Forestry Tasmania (FT) has set out on a mission to establish a new benchmark for openness and transparency in the debate over the management of our forests.
So far, we have thrown open the doors of our headquarters in Hobart to the media. We have started hosting briefings for the community in our regional offices around the state. We have demonstrated our commitment to admit to mistakes and we are introducing new ways of communicating with our stakeholders (for example, the Branchline e-newsletter).
These build on an already transparent approach. FT is subject to Freedom of Information (FoI). Our three-year wood production plans are freely available, Forest Practices Plans are also made available to the public and we are required by law and through the Australian Forestry Standard to consult widely.
As a Government Business Enterprise, every year our business is scrutinised by Parliament, and every other day, forestry is scrutinised by the media. This high level of scrutiny has resulted in significant improvements. We no longer convert native forest to plantation. We don’t use clearfelling on old growth, unless there is no other safe or viable option. Our regenerated native forests are chemical free and we no longer use 1080 to control browsing animals.
The question now has to be asked is whether the failure of forestry critics to match our level of transparency, is causing a whole generation of Australians to be swindled?
The Wilderness Society is a $12 million business. To continue to survive, it needs confrontation and a sense of crisis. It relies on $9 million in donations so why would people continue to give if there is no imminent threat or crisis? A quick look at the society’s web site will show that every issue is accompanied by a plea for people to give now before it’s too late.
Just as our business is heavily scrutinised, so should theirs be. The Wilderness Society is not subject to Freedom of Information. If it were, we would learn how this organisation works. Without this basic tool, the responsibility of media to question is greater. If the media unquestioningly accepts Green rhetoric as fact, there is every risk that well intentioned Australians could be swindled into handing over cash to solve non-existent crisis.
How much confidence can Australians have in what they hear on the news? Are they getting the full story?
Forestry Tasmania has for the past five months endeavoured to find a solution to the dangerous and illegal protests in the southern forests. The Wilderness Society has consistently refused to discuss the issue, claiming that it has nothing to do with the protests and that FT should talk to those responsible for the protests. FT does not accept the Wilderness Society has no influence over the activities of these groups.
However, in May, FT’s Derwent District took on the Wilderness Society’s recommendation, and approached a group of protesters in the Florentine Valley. These protesters assured FT that they were independent and acted without outside direction. A Memorandum of Understanding was struck allowing FT to complete roadworks and to collect fallen timber in the Florentine Valley without further interference from protesters.
It has now come to light that MoU was in fact submitted to, and edited within, the office of Australian Greens leader Bob Brown. It has since emerged that at least some of the Florentine protesters have simply moved to a different forest where one of Bob Brown’s staff, Adam Burling, is a member of an organisation that organises illegal protests. At no point during the negotiations did the Florentine Group reveal their connection to Bob Brown’s office or his staff.
In June, the same group of protesters organised a protest in an area called the Wedge. In our view, it was no coincidence that Mr Burling requested permission from FT for Senator Brown to fly over the area in a helicopter with a photographer previously used by the Wilderness Society on the very same day that these independent protesters decided to hold their protest action.
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