Government moves on to next chapter in never-ending story

NO MATTER how the forestry debate ended this year, the state government could only respond in one way: moving on.

The peace talks between industry, environment and union groups have been painfully drawn out.

A search for the word "forestry" in The Examiner's archives brings up 4000 results over the past year.

The fact that they finally reached an agreement, no matter what your opinion on that agreement is, is a small miracle in itself.

But at what cost to our beleaguered Labor-Green government?

Firstly, it exposes their differences in policy.

Greens leader Nick McKim was kind enough to labour the point by making public comments that were guaranteed to outrage those at the other end of the political spectrum.

Secondly, it occupied considerable time, energy and resources.

How can the government hope to be proactive when it is constantly reacting to the latest twist and turn in this saga - rightly dubbed as "never-ending" by Premier Lara Giddings when it became clear the Tasmanian Forest Agreement Bill wasn't going to be carried through the Legislative Council.

Thirdly, it smothers other news.

Notice that this year the government passed legislation through Parliament (yep, both houses) which would allow it to go ahead with the biggest reform of the state's electricity sector since disaggregation?

The changes to come will affect each and every Tasmania who pays a power bill - hopefully for the better.

Don't feel bad if you missed it - that's easily done when forestry dominates the political landscape.

It is for these reasons that the government reacted the way that it did to the effective failure of the bill: Oh well, it's time to move on.

Had the bill passed, it would have been part and parcel of a political achievement that's proven elusive for every state and federal government that's ruled over the past 30 years - resolving the forest wars.

But even if the government had managed to succeed in getting the bill through the Legislative Council it would have had the same reaction: "Good-o, but it's time to move on."

At most, there are 17 months until the next state election.

That's not a lot of time for Labor to turn around its dismal performance in the polls.

That is why Ms Giddings decided to release her $25-million jobs package in the same week that all eyes were focused on the Legislative Council to see whether or not it would block the bill - or worrying about what to buy their aunt for Christmas.

It seemed strange timing - why not wait until there was clean air?

If the package is good news, then the golden rule is to give it maximum breathing space.

The announcement, however, was about sending a message: we are moving on.

Ms Giddings has unveiled her agenda for next year - to focus on jobs, children and opportunities (no one has quite figured out what the latter means yet).

And that is what you will see her doing, no matter what happens from here on in with the Legislative Council's committee into the legislation.

Just consider the media release she issued after the bill failed to pass on the last day of a recalled Parliament.

In it, Ms Giddings said regardless of the outcome of the committee, the government would "get on with the job of diversifying the Tasmanian economy".

She will be up against it, though.

If the federal government makes good on its promise and pulls some $200 million attached to the forest peace deal, her pockets won't be very deep.

The opposition has also got some serious mileage out of the forestry issue.

Can you imagine it letting go?

Another golden rule is: if you are on to a winner, then stick to it.

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