Forest wars crop up with tiring regularity

I LOST a bet the day I accepted a job at The Examiner.

A former colleague looked up the website as soon as I told him where I was headed.

"What's the front page today? I bet it's forestry," he said.

"Don't be ridiculous," I said. "There's more to Tasmania than forestry."

I was wrong. Then-Gunns chief executive Greg L'Estrange smiled up at me from the cover.

Two months later, I was in a parliamentary inquiry listening to Mr L'Estrange tell a panel of sceptical MLCs that there was no future in Tasmania for woodchip exports.

Eighteen months after that, I was in a crowded press box at Launceston Magistrates Court, listening to a Shakespearean barrister wave away criticism of Gunns accounting practices and explain that his client, chairman John Gay, had acted with innocent intentions when he sold more than three million shares in the failing company.

The past three years have shown me there's much, much more to Tasmania than forestry.

But it's hard to escape the spectre of this industry that has dominated public debate for so long.

It seems I'm not the only one who is sick of it.

An EMRS poll released last week found that 92 per cent of the 800 Tasmanians polled wanted to see an end to the forest wars.

The poll was commissioned by the Special Council, a mix of industry and environmental types who brokered the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement and are now tasked with carrying it out.

It aimed to convince the Liberal Party, Tasmania's likely future government if every opinion poll this year is to be trusted, not to rip up the legislation supporting the agreement as it has promised to do for three years.

It won't work.

Discarding a compromise painfully reached by a mix of well- respected and ideologically polarised individuals representing an immensely broad constituency of interested parties has political momentum.

It is much easier to credit the shrinking of a multimillion- dollar industry to a piece of legislation than to a complex economic web of the high Australian dollar, cheaper and less scrupulous international competitors and bad publicity.

Makes a better prop for television, too.

But simply saying that you are confident the forestry industry will grow if more areas of forest are open for logging is no guarantee.

The anger and anguish of people who have watched their livelihoods dwindle as the industry struggled is palpable.

But it's poor form to blame it on a bundle of environmentalists, or a paper agreement that only came into affect in June after the industry had already faced three years of decline.

That holds true even while a small cohort of hard-core environmentalists prepared to undermine the deal for their own ends keeps protesting.

Tomorrow, I'll leave Tasmania for good to head back to Western Australia.

I'll miss so many things about this pretty little state.

I'll miss the hills and the cold and how seriously you take your food.

I'll miss the way the surface of the Huon is so still it appears Gladwrapped, and the way the autumn rain laughs at your attempts to stay dry and leaves you soggy to the knees.

But I won't miss the forestry debate, because it is stupid.

Tasmania can't keep having do-overs until it gets the industry it wants.

Sometimes it's time to move on.


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