Just who should be certified?

AUTHOR Jared Diamond, in his groundbreaking 2005 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, has a small seven or eight-page section on the creation and development of the Forest Stewardship Council in the early 1990s, and its progress to 2003-2004.

He concludes that: “The effectiveness of the Forest Stewardship Council has received the ultimate compliment from logging companies opposed to it: they have set up their own competing certification organisations with weaker standards ‚Ķ It remains to be seen whether, in the future, these competing industry attempts at self-certification will be outcompeted by the FSC through losing credibility in the eyes of consumers, or will instead converge on FSC standards in order to gain credibility.”

We know how this scenario has played out in Tasmania since Diamond published Collapse. In 2005, Tasmania’s forestry industry, with the exception of Tasmanian Workers For Forests, but including all the corporate heavyweights such as Gunns, the pro-Gunns business community, unions and both main political parties, Labor and Liberal, were deadset opposed to FSC.

They saw FSC as a threat to forestry practices which dominated the Tasmanian industry, usually described as clearfelling sections of forest, called coupes. In opposition to FSC the Australian forestry industry created its own internal standards, spruiked as world’s best practice.

The basis of the entrenched opposition to the FSC standard was that it gave a voice to those who had no vested economic interest in forestry practices, but who paid the costs, not just economic but social and environmental as well.

Destruction of the Amazon rainforest was a pertinent example. FSC was designed to ensure a sustainable industry based on sustainable forests where local and regional communities were not destroyed by fouled water, erosion of soil, wreckage of other rural industries and environmental mayhem.

FSC structure has three equal chambers, one represents industry, one represents community or social interests and one represents environmental impacts.

It is easy to see why, over time, the global marketplace has generally rejected self-certification, but Tasmania ignored that. When the London Olympic Games refused to use Tasmanian timber, the automatic response was that “extremists” had undermined Tasmania’s place in the market.

The reality is the UK joined the FSC system well before the Olympic Games and Tasmanian practices and policies did not meet FSC standards. The UK decision should have served as a wake-up call, but it didn’t.

The Tasmanian industry and most Tasmanian politicians at state and federal level thought the Japanese would continue to ignore FSC standards into the indefinite future. They were wrong. On the last trip Premier David Bartlett made to Japan on behalf of Gunns he came home with the message that it was “all the way with Gunns to be granted FSC certification”.

But Bartlett and all his successors reckoned FSC certification could be treated as a commodity, picked off a shelf and put on like a Lycra bike outfit and it would be business as usual. All they had to do was get control of the three FSC chambers and certification would be as easy as self-certification had been.

All that looked sewn-up in 2013, with the Greens-ENGOs locked into the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement legislation, agreeing to clearfelling here and there and the establishment of monocultural plantations wherever clearfelling had already taken place. By then the FSC Tasmania social chamber was controlled by the same people who controlled the industry chamber, which was easy to do, so there was now little to impede a complete shift away from self-certification to FSC.

The application went in the pipeline, regarded as a fait accompli, endorsed by all players in the game, well, those players who were chosen to be in the game in 2009-2010, which didn’t include the public interest, deliberately excluded.

The UK decision should have served as a wake-up call, but it didn’t.

But one of the first acts of the Hodgman Government after the 2014 election was to repeal the TFA, shattering the industry-community-environmental accord that essentially formed the basis for a successful application for FSC certification. Forestry Tasmania then made its own application much more difficult to achieve, quite spectacularly, by their behaviour in the Tarkine.

The Government didn’t help either, with its draconian anti-protest legislation.

In fact, if FSC certification had been granted to Forestry Tasmania, the FSC brand would have lost much credibility, both in Australia and internationally.

Ironically, Forestry Tasmania’s failure to get FSC is intrinsically bound to clearfelling, adopted in the 1990s to transform the local industry to bulk woodchips, an industry that imitated what was happening in the Amazon, in Indonesia and elsewhere, designed to destroy natural forests permanently in order to replace them with monocultural plantations.

Tasmania is now Plantation Isle, as is obvious to any tourist who ventures beyond the Midland Highway, but plantations without a future, devoid of hope, planted in the expectation the woodchip world would last forever, or at least for the next century.

This is all old news.

Tasmania has squandered its chance for a high-quality forestry industry, wrecked water catchments beyond repair, destroyed rural communities and wasted millions annually for several decades in doing so, with nothing to show for it but loss.

Since the 1990s the Tasmanian rural landscape has been transformed by this idiocy. The cost is beyond calculation.

Perhaps the decision to deny FSC certification to Forestry Tasmania will give Tasmanians the confidence to question why it is that so much of Tasmania’s resources are squandered for no return, to question why it is that their most precious of resources, water and soil, have been destroyed, and continue to be destroyed, for no reason.

Perhaps Tasmanians will now have the confidence to challenge the self-serving policies of all political parties when it comes to matters pertaining to forestry, for none of them have served the public interest well, whether it be Labor, Liberal or the Greens. All of them have abrogated the public interest.

Perhaps Tasmanians will now see reason to ask why it is necessary for sterilisation burns in water catchments, which blanket Hobart in smoke annually. Or do Tasmanians see it as part of the calendar, integrated in the cycle of seasons like cricket and football, Christmas and Easter, summer and winter?

One thing is certain. The way the FSC system operates in Tasmania needs to be under close public scrutiny.

If Tasmanians allow the FSC certification process to be hijacked by those with a vested interest in matters forestry, including the ongoing integration of Plantation Isle into a never-ending repetition of large-scale industrial logging, the social, economic and environmental costs will never be addressed, but continued until inevitable collapse.

There is also an immediate need for FSC itself to tighten its own permits in relation to the use of hazardous pesticides in forestry, an issue which suggests FSC standards are on the slide, and an issue pertinent to how Tasmanian industrial forestry operates.

Peter Henning is a Tasmanian author and historian.

Originally Published at http://www.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/talking-point-just-who-should-be-certified/news-story/98792f11b17439667b9de536edb10bb5#load-story-comments

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