Op-Ed: Return to forest wars would destroy what’s been built in peace

Op-Ed: Return to forest wars would destroy what’s been built in peace

Leanne Minshull's op-ed in the Mercury from October 10, 2019: LEANNE MINSHULL warns of a return to the division and hate that paralysed this state

Full article here at the Mercury

IT has been a long time since arguments over forestry dominated newspaper headlines and talkback radio but lately it’s been making a comeback.

It took three years of negotiating between government, industry, unions and conservationists to settle the forestry agreement. A deal’s a deal and logging has been off the front pages since.

The agreement was negotiated in good faith. For three years, maps were pored over, ecological assessments were done by scientists and industry experts and agreements were reached on what forests should remain free to the public and which should be locked up for industry to log. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars flowed to the industry to buy out contracts and assist workers, millions more went into regional development.

But now parts of the industry who signed the deal appear to want to renege on it. The State Government fanned the flames by “tearing up the deal” and declaring 365,000ha of forest slated for protection, open to logging from April next year.

During the same period peace has reigned in the forests, Tasmania’s tourism industry took off. Chinese visitation has risen 38 per cent since 2014. The Government’s T21 tourism strategy has a target of 1.5 million visitors to Tasmania by 2020.

According to government figures, our tourism industry accounts for 10 per cent of our gross state product and 17 per cent of employment in direct and indirect jobs. That’s almost one in five jobs in Tasmania.

Where forestry once ruled, other industries have blossomed to fill the gap. Resilient and innovative communities have forged new paths, many reliant on tourists. Think of the North East with bike trails, world famous sushi shops in Geeveston and the old Triabunna woodchip mill, now reborn as Spring Bay Mill accommodation and event space.

Tasmanian communities haven’t sat around and waited for a government strategy, but central to the government’s tourism strategy is a “collaborative approach across the visitor economy … that brings together the many sectors of our economy”.

So where would a new forest war fit into this?

Tasmania’s tourism success is underpinned by our natural environment. Visitors flock to our state to experience the natural beauty and ecological diversity they can’t find anywhere else in the world. Wilderness is our appeal. In the age of Instagram, drone cameras and selfies, logged forests and public conflict would spread like wildfire.

Back in the 1980s the logging industry would leave a “visual amenity” strip, a clump of forest that hugged tourist routes and hid the logging. It’s hard to imagine that strategy working today.

What would tourists make of being greeted at Hobart airport by Tasmanians once again handing out photos of clearfelled forests, high intensity forest burns and dying animals?

How would we reconcile the Hobart experience of arts, culture, food and collaboration with traffic jams created by log trucks immobilised by protesters locked on?

Would cashed-up tourists wanting to experience Takayna in the North-West be happy to put up with log trucks and flattened forest?

Forest Industries Association Tasmania, an original signatory to the deal is suggesting we can “swap out” some public forests and give them to industry. I can’t see this happening quickly or smoothly. When a deal is struck, especially such a fraught one, Tasmanians expect you to stick to it. It’s a part of who we are.

Division and drama is good for politics. It allows parties to hero themselves and demonise others. It provides colour and movement for the 24-hour news cycle. It does not enable innovative policy.

We cannot afford to waste time driving Tassie backwards.