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Gleebooks event re Forest Wars

 

7th August 2007
 
Mixed quality event on past and future of forest industry at Gleebooks this Wednesday 8th August 07
Mood - Special
 
Topic - Economy
 
 


Last Sunday night's 60 Minutes show had a strong report on the devastation of forests and their fauna by a 4 million tonne a year pulp mill project that broad sections of Tasmanian and Australian society oppose:

Pulp friction, Sunday, August 5, 2007

With webcast listed as available here for 5th August 2007 but it seems to not be loading. It is first choice at their video library and we thought it might be jammed for high traffic at the time of writing. But after making some calls it seems webcast provider ninemsn may not have made it available to the 60 Minutes homepage(?!). Curious. We left a taped message with someone called Sean. We sent an email to seek clarification to customer.service@ninemsn.com.au

You can also find it here on YouTube:

You can also find it here on YouTube:

      
      
 
 
In any case it's very timely to hear where the national industry has gone wrong economically as here:

Wednesday, August 08, 2007 / 6.30 for 7pm           Event / In Conversation            Judith Ajani
The Forest Wars
Published by: Melbourne University Press
Judith Ajani and Henry Pens in conversation with Liz Jackson

Venue: gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe
Cost: $10/$7 conc. gleeclub welcome
Book: gleebooks - 9660 2333 or Request a place
Buy The Forest Wars

The_Forest_Wars
Australia's long-unresolved forest conflict has been the make-or-break factor in federal elections for the last few decades, with both parties often arguing that the four-decade-old forest conflict has no practical solution. They are wrong. Australia's existing plantations can meet virtually all the nation's wood needs and replace all native forest woodchipping. Australia can have a large, highly competitive and prosperous forest industry without logging native forests.

Ajani suggests that Australia's forest conflict persists only because government has not let new, economically superior products displace environmentally inferior products in the market. Behind this failure lies silenced plantation processors, failing bureaucracies, government-created extraordinary native-forest-woodchipping profits and destructive union behaviour. She documents and examines each in detail, and proposes a new forest policy for Australia, calling on individuals in the power sector -- business people and politicians -- to commit themselves to breaking down the obstructions.

Judth Ajani is Australia's foremost expert on the forestry industry and has 22 years of Australian forest industry research and policy experience. She managed Victoria's forest industry policy for the state's industry department in the second half of the 1980s; established an economic consultancy focussed on forestry in the early 1990s; and entered the Australian National University in the mid-1990s to concentrate on forest industry research.

Henry Pens, former CEO of CSR Timber in the mid 1990s oversaw Australia' biggest sawmilling and wood panels business. Judith's discussions with Henry in his retirement were integral to the book.

Liz Jackson is an award-winning ABC journalist currently working for 4 Corners.

..................

Declaration: SAM's editor has been given a free entry to report the event.

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Postscript #1 9th August 2007

 

Report – Tom McLoughlin

 

Judith Adjani Gleebooks event in front of 20 people was an exercise in frustration mitigated by Ex CSR CEO Henry Pens admissions – it’s land barons not good economics, corrupt state agencies not good policy. We noted others like Vika of Tas TWS and ACF loyalists Margaret Barnes, Bruce Dover. Melbourne University Press represented by Terri King. A business minded woman sitting behind. A 30 something suit to my side. And good natured lefty luvvies the rest wine glass in hand.

 

When do academic economists become part of the forest conflict problem, along with Big Media vultures like Liz Jackson at 4 Corners? How uncomfortably similar to rock spider National Party politicians and careerist union thugs like Michael O’Connor have these become feeding off an intractable land use fight? Voyeurs rather than seeking real solutions? Reporting the demise of forests, witness to a massive eco crime but doing little or nothing to stop the sleep walk by western civil society to ecological suicide?

 

These are the disturbing questions this writer came away with after the small book event for Judith Adjani’s Forest Wars. The clue is in the title to the book itself – Forest Wars is in fact the name of video of 1995 by Maria Taylor then a Canberra Times journalist with subheading “The Fight for Coolangubra”. This writer helped Taylor promote the video in Sydney back then as an organiser for The Wilderness Society, and that experience is instructive of just what a scratched record this whole policy area has become and why there was such a “poor booking” (as advised a day before) for Adjani’s presentation -  perhaps worse until this writer took time to email and promote the event some more.

