SUCCESSIVE governments have freed our forestry industry from the planning and environmental laws that apply to everyone else.

They have allowed forestry to judge its own cases, its self-policing makes them unaccountable to the public.

They are paying forestry huge subsidies and cost relief with our money and resources while simultaneously eroding taxpayers ability to protect themselves from forestry operations.

Forestry is growing at the expense of agriculture, tourism and the environment. The money going to forestry is urgently needed in health and education, yet the state government serves forestry first (perhaps after racing and sports).

Even the federal government forestry department (DAFF) has adopted the mission of industry growth.

Thus we have an industry (if something so heavily subsidised merits that term) that is encouraged and helped to grow by our governments, while the pain and difficulties that the industry may cause are either ignored or adjudicated by forestry operatives.

The most similar natural (?) entity that I can think of with such characteristics is a cancer. It consumes the body’s resources to grow, damages other parts of the body as it grows, resists attempts to remove it and can lead to death. The cancer cells themselves are parts of the body that have become aggressive and uncontrollable.

Immunological failures

In our case, our society’s immune system, the government, is not working to protect us, as if their capacities have been destroyed by triazines. It’s so compromised that it doesn’t even recognise that we’re in pain. The effect is of a cancer that is resistant to all conventional treatments, growing in our social systems without constraint or control and causing us severe fiscal, health, resource and environmental pain.

A look at the various threats now facing Tamar taxpayers is instructive.

According to pulp mill expert Dr. Warwick Raverty, the most likely problems in the Tamar will be degradation of the living environment particularly from smells…

‘Experience from mills overseas of similar size and design indicates that for many people living in the Tamar there will be the fairly constant, low level but annoying ‘mill odour’ in autumn and winter months, when the fog hangs in the Valley until noon.

The low level odour will be punctuated by the occasional more nauseous ‘odour events’ when Gunns’ inexperienced operating crews are learning how to operate the mill properly. These events usually happen on weekends, when the professional engineers go home and leave inexperienced non-professional operators to manage a vast array of control panels that can take professional engineers many years to understand fully, as demonstrated by the odour problems at Visy’s much smaller Tumut kraft pulp mill that experienced severe odour problems for over 3 years between 2001 and 2004.’ 

It is this kind of degradation of living environment that indicated a remote site for such a massive facility. Remote sites also are also more suitable for the concentration of log and chemical trucks that will be funnelled into, and out of, the mill area.

Warwick also says that there could be frequent winter white-outs on the East Tamar Highway above the mill site, caused by the steam from the massive pulp drier located just down the hill. The potential for serious accidents as drivers brake in fog appears very high, particularly with loaded B double log trucks dominating the road.

The conversion of the relatively unspoiled Tamar region to an industrial area subject to pervasive stinking fogs, is likely to result in it’s rapid degradation as a living environment, as a tourism destination and for fine food production.

Aggressive cancer

The situation has highlighted 11 critical problems that together deny taxpayers a fair society, divert funding from essential services and destroy any sense of democracy.

These are:
1. Taxation without representation (elected representatives won’t listen)
2. Conflicts of interest on decision making bodies are tolerated (no enforcement)
3. Risks of hazardous or injurious projects are not independently assessed
4. Forestry is excluded from laws that apply to all others (law unto themselves)
5. Forestry requires subsidies far in excess of the returns and benefits it offers to Tasmanians
6. Taxpayers excluded from legal and other avenues of redress (PMAA Sec 11)
7. Outputs of forestry are harming taxpayers (smoke, trucks, toxins etc)
8. Subsidies and laws accelerate conversion of food production land to trees
9. Laws lock forestry land use in perpetuity
10. Forestry able to seek redress that is denied to everyone else (e.g. sovereign risk agreement)
11. Opportunity costs of the mill’s use of resources not studied

While there may have been a time when certain of the forestry favours were needed, that time must be long past by now. The pain is currently being shared by our beleaguered health, care and education services who are suffering a lack of funding and support, as if the government’s focus had drifted from taxpayer to industry priorities.

