Miranda’s Daily Blog: Day 312
I had a great start to the day… reading the news that Corporate Relations executive of Forestry Tasmania, Ken Jeffreys, is resigning. And his role will not be replaced. Considering that the role of corporate relations has often been one of publicly defending the indefensible, attempting to persuade the public that the destruction of our forests is a good idea… then I think this is a job that tax payers can certainly do without having to foot the bill for.
It seems that Ken Jeffreys’ decision to leave has come about from the now unstable relationship he has with the Tasmanian government, after recently attacking the government over their decision to restructure Forestry Tasmania.
An independent review of Forestry Tasmania released in 2012 provided the government with a range of suggested options for restructuring the Government Business Enterprise, based on the findings. The review found that Forestry Tasmania was “unable to fulfil its obligations under the Government Business Enterprise Act 1995, to operate as a successful business.”
The government is approaching the restructure option of number two. This involves a split between the commercial and non-commercial functions of FT. With the latter being handed over to the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment. The model also involves the wood production land being controlled by the Department, and leased back to FT. The government’s decision came to light through a leaked email written by Ken Jeffreys to FT staff, scathing of the government.
In an interview with the ABC interview Ken Jeffreys stated that he opposed the URS model because it was giving power to the government to make decisions. His concerns were that if there were coupes scheduled to be logged and there was a “campaign” about them, the government may not allow them to be logged. This argument is very interesting, because it really goes to show the underlying and entrenched position of Forestry Tasmania that is so problematic in the first place. The culture of believing they should be over and above the government in their decisions. Time and time again Forestry Tasmania have been unwilling to be accountable to the government and the public. If the forests are state-owned, then why should it be up to FT to decide to destroy them, even if there is a public campaign from the people of Tasmania who want to see these assets protected for the future?
It was in March 2011 that the signs of trouble started to show in the forest negotiations. A promised moratorium on 572,000 hectares of forests was due on the 15th of March. Yet that time came and went, and it was business as usual for forest destruction. Forestry Tasmania failed to do rescheduling work required to get logging operations out of the moratorium area in time. This was not the first or last time that FT would fail to reschedule. The results of which the forests face everyday in Tasmania, as thousands of hectares of high conservation value forests fall. Forests that had been promised protection.
Recently something was uncovered that demonstrates FT’s blatant displays of disregard for public accountability… the purchase of the Southwood mill, a sawmill located in the Huon Valley. This rouge agency spent $3.3 million of tax payer money on the purchase of an asset that is of highly questionable economic benefit and is of negative social and environmental benefit for Tasmanians. Furthermore, they continued to maintain secrecy around the purchase showing a complete lack of transparency and accountability to the public.
The most concerning aspect of this purchase is the implications for the forests. The move could well be interpreted as an attempt by FT to undermine forest protection outcomes. The southern forests that will be destroyed to feed the mill include areas that have been scientifically verified as national and world heritage value.
In a time when the industry is in crisis, the government and FT should be looking at ways to transition the industry out of native forest destruction, otherwise the crisis will only intensify. On the one hand the government are offering a buy out package to retire wood quotas for saw mills. And on the other hand FT has gone ahead and purchased a saw mill. It just doesn’t make any sense. The most sensible and indeed most economical action would be for the government to now retire the quota of wood that has been allocated to the Southwood mill. Retiring the 40,000m3 of wood would contribute to the goal of forest protection. The southwood mill was previously owned by Gunns Ltd. When Gunns sold their saw log quota the government could have taken the opportunity to retire that quota. This would have been a good way to further a solution to the headlock the signatories have been in over reducing wood quotas to allow for the necessary forest protection.
Instead of facing the reality and admitting that the industry is in crisis, that subsidising the native forest industry is no longer acceptable and a change is needed – FT appear to be stubbornly digging their heels in and trying to take the industry down a dead-end path of native forest destruction. Interestingly when the mill was sold last year, FT did not admit that they themselves had bought the dying mill, but actually said that the sale was “a sign of confidence in the Tasmanian forest industry”!
“This whole situation has the grubby fingerprints of a rogue agency all over it, and there are just too many unanswered questions stemming from the secretive way the deal was done” said Kim Booth, Greens spokesperson for Forestry. I agree. And I think it is about time Forestry Tasmania were pulled into line. There has long been problems with the organisation and it is becoming increasingly clear that FT in its current form needs to be abolished.
Click HERE to listen to an interview about Southwood with Kim Booth on ABC radio.