 

That video was “produced in association with Dr Tony Norton, now Professor, who led the signature of 100 scientists to help save Tasmania’s forests in the federal election in 2004. Norton is a great and good forest ecologist of first class scientific reputation based at Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at ANU in Canberra – where Judith Adjani is also based, previously. So the provenance of this ‘new’ book is quite obvious for those who know such things. One assumes it’s an update of endless updates of an unfolding horror this “last 40 years” in ecological terms that makes Silence of the Lambs looks like an Assembly of God Sunday School. (An allusion we like because the A of G is a well known pro logger church there in Orbost and elsewhere.)

 

Adjani is better known formerly as Judy Clark, a paid consultant of The Wilderness Society of the early 90ies, a resource economist with expertise on manufacturing in the timber or more accurately logging industry. Judy was well known back then since 1990 or so as a paid consultant not volunteer supporter of the TWS. We thought it was to make a living but we are not so sure now as per the preface above. As complimentary as she is of “only the environment movement has got it right” for their economic analysis around the massive plantation sector dominating the industry, Judith Adjani is not much of an environmentalist really and not much of a realist on political economy in this area.

 

These are harsh comments but they must be made to go forward in this policy area. And it’s painful to say so such because Adjani/Clark been a hero of mine for 15 years - like meeting a flawed rock star in person. The impertinent Big Media ‘reptile’ Jackson too. The only person who really added to the sum of knowledge at the event was Henry Pens retired CEO of CSR Timber division in Australia. Strange to say this writer was openly in agreement and endorsed in his views by Pens far more than these other two ‘progressives’ on the platform literally as I was guillotined by the impatient, impertinent Jackson desperate to get to her dinner maybe (we had already eaten) or just scared she wasn’t the smartest journo in the room.

 

We noticed with wry amusement as Jackson was struck by our comment from the floor that woodchipping is mostly about “privatisation of public land in high rainfall areas” and the big companies indulge “humbug and hogwash in support of native forest logging” while really in full support and agreement of Adjani’s thesis that plantations are economically the future and far more efficient. Jackson had none of that in her recent 4 Corners story – because she is out of her depth. Just gawking, not understanding what she sees. Adjani says these plantings of the 60-80ies are the old grievance created out of forest clearings that paradoxically provide the solutions today with huge glut of volumes dominating all other sources.

 

But we say - and the weak attendance at the event proves the point because no current big industry or union or political figures in a hot election year turned up as Adjani gets the freeze out from the Establishment, the loggers want it all – full clearing for massive woodchip volumes, conversion of public land to in effect privatised plantation in high rainfall areas and multiplied expansion of an already huge huge plantation resource. As Bob Brown said recently on 9's  60 Minutes last week “their greed knows no end”. Quite true.

 

And Henry Pens supported Adjani’s technical economic excellence but with “different conclusions” as to their meaning around “land use”. He admitted he was very politically na´ve too during his tenure about the political war within the industry let alone outside during his tenure in the CSR “command centre”  in the 90ies (controlling literally 1/2 million tonnes of sawn timber per annum dwarfing the native forest sawn timber sector). Business success he understood, politics not until he withraw most of $1/2 million pa  to logger lobby NAFI.

 

But really it’s not surprising we see past Adjani and Jackson. This writer is an expert on this issue back to 1992. It’s our real raison d’etre. If only we were “the economic rationlist forest minister” in a Green government that Adjani calls for to stop the woodchipping of native forest obscenity.

 

Adjani is very smart in her technical area and very instructive in that sense but disappointingly limited on the political dimensions notwithstanding the  ‘revelations about political thuggery’ in her new book according to Jackson. Liz Jackson as MC who did the piece on the Tasmanian pulp mill last Monday night (harshly criticised by community media practitionerTuffin in Crikey.com.au a few days later) only seemed to pander to Adjani’s limits in this respect, Jackson being famous for exploiting/reporting (your choice) the conflict in East Timor for a Walkley award winning report which many over there still swear was a bogus set up in a highly politicised milieu against the Fretilin Govt of now deposed PM Alkatiri.

 

We read a feature by Adjani in The Australian here:

 

ALP up the wrong tree | The Australian

 

with industry union riposte here

 

 Root issues lost in the forest of green policy | The Australian

 

which does indeed suggest interesting new Canberra based political insights about Keating 1994 to 1996 and internal to the industry. But it becomes clear Adjani doesn’t get some major political realities that I do with insights honed as a formerly quite successful elected local politician in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. Clark/Adjani thinks the big politicians will eventually come to the party due to compelling market forces of plantation economic dominance but hopelessly fails to address the politics against her this last 12 years in the core states of NSW, Vic, and especially Tasmania. The 12 year history that proves she has lost the argument as have the green movment in the brutal form of governance that passes for democracy in Australia.