Climate change, fuel costs, drought, finance and other factors are all giving us signals that we are facing major upheavals. In this environment, the production of pulp from trees cannot possibly be so important that our social systems and other industries that rely on water, land and forests should come under threat.

Whole system is sick

The opportunity costs show why industrial forestry is a bad investment. There is no justification for the huge amounts of fuel required to bulldoze a way into forests, cut down and prepare whole trees, ship them via B double to Long Reach to be sent to Europe for conversion to bio diesel. What are the chances that the energy going in is worth more than the bio diesel coming out? It’s the resource and cash subsidies that are making this dog of a business possible, like our own blood feeds a cancer that is killing us.

The water equation is little better. If the water planned for the mill was sold at 10c per litre, it would be worth $2.6 billion dollars per year! In an age delineated by water shortages and fuel price increases, the entire pulp mill business is clearly a loser.

Australians are paying one of the world’s highest tax rates (near 50% income required to meet whole cost of governments) yet Tamar residents are getting no attention from their government, no information, no assistance and no representation. Meanwhile people’s property investments, their health, their lifestyles, their businesses, their futures, and for some their land, are being traded away behind closed doors to give the cosseted logging industry even more advantages.

Any group that could rely on regular subsidies, and that was freed from many of the legal constraints that applied to everyone else, and that was allowed to judge its own performance and determine its own penalties, would be likely to become a problem. Creating such a monster is a mistake because human nature is too uncertain and variable for us to trust one industry with such powers. Why should they be above the laws that apply to everyone else?

Dealing with the cancer

We need to repair our immune system and remove the cancer.

Forestry must perform to the free market, then we can divert forestry subsidies into uses with real taxpayer returns. Tree plantation schemes need to be regulated to assure that resources, like water, are not taken from other industries and urban centres. We need to audit our food producing lands to assure ourselves the strategic flexibility to grow enough food for our needs in a time of climate unpredictability.

The public needs proper accountability from forestry and needs protection from any excesses, they must stop judging their own cases. We need to remove conflicts of interest from decision making bodies. We need our public services to serve the public not, as with DAFF, being servants to industry growth. We need our tax dollars to be applied preferentially to essential services for taxpayers, not diverted into logging. We need full discussion and disclosure of all resource, legal and financial subsidies going to such industries.

We need our paid representatives to represent us. We need political role models for our children that hold taxpayer interests in high regard and that act to raise the quality of our lifestyle, instead of degrading it.

When our politicians hold one sector above all others and exhibit a lack of care for peoples health and safety, they provide tacit permission for all of those in our society who want to advance their own selfish ends without regard to others.

Politicians that preach the law, yet support the application of different standards to favoured groups send out all of the wrong signals that give tacit approval to lying and deception. People with little to lose or who are resentful, are going to take government belligerence as tacit permission to be belligerent themselves. Stone throwing, tire spiking, violence, are all symptomatic of increasing losses of control over our social systems.

It’s not just Lennon that’s the problem.

The cancer that our governments have allowed forestry to become, has infected our institutions (RPDC, Councils), our governments (DAFF), our unions, while causing pain and dismay for tens of thousands of taxpayers. The community divisions that it sustains cannot be healed as long as we’re suffering pain created by depleting and degrading our valued resources.

The production of high value building timbers is one thing, the clearance of our forests and lands to make bio diesel and pulp is another.

We need to focus on what we could be without the cancer, re-conceive our lives and learn to improve our situation and become more efficient as users of declining energy and water supplies.

We are the ones that are suffering. The problem is ours to address.

We need to sort this mess out before it metastises!

Watch this space.

Mike Bolan

Mike is a complex systems consultant, change facilitator and executive and management coach.

Mike Bolan

The cancer that our governments have allowed forestry to become, has infected our institutions (RPDC, Councils), our governments (DAFF), our unions, while causing pain and dismay for tens of thousands of taxpayers. The community divisions that it sustains cannot be healed as long as we’re suffering pain created by depleting and degrading our valued resources.