Forestry Tasmania 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 (eg.. 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 the 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 and 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. 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.
It stretches the bounds of credibility to suggest the decisions to take a helicopter ride and the decision to stage a protest were taken independently of each other.
In a few weeks, another documentary decrying Tasmania’s forest practices will be aired on cable television around the world.
It will claim that industrial logging of native forests is destroying the habitat of the endangered wedge tailed eagle. To the casual viewer, the program will appear to be a genuine investigative documentary, compiled by an independent film company. It will feature interviews with Senator Brown, the Wilderness Society’s Geoff Law, an assorted group of eagle experts and thrown into the mix to add credibility will be comments by Tasmanian Government public servants and the Managing Director of Forestry Tasmania, Bob Gordon.
The conclusion, however, will be that forestry is driving eagles to extinction. What the viewers wont know is that the program is being funded by an anti-forestry activist, who has provided $200,000 on condition that he remains anonymous.
How do we know? Well, the producer Brett Shorthouse told Forestry Tasmania, during negotiations on Bob Gordon’s inclusion in the program. While the anonymity of the businessman behind the project would be protected, Mr Shorthouse did reveal when pressed that the businessman had recently purchased a property in Battery Point. To his credit, Mr Shorthouse has behaved honourably. He has never attempted to hide, and in fact warned FT about the pro-conservation motivation behind the program.
However, we believe people have a right to know who funded the program, so they can make up their own minds about its credibility.
Another cable television documentary by world champion swimmer Ian Thorpe also raised concerns about transparency and balance. FT was approached by Mr Thorpe’s producers asking permission to enter state forests.
Of course, permission was granted, but our invitation to brief Mr Thorpe and to provide a tour of forestry operations was ignored. Instead, Mr Thorpe chose to interview only environmental activists. We would have loved dearly the opportunity to at least put an alternative view to Mr Thorpe, but the producers refused on the grounds that the program was non political and really about entertainment rather than serious discussion. We were therefore somewhat surprised to learn that Senator Brown was a participant. We can only conclude that although Senator Brown draws a politician’s salary, is the leader of a political party, Mr Thorpe does not believe Senator Brown is a politician.
Readers of Richard Flanagan’s articles in the UK Telegraph and the Monthly magazine might be forgiven for believing the articles were entirely researched by the author without any outside assistance. It might well come as a surprise for those readers to learn that a few months prior to the publication of the articles, Mr Flanagan flew by helicopter to the Styx Valley with Greens Leader Bob Brown. The excursion was organised not by Mr Flanagan, but by Senator Brown’s office. It was Senator Brown’s office that contacted FT seeking permission to land a helicopter on state forests, and we therefore assume the trip was funded by Senator Brown and perhaps, taxpayers. I am the first to admit that FT does not know the purpose of the trip, and there is every possibility that it was in no way related to the articles written by Mr Flanagan. Nevertheless, it is important for readers, especially those who thought the articles were compelling, to know about the trip. It may assist in helping them to understand why only one side of the forestry debate was presented. To date, Mr Flanagan has not made any attempt to speak to Forestry Tasmania.
General Manager Corporate Relations
Republished with permission from Forestry Tasmania’s electronic newsletter. Register for this newsletter by contacting email@example.com.