 

This writer is a central figure in the NSW dynamic even if you only read that in a self referential way here. But this report evidences the truth of the claim because everyone else seems to have lost the real threads and history while we have 5 filing cabinets to remind us. And it goes like this: Carr won the 1995 election on the back of the forest dispute. From the private members 1993 South East Forest Protection Bill, to protests across the state, to marginal seat campaigns in 3 critical urban seats like Coogee. Carr mentioned these seats in his surprised victory speech March 25th 1995 for carrying him to success. That was this writer as a local candidat, it was The Wilderness Society marginal seats campaign in the city and tens of thousands of public submissions on identified wilderness areas to the Fahey Govt, it was the forest protesters at Eden Chip mill, it was a nascent Green Party under Ian Cohen MLC,  and all the other associated activity in a close contest of which the Maria Taylor video above documented. It was centrally people like me as NSW Campaign Coordinator of The Wilderness Society 93-94.

 

These were the political precursors to what Adjani calls the “beautiful to watch” reorganisation of the industry by premiers like Bob Carr with some commitment to change until he went off the rails and like in Qld (Beattie) and WA (Gallup). But what Adjani fails to understand is that it all started with hard grovel in NSW in 92-95 delivering victory to Carr. Not economics, but hard fought politics. Thus Beatie and Gallup saw what worked in NSW 1995 politically in a tight contest and like good state govt traditional monkey see, monkey do, adopted the model. As such Beattie and Gallup won close electoral contests too. But like the best students they applied and exceeded the lesson of tutor Carr by actually doing what Carr only promised, that is, shut down the woodchip trashing of native forests in favour of the existing plantation sector – breaking the corrupt cross subsidy corporate welfare using plantations profit of the latter to the former. It’s a matter of history Carr failed to do that from 1998 in a sell out to the dinosaur CFMEU/native forest loggers. Thus Gallup and Beattie exceeded Carr who eventually was exposed an unprincipled dandy and a sham by 2005 driven out of office by damning polls.

 

Adjani seems to airbrush all this political land use reality at least in her talk not having read her book: The close election contest as essential motivation for Big Politics to do the right economic and environmental thing by the public interest. The reality that with big seats or polling margin all the evidence federally, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania is that the big parties will ignore real reform, be extremely cynical and pander to big industry and unions to destroy all the public forest in conversion to industrial plantation either directly or incremental, rather than protect the public interest. They can get the business union donations and run a few greenwash adverts to smother the Green Party, this writer, Adjani or any one else to sustain their fat majority with no real reform. They won't take the cure like Qld, WA. A few new reserves just moving the bulldozers around on the chess board with volumes of forest destroyed never decreasing. It’s a freeze out of the public.

 

And that’s why Adjani is wrong like a morbid voyeur to keep promoting the existing massive plantation estate as solution and source of reform for the environmental disgrace of native forest intensive logging while it is obviously being scorned all this time. The lack of reform for the last 11 years in the main conflict states proves that in stark contrast to SA, WA, Qld, ACT. The political reform is not happening in NSW, Vic or Tas. Rather it’s going backwards into dinosaur territory at a great rate of knots and Adjani seems to be in denial about that.

 

At one highly revealing moment in the discussion event her undoubted fan Jackson asked Adjani “Why aren’t you cutting through, why don’t the [Govt/industy] get it?”

 

“I don’t know” the ‘expert’, Adjani quite honestly admitted. And she’s right. She doesn’t. But this writer thinks he does. But when I tried to actually get to two realistic rather than fantasy “circuit breakers” to stop this disgrace 70 minutes into the meeting I was interrupted ruthlessly by Jackson, as if to say, no we won’t have anything to actually solve this disaster, no show without punch, lets just keep the whole 12 year bad joke rolling. At least that’s how I took it.

 

We submitted against interference to the gathering that the new policy areas of main impact on the forest debate coming now are mega fires (from landscape change by loggers drying out wet ecosystems) and secondly the role of privatising profitable public plantation hopefully to break the corrupt cross subsidy within native forest state agencies managing both resources plantation and natural forest ie corporate welfare to private loggers/chippers.

 

Henry Pens retired CEO laughably interrupted Jackson and Adjani to make this surprising revelation at my plea scoffed at by them “I offered to buy the plantations from the Premier”. Pens surely knows, as this writer does, that real reform is not about good economics, and good land use policy, it's about the politics of land use empire building. And that’s why most of Adjani’s talk was a repetitive rehash 10 years stale with scant regard or understanding of the brutal money politics of the ALP and Coalition sellout to expanded native forest chipping in Tas, Vic and NSW with increasing volumes in 10 years despite burgeoning plantation sector. Adjani can talk about the potential solution for resource and employment from existing plantations as for SA, WA, Qld and ACT until she is blue in the face, but it’s a solution that none of the big power players are listening too in SE Australia. Both sides of politics, excepting the Greens in that stereotype, have already decided to betray the public interest and our ecological future in native forests in the south eastern states and Adjani, and quite a few others appear in denial of that. We greenies fought the good fight, and we lost.

