Senator Eric Abetz

Richard Flanagan is well known as an author of fiction. His latest offering about Tasmania's forest industry, published in May's The Monthly, cements that reputation. As demonstrated by his distasteful attack on the then recently deceased former Tasmanian Premier Jim Bacon, Mr Flanagan lets neither common decency nor the facts get in the way of a "good" story.

Tellingly, Flanagan's latest anti-forestry diatribe correctly quotes me as stating that Tasmania's forests are "the best managed in the world," but nowhere in his following 11 pages does he identify any country in the world where forestry is done better. Not one. He is not alone here. Regularly I have put this question to extreme conservationists - including to Senator Bob Brown: "where in the world is forestry done better than in Tasmania?" The answer is always the same - silence. A silence disclosing that Tasmania really is a world leader in renewable forestry. Mr Flanagan made so many false assertions 11 pages would be needed to refute them. For the benefit of the reader, I will confine my rebuttal to a few specific deliberate distortions of fact, and then make a few general comments. Mr Flanagan's venal and illogical dislike of Gunns colours his view of forestry in Tasmania. If Gunns is the greedy, avaricious, money driven company Flanagan claims them to be, why would valuable timber such as myrtle, sassafras, leatherwood and celery-top pine, be left on the ground and burnt, as he erroneously claims, rather than being processed into timber products for a greater return?

To do so makes absolutely no economic sense. The irrefutable fact is that forestry in Tasmania is renewable, and it is world leading. It also provides 10,000 real jobs for real Tasmanian workers and their families - all studiously ignored by this chardonnay champion of the working class. 10,000 people would be out of work if Mr Flanagan and his fellow travellers got their way to close down the Tasmanian forest industry. Typically of the extreme conservation movement, Flanagan constantly resorts to glib, false claims, easily refuted by the actual facts. For example, Flanagan asserts that: " The great majority of Tasmanians appear to be overwhelmingly opposed to old-growth logging". But at the 2006 Tasmanian state election, the Greens party - the only party with a policy to completely end old-growth forestry in Tasmania - polled just 17% of the vote. Their vote actually declined from the previous state election. Hardly a "great majority". Or take the 2004 Federal election. The election where the Labor Party, supported by the Greens, put forward a policy to shut down the Tasmanian forest industry. The result: the Labor Party lost two House of Representatives and a Senate seat while the Greens Senate vote actually declined from the 2001 Federal election. I looked hard, but nowhere did Flanagan mention that 47%of Tasmania's forests are forever protected from harvesting. Or that 79% of Tasmania's old-growth forests, including 53% of the Styx, are similarly protected. That's more than 100,000,000 old-growth trees. And yet he has the gall to seek to mislead your readers with the claim that soon Tasmania's great forests will "belong only to myth ... as the last of these extraordinary places is sacrificed to the wood-chipper's greed ..." Wrong. Untrue. A lie. Tasmania will continue to have 47%of its forests, and 44% of its land mass, protected from harvesting from now and forever. Or take Flanagan's dismissal of the Howard Government's 2004 election policy as "a sop" and "a con." As a result of this policy, another 139,500 hectares of forest was added to the extensive Tasmanian reserve system, 121,200 hectares of that old growth. In fact, far from being "a con," an extra 13,800 hectares of forest - including 700 hectares more old growth forest - was protected than originally pledged.

The UN benchmark for protection of such forest communities is just 10 percent. No wonder no one can refute my claim about Tasmania's forest management being world leading. Flanagan simply cannot seem to get his head around the fact that the use of timber products is legitimate, and it is environmentally friendly. Trees are little more than the physical embodiment of solar energy - just add water and a little nutrient! Trees take carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in their trunks - carbon which remains stored when the trees are turned into wood products or paper - all the while a new tree sucks even more Co2 out of the atmosphere. Forestry is in fact the only carbon positive sector of the economy. And if we don't use trees to make timber, we use greenhouse gas polluting, energy and water guzzling alternatives such as plastic, steel, aluminium or concrete. Old-growth trees are not felled for woodchips, they are harvested in order to make high-quality timber framing and furniture. The residue, rather than being wasted, is converted into paper via woodchips. I find it astounding that an author, someone who makes his living producing books, does not believe that the production of paper is an acceptable use of resources. And contrary to Flanagan's assertions, a miniscule amount of the 20% of old-growth forest available for harvest is clear-felled each year. Just 2,200 hectares, declining to 400 hectares per annum by 2010, is clear-felled and regeneration burned - not for the fun of it, but because science tells us this is the way to ensure that the forest regenerates for future generations. The saddest thing about Flanagan's article is that he falsely portrays Tasmania as a sad, oppressive place riven by bitter division. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tasmania is a vibrant, viable place that has successfully been able to balance both conservation of forests with the maintenance of an ongoing and job-rich forest industry - unlike few places on the planet. Yes, there is an at times bitter and ongoing debate about forestry in the state.

But it is driven not by the people of Tasmania. It is driven by the likes of Mr Flanagan, with false presumptions of moral superiority, who seek to belittle those they disagree with - such as Barry Chipman, whom Flanagan disparages in his piece. The greatest irony is that the 10,000 plus forest workers whose jobs Mr Flanagan seeks to destroy are the very same people who provide him with the paper on which to publish his pieces of fiction.