnant old growth forest and restructure the local timber industry in what was, despite their complaints, a pretty good deal for timber workers. The iffy state forests management authority was, in its latest form, the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM), led in the main by a bunch of ex-logger types who primarily saw the forests in term of material resources. The logging company was Bunnings, which like Gunns also managed to pay minimal royalties to the state while flogging off invaluable public assets for a song, and which also had inordinate influence on state politics. There were the same images of vast, clear-felled tracts of land, of woodchip mountains being loaded onto ships off to Japan, of angry greenies climbing huge trees and of stony-faced bulldozer drivers in hard hats. And of obfuscating talking heads protecting special interests, political and financial.
However, it seems WA politics was not as in-grown as Tassie politics appears to be, and so the matter was eventually resolved at mainly state level. Like the hard-fought dams issue of the early 1980s (which really launched now Senator Bob Brown’s national political career), this may be impossible in Tasmania. Federal ALP leader and very likely next prime minister Mark Latham is apparently visiting the relevant areas soon, in company with Green Senator Brown. I suspect that, mindful of how much the Tasmanian dams issue helped Bob Hawke to government in 1983, he will take a position that is relatively pro-Green. It has become one of those symbolic issues.
Tassie politics has always been messy and overly influenced by big corporate fish in small ponds, like the Tasmanian hydroelectric commission and now Gunns, and the island could certainly do with a freer media (also like WA). But with so many Tasmanians heading to the mainland, and so many mainlanders heading to Tassie, politics could be in for a big change. After all, many of the new immigrants, with real money and new skills, are looking to enjoy the physical beauty and serenity of Tasmania. Plus they know that Tassie could be a tourist bonanza, and so cutting down what are some of its best assets is dumb in economic terms as well.
And so we see how the specific issues of state development can eventually become symbols in the more general contention of national politics.

Posted by Peter at 2:02 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Peter wrote:
    “I suspect that, mindful of how much the Tasmanian dams issue helped Bob Hawke to government in 1983, he will take a position that is relatively pro-Green. ”
    Interestingly enough, wouldn’t it be equally likely that Howard will move first to exploit the wedgie possibility in the ALP’s stance?

    Comment by Mark — February 22, 2004 @ 1:04 pm

  2. You mean give Tony Abbot Wilson Tuckey’s job?
    Certainly everyone is holding their breath over what economics graduate Latham will do about this iconic Green isue.

    Comment by peter — February 23, 2004 @ 12:10 pm

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