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Timber and Politics

30 Mar 2010


The recent election has seen anti-forestry groups claiming the result was a major win in the forestry debate for The Greens.  Any objective analysis of the result and the campaign shows this is not so.

The election result, purely in a forestry sense, is the two major parties with a positive approach to forestry secured approximately 80% of the primary vote whilst the Greens with their anti-forestry agenda secured 20% of the vote.  Of course the election was not only about forestry but never-the-less that is the raw result.

Groups seeking to claim victory for their cause can and will always twist the outcome to read as a win.  Let us start with Our Common Ground, a group supposedly set up to stop the division caused by the forestry debate.  Seemed ideal at the start until their advertisements appeared and the spokespeople were revealed as the same prolific anti-forestry campaigners.  Common ground cannot be achieved by outlining one sides manifesto and refusing to countenance anything else.

The “forestry debate” has degenerated in to one about native forest harvesting or plantation harvesting.  The true situation is both have merits and drawbacks depending on your perspective.

Australians have demonstrated they still desire high quality timber such as furniture, flooring, architraves, timber window frames, craft etc. These high quality products can only be produced from native forests.

Plantation wood has its place but is prone to blemishes in the timber during processing and even small imperfections can make a sawn board unsuited to high value uses.  No-one with even basic forestry knowledge believes plantation grown wood can be substituted for our exceptional native forest timbers.

Industry opponents concentrate almost exclusively on woodchips but never acknowledge woodchips are made from leftover timber unsuited for a higher value products.  Woodchips provide everyday items such as the newspaper you are reading, beer coasters, writing pads, sanitary napkins and a myriad of other items. 

Wood and plant-fibre based materials are the only materials that we have at our disposal which are truly renewable.  The International Panel for Climate Change said

 “stopping all forest harvest would increase forest carbon stocks, but would reduce the amount of timber and fibre available to meet societal needs. Other energy-intensive materials, such as concrete, aluminium, steel, and plastics, would be required to replace wood products, resulting in higher Greenhouse Gas emissions” (Gustavsson et al., 2006). (p.549)

The real challenge for all three political parties and advocates for and against the forest industry is to now approach this long-running debate from the perspective of genuinely seeking resolution by compromise on the part of all, not just demanding change from one side, and by the use of science.

A real test for The Greens will be the extent they can engage in mature dialogue free of ideological dogma and approach their position in the new Parliament reflecting the vote of all Tasmanians, not just their rusted on support group that will not compromise at all in the forestry divide.

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