Fairness for our Forest workers


You can almost hear the sigh of relief from Paul Lennon; the days of Latham are long gone. Determined not to make the mistakes of his predecessor, Kevin Rudd has adopted an almost Liberal attitude towards forest policy. Labor is “locking behind” the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement, a move that matches them to the Howard Government’s stance on forestry. Essentially, Labor has agreed to prevent any more old-growth forest from being “locked-up”, or protected. While this move is a step backwards for environmentalists, it’s not exactly a step forward for our timber workers. Unless the futures of all timber workers are considered, how can we be sure that Federal interest on this issue is any more than vote promotion?
The need to access our old-growth forests is an obvious and easy promise. If we are going to have a specialised timber industry and nurture our craftsmen, and if we want to protect and continue the production of leatherwood honey, then these industries need priority access to old-growth forests. But access to these forests is worthless without fair distribution of forest content and impartial management by our Government forestry departments.
At present, craftsmen are given or made to pay for timber that has been picked out like bones from the scrap heap of an already logged forest. Leatherwood trees, only found in Tasmania, are worthless to loggers but priceless to the honey industry. These trees grow along side eucalypts and are clear felled as a by-catch because they are too hard to avoid. An updated audit of the value of public forestry resource is required to prevent precious timber being discounted and taken by the wrong industry. Priority should be given to the least destructive sectors of the timber industry; logging and clear felling should be the last process to move through the forest.
It is easy to conjure up a timber worker cliché. They have been used as a political rag doll by both sides of the forest debate for the past few years now. Many people may envisage the man with a chequered bluey and a beard so bushy it could hide a huntsmen spider; armed with a chainsaw that he flings around with ease. In reality, the stereotype of a gung ho lumberjack that can take down trees in one fell swoop is just easy fiction. Timber workers are our saw millers and log truck drivers, our craftsmen, furniture makers and builders. Many timber workers are fed up with the political business that is impacting their futures. There are over 10,000 people employed by the timber industry and every Tasmanian has ties to a timber worker. From woodchips to furniture, building materials to leatherwood honey, our State economy relies on all of these men and woman who contribute to our State exports. Let’s look after all of them.