In their pro-logging, pro pulp mill pursuit of victories in the marginal seats of Bass and Braddon in Tasmania, both major political parties appear unable to see the election-winning potential on the mainland that they are passing up.
With increased awareness on issues like climate change and environmental sustainability, we have now reached a tipping point where most of the Australian electorate is “moderate green”. Let me refer to them as the Moderate Green Majority (MGM). Political leadership that embraces environmental vision - and the courage to escape from intransigence on forest industry issues in Tasmania, can become a competitive advantage to the Coalition or Labor - and it won’t necessarily cost the seats of Bass and Braddon.
As the community becomes better informed about the implications of the proposed pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, even Tasmanians (who have either been too afraid to speak up, or brainwashed into the “more jobs from timber” myth), are seeing the issues more clearly and becoming vocal. Momentum is shifting. A pro pulp mill policy is not necessarily a winning strategy in Bass or Braddon, nor is failure to stop the destruction of globally significant old growth forests in the state.
The recent support for the pulp mill by Treasurer Costello and Premier Lennon as being “good for the economy”, and “safe for the environment”, is wrong on both counts. The independent consultant’s report missed the fact that the few hundred additional jobs that the mill creates in the short-term, will be outweighed many times over by the job losses from tourism, wine and agricultural industries destined to suffer under this flawed proposal.
The mill will create pressure for more plantation monocultures in northern Tasmania, affecting the viability and hydrology of neighbouring farming land, and will increase pressure to continue the use of old growth logs for wood chipping. Mill induced air pollution in Launceston and the Tamar Valley, marine pollution, high water demands and at least 650 more log truck movements daily, will have a devastating effect on the tourism, wine, produce and fishing industries in the north.
It is in direct contradiction to the clean, green image that Tasmania promotes nationally and internationally, and would inevitably reduce the visitor potential. The short sighted trashing of the very essence of what makes Tasmania attractive, is economic and environmental vandalism. Taken further, it will herald an insidious decline in Tasmanian tourism.
Sadly, tourism authorities in Tasmania have been silent. While many individuals within these organisations would like different outcomes, “Tassie Inc” can be ruthless with dissenters. “Silence for survival” has been the mantra within Government ranks.
What then are alternatives that might be acceptable to the MGM? While opinions vary widely on forest industry issues, a policy that contained renewable plantation timber to marginal agricultural land, restricted the rate of silviculture expansion, and cleaned up its current destructive management practices, would be broadly acceptable. Selected logging of old growth in certain areas for high value added timber products (not wood chips), would probably also be supported by the MGM.
A new pulp mill is not required to support these positions. There are also unlimited opportunities for Tasmania to shine in agriculture and horticulture, and downstream value added produce and wine. Tasmania could become globally famous for its food and wine products and journeys. This would generate significant economic benefits and enable enormous tourism growth as a result. It could be further supported by equitable incentive based investment schemes, rather than those currently biased towards forest industries.
Add to this scenario a blueprint that conserves, protects and provides responsible access to, the globally significant natural assets in Tasmania, the sustainable economic benefits would far exceed current timber dominated “progress”. Federal Tourism Minister Bailey’s recently announced initiative to allow further privately owned tourist facilities in National Parks, is underpinned by principles of conservation and responsible access. It builds on what Parks and Wildlife Tasmania has forged with private operators, who are stewards of precious resources, and practitioners of sustainable eco-tourism.
This overall alternative scenario is needed before Tasmanians can authentically promote their state as pure, clean, and green. In an increasingly polluted and populated world, it is difficult to over-estimate the value of such assets to Australia.
Will politicians see and/or seize the opportunity for leadership in this area to become an electoral asset? It seems to be a lost cause in Tasmania, with cosy government private sector relationships clouding vision and objectivity.
At a Commonwealth level, there may be a different outcome. Environment Minister Turnbull clearly understands the issues and is concerned not only about the mill related marine pollution issues that fall under his watch, but about water use and other issues that are the domain of the state.
There may well be a curved ball to be thrown before the dust settles on the pulp mill as a “done deal”. Shadow Environment Minister Garrett also “gets it” but is shackled by current party positions with the CFMEU. The issues are complex, but there is clearly scope for courageous environmental leadership, that will have the MGM speak at the ballot box. The answers won’t necessarily be provided to the decision makers by polling.
The MGM often reluctantly support the status quo until they are brought along by visionary and balanced leadership that resonates with the strong green conscience - that is latent in us all. Here is an opportunity waiting for a home.