 

Adjani says the govt should hold the plantation assets for some kind of public policy solution by govt when in reality the plantation profits to govt are just a honey pot for corrupt corporate welfare to native forest loggers this last 11 years in the hands and there is absolutely no indication or interest by the feds or south eastern states to change that. The publicly owned plantation profits are funding unprofitable privately run native forest destruction on our public land (the roading, the govt overseers, the fire safety, the management plans)  as per the last 11 years to convert public heritage to more private plantation. It’s as cynical and ugly as that. If that corrupt cross subsidy within state govt agency budgets is not broken Adjani and her acolytes will be old and grey waiting for federal or state govt in south eastern Australia to voluntarily show any interest in reform in those traditional political strongholds. The govt(s) support the native forest conversion for the same reason they supported clearing for plantations in the 1960-80ies. More plantation, more profit, less public native forest heritage, less environment, less public interest. It's money, its snouts in troughs, its incumbency, its corruption.

 

The govt and industry fully agree with Adjani on one level – the future is all about plantation efficiency so its annexe the public land for that too.

 

And Adjani’s error on this political fix betraying the public heritage and eco system services is reflected on her airbrushing of other serious concerns which does her no credit -  the massive plantation fed Tumut pulp mill has more than “bad smells a few days” on its ecological impact profile. There is the massive effect on water table only compounded by a 40,000 ha rollout of stage 2 of new plantings. That’s massive landscape change that Commissioner Cleland said needed a whole new Planning Strategy, never progressed in a corrupt govt. Adjani also forgot to note Peter Garrett then of ACF now ALP politician was at the opening of the Tumut mill (not just now Senator Christine Milne and Virginnia Young of The Wilderness Society). Not this writer though who was never invited but who actually did the work attending the Commission of Inquiry at Tumut. Notice Greenpeace were not invited there either because they know its not all happy green capers on the plantation front.

 

The govt industry and union in south eastern Australia want all the plantation and conversely the native forest destruction they can get in Tas, Vic and NSW and that’s the sad truth of it. There will be no reform into existing plantations without massive grassroots political upheaval in close election contests as per NSW 1995 or WA and Qld late 90ies, or the creative destruction of capitalism breaking the internal corrupt subsidy in state forest agencies delivering corporate welfare to such as Gunns and Eden chip mill. Mind you this latter intervention by the market is fraught as well. As Adjani correctly states new owner Super funds churning ownership is no great basis for rational expansion of a manufacturing base, only we think it has more chance of changing this disastrous cross subsidy destroying the ecology of forests than anything else conditional on this: There must be full competition by the plantation sector with the native forest sector as regards a new private owner (as CSR tried to do in the 90ies in NSW but was blocked by Carr apparently). Otherwise the corrupt cross subsidy from plantation to native forest clearance/conversion (including creeping conversion) will simply shift from the govt balance sheet to the private industry balance sheet – say inside Gunns Ltd or maybe Boral.

 

We would like to be wrong. We would like Adjani’s optimistic view of federal or state politics seeking reform for the best industry, and ecological outcomes. Only hard experience of the last 12 years suggests totally the opposite and denial on her part. She said Peter Garrett responded to her book a few days ago about a meeting request saying it was “difficult times” and maybe in the future (sounding like never), while Malcolm Turnbull has made no response at all (which may just be more encouraging ironicly).

 

We hear alleged union ‘thug’ Trevor Harkin has been done over in the seat of Franklin this morning, a sensitive seat in Tasmania, and presumably a big logger/pulp mill fan. Actually this report suggests in fact he was something of a greenie so more credit to him: Pressure grows on ALP man | The Australian

 

We hear Premier Iemma in NSW attacking ‘corrupt’ federal govt support for a native forest logger mill employing people in another seat of Monaro. But these sound like shifting political deckchairs on the Woodchip Ship Titanic. The ALP and Coalition have a corrupt forest policy this last 12 years and in the words of Kevin Rudd ALP leader, its identical to the Howard Govt. Which means a pulp mill and massive clearance for yet more new plantation in an expanding global resource boom feeding India, Japan and China. As we said ecological suicide led by redneck ALP and Coalition.

 

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