The two Greens members of the Tasmanian House of Assembly have delivered an alternative budget (The Mercury, 20/06/2018), and it is a howler.
Among the industries they seek to sabotage again is the timber industry – however this time they list their budget line 'Ending Native Forest Logging' along with the sub-heading 'Operational Savings.'
Hilariously, they are claiming savings of $60 million in 2018-19, and $15 million in the subsequent three years, totalling savings of $105 over the next four financial years. However, there are a few things they have overlooked. In fact, they are seriously in error.
They have not included the cost for redundancies of Sustainable Timber Tasmania (STT) staff, or the entitlements they would be due.
They have not included the cost of paying out the locked-in supply contracts for which the government would be sued. This cost would be significant, and in many cases there are no alternative sources of supply. The private forest resource is substantially committed, and most processors would accept more logs if they could get them.
They have not realized that the timber industry has rebounded in most sectors, and is currently turning over around a billion dollars annually in sales. As such, it is paying significant other taxes and charges to the state and commonwealth, including payroll tax, GST, road tax, port taxes, and so on, not to mention the personal income tax paid not only by direct employees, but additionally by the many ancillary jobs emanating from the industry multiplier effect. This industry tax haul dwarfs their projected so-called savings!
Worst of all, they have not realized that ending native forest logging would wipe out the arts-based special timbers manufacturing sector, as almost all of its resource can come only from native forests, and almost all is located only in state forest, and virtually none of it can come from plantations.
The special timbers sector supports 2000 full-time equivalent positions, with a further 8,500 people engaging part-time, or in a hobby capacity. It is a significant economic sector in its own right, and is loved by most Tasmanians. It includes our iconic wooden boat builders, our furniture designers and manufacturers, our wood turners and souvenir-makers serving the tourism market, and our emerging musical instrument-makers, some of whom are gaining international reputations. Special timbers users cannot substitute any other material, as its Tasmanian uniqueness is a crucial element in their business identities, and of its appeal in the market place.
With the sector's demise would go such iconic Tasmanian entities as the Australian Wooden Boat Festival, the woodworking stalls at Salamanca and other markets, the craft shops, the galleries and the regular furniture exhibitions and prize events. The economic contribution lost would be huge, and would be felt in all corners of the state.
Meanwhile, as for the forests, people should realize that we cannot just cease administering the area currently under management by the state forest service, and expect to save money. These areas have roads and bridges that need to be maintained, and if they are not maintained they will present a public safety and liability risk, and the gates would have to be locked. Other costs would include fire-fighting and wildfire mitigation, and weed and other invasive species mitigation, among others. All these are currently managed and paid for by royalties from timber harvested. In the absence of forestry this maintenance and mitigation would continue to be a significant cost, and not something the current parks funding could be stretched to cover.
The poaching of firewood and valuable timbers would run riot, but these are currently minimal, and vigorously contained by the presence of STT and Forest Practices Authority staff.
Sustainable Timbers Tasmania is on track to trade in the black, if it is not already doing so. Despite scurrilous claims, it has not been making significant operational losses, and its forward prospects are good. Many of the previously posted 'losses' have come from book write-downs of assets stripped, as well as the cost of earlier redundancies, when many good people were thrown on the scrap heap. Conversely now, businesses are expanding and hiring, and new businesses are starting.
Contrary to how some would portray them, every forester, every harvester, every saw miller and every carpenter, cabinetmaker, boat builder and wood turner that I know loves the bush, and wants to see our forests managed carefully and properly, both now and for the generations of the future.
Analysts agree that the timber industry is in for a period of prolonged prosperity and increasing demand, both from strong domestic and from international markets. New technologies such as CLT, or Cross-Laminated Timber, are driving a worldwide revolution in the construction sector. In addition to being cheaper and allowing more rapid construction, timber ticks all the boxes on carbon storage and sustainability. Why two members of parliament and a noisy minority in Tasmania cannot support this industry is a mystery.
But wait, there is further mystery! A glance at the Greens' website under policies shows that it does support native forest harvesting and the special timbers industry. They did support both through the Tasmanian Forest Agreement process, and even proposed some new Special Timbers Zones, even if they couldn't identify exactly where they were. This was the policy document under which they contested the recent state election! So what is going on? Is this howler in their alternative budget just a thought bubble reflecting their internal divisions, meagre and skewed research capacity, and general desperation? Or is it a perceived need to respond to the more loopy and vocal of their restless supporters? Or is it both?
The Greens may have a history that emerged from environmental campaigns, but if they expect to remain a party in the Tasmanian parliament and to be regarded as having any amount of worth they will have to deliver statements that have far more credibility than the glib load of nonsense they have paraded before us as their alternative budget. It does not pass even the most basic fiscal analysis, let alone any test of social justice or cultural appropriateness, and it even fails on environmental grounds.
A Tasmanian born and bred, George Harris has been a
self-employed designer (BA Environmental Design) and manufacturer of
furniture and timber products using Tasmania's unique special timbers
for the last 36 years.
He has also worked in local government.
An active member of the Labor party for 28 years, George hopes to turn
that party's policies around to once again be more supportive of the
Tasmanian timber industry. George's website Heartwood: timber, passion, politics
is well worth visiting, especially for photos of his beautiful woodwork
and information about the Cross Laminated Timber process.