Since the late 60’ s Tasmania has been divided over the environment/ development debate. It started with the controversy over the flooding of Lake Pedder through the controversy over the proposal to dam the Franklin River and since the early 80’s over forestry and related issues.

This controversy has split the Tasmanian community and caused a deepening division in the Tasmanian Parliament.

There have been many attempts in the last 25 years to resolve the forestry debate with an EIS into the woodchip industry, a Royal Commission into the forest industry, a Salamanca Agreement and a subsequent Forest and Forest industry strategy and then regional forest agreements .During this time the amount of area of Tasmania in National Parks has been doubled as has the amount of Tasmania that has been recognized as a World Heritage area. Governments have fallen and there have been two terms of Parliament when neither of the major political parties held a majority. In spite of all this, division is just as deep.

The differences flow from different value systems. People of good will have tried to resolve the conflict but without success.

What is disturbing is the increasing bitterness of the debate. Contributors to the Tasmanian Time are increasingly using polemic explaining a different point of view in terms of conspiracy theories or the stupidity of their opponents. This is very dangerous in a democracy.

This week President Obama address students and academics at the University of Notre Dame. There was a great deal of controversy surrounding his address because of his position on abortion. In his address he made a plea for tolerance. Below is a short except from his speech:


”The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son’s or daughter’s hardships can be relieved.
The question - the question then is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without, as Father John said, demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?

……
Now, understand - understand, Class of 2009, I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. Because no matter how much we may want to fudge it - indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory - the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.”

There are people on both sides of the environment debate in Tasmania who are fine human beings it is very distressing to see the demonization that is increasingly a feature of the debate. Much of the differences flow from differing value systems not some monopoly of the truth.

Ultimately the democratically elected members of parliament will make decisions. Reducing them to being agents of some “evil empire” doesn’t help resolving conflict and diminishes the standing of the parliament.

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MICHAEL FIELD

Since the late 60 s Tasmania has been divided over the environment/ development debate. It started with the controversy over the flooding of Lake Pedder through the controversy over the proposal to dam the Franklin River and since the early 80’s over forestry and related issues.