Open Letter to Mr Bill Kelty From Tap Into A Better Tasmania

Mr Bill Kelty

February 27th 2011


Dear Mr. Kelty,

We note that you have volunteered your services as a ‘facilitator’ – or ‘honest broker’ in the words of the PM - of the forest principles negotiations in Tasmania, which for brevity I shall call the ‘roundtable’. TAP Into A Better Tasmania understands that you are prepared to meet with members of the public and community groups.

TAP Into A Better Tasmania has not received an invitation to meet with you nor will we be seeking a meeting.

You should not regard this as a reflection on you as an individual, but a judgment we have made regarding the legitimacy of the ‘roundtable’ negotiation process in which you are now a major participant. We do not intend in any way to recognize or endorse a deeply flawed and illegitimate process.

The ‘roundtable’ process, from its inception, did not include community representation. Instead community representation was deliberately excluded because those who established the process realized that community representation would raise issues that were required to be excluded from discussion, even though those issues were of paramount importance to the future economic, social and environmental health of Tasmania and all Tasmanians.

In this essential element of community representation, the ‘roundtable’ process ignored the broader ramifications of Tasmania’s holistic future. The ‘roundtable’ process is not only illegitimate because it is secret, elitist and un-representative, but because it fails to take into consideration the costs of adopting a policy program such as this without adequate analysis of its impacts on the overall future of Tasmania and of ordinary Tasmanians.

This must not be allowed to happen. You would know that secrecy is corrosive and breeds suspicion, but the ‘elitist’ self-selection and anointing of ‘roundtable’ negotiators behind the scenes, has no public credibility, and must be rejected by an open democracy such as ours aspires to be.


Some conservation groups either walked out of the negotiations or refused to sign up to the ‘principles’ because the agenda of the three dominant environment groups, TWS, ACF and ET was perceived to be too narrow and exclusive.

It needs to be emphasised in the strongest possible way that while various parties, in attempting to promote their own agenda, claim that the forest negotiation are community driven, this is far from the truth. As with the fast track pulp mill approval process engineered through the Tasmanian parliament in 2007, destined to be recognized as one of the worst abrogation of parliamentary process in Australia since 1856, if not the worst, the community was deliberately excluded from the ‘roundtable’ negotiations.

There are forest workers and former forest workers who do not believe their best interests are represented by either the ‘astroturf’ organizations of FIAT and TCA, or the CFMEU which has for years blatantly toed the Gunns line, rather than fight for the rights of its members. “What is good for Gunns is good for our members”, has not served union members very well at all. Gunns has been very forthright in its willingness to shed hundreds of workers over the last few years, while continuing to suck subsidies from the taxpayers’ coffers, which should have been directed to the interests of public health, housing and education.

Who could ever forget that notorious betrayal of Labor history and principles when, in 2004, the leadership of the CFMEU, on stage in the Albert Hall in Launceston, committed the union to support the re-election of John Howard?

Meanwhile the Gunns business model has failed, the industry has collapsed and the jobs are gone.

Any resolution to the turmoil in Tasmanian forestry requires, as a first principle, the input of a range of technical expertise and scientific knowledge. Were there any hydrologists, foresters versed in alternatives to the way forestry has operated in Tasmania, ecologists, botanists, economists, complex systems analysts, medical experts, forensic accountants etc. informing the ‘roundtable’ negotiations? No.

In fact, efforts by some experts to provide informed input were scorned or ignored.

The way the ‘roundtable’ forest negotiations have been set up and run goes to the heart of integrity in public affairs. TAP is deeply dismayed that the ALP and the Greens enthusiastically endorse such an unethical process.

It would appear that Tasmanians are addicted to shoddy process and seem incapable of learning the lesson from previous scandals and failures.


It is our contention that the ‘roundtable’ negotiations undermine the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) process.

TAP Into A Better Tasmania is a member of the Social Chamber of FSC. As you are aware, FSC has three chambers: social, commercial and environment. Representation of the first chamber is absent from the ‘roundtable’ and of the remaining two chambers we have argued, above, that representation is limited and partial.

Timber Communities Australia (TCA) – formerly Forest Protection Society – was represented at the ‘roundtable’. The representation of TCA in FSC Australia Social Chamber was constructively criticized and formally disputed. TCA is far from a true community group. It is an industry construct, industry funded front group. In other words it is an ‘astroturf’ organization.

The CFMEU’s role in FSC speaks volumes for how this organization behaves. Michael O’Connor, then head of the forestry division of the union, now head of the whole union, wanted the CFMEU to control the Social Chamber of the FSC rather than being one equal voice of three. When that move failed he took the union out of any involvement with FSC.

While FSC is not perfect and has its critics, FSC is a standard that world markets are insisting on for forest products. It is also a point worth making that the FSC process is as good as the stakeholders make it.

It is a mistake to consider the TWS/ET ‘roundtable’ solution to Tasmania’s forest mining mentality as lying in a switch to monoculture tree plantations, essentially for fibre, represents community views. By no stretch of the imagination can it be accepted that the TWS/ET advertising campaign, said to be $600,000 through a front group Our Common Ground, promoting the agenda of the plantation industry, has the support of the public.

Furthermore, TWS/ET must know that monoculture plantation establishment by forest conversion after 1994, which is the bulk of Tasmania’s hardwood plantations, cannot be eligible for FSC certification.

It would require a complete paradigm shift in management, planning and practice, such as restoration management, to be at all likely to be considered for the FSC process.

This narrow and all too simple ENGO ‘solution’ will imprison Tasmania on the wrong side of history. Regardless of the social and environmental consequences of committing Tasmania to a future as Plantation Isle, the economic consequences will be extremely damaging.

TAP does not regard monoculture tree plantations as the solution to anything. Rather, they are the problem.

The ‘roundtable and the pulp mill

It cannot be ignored that the catalyst for the establishment of the ‘roundtable’ was the sequence of events following the collapse of Gunns shares in the early months of 2010, the replacement of John Gay and the resulting dramatic policy shifts by Gunns, signalling their exit from native forest to monoculture plantations as the basis for a complete focus on building the Tamar valley pulp mill.

This was the context within which the ‘roundtable’ was set up and its membership determined. The ‘roundtable’ was the vehicle, where Gunns imperatives and decisions sat front and centre throughout the whole process, driving the agenda and the outcomes of the ‘roundtable’.

There will be no peace in Tasmania about forestry issues while these imperatives remain, driving forest industry policy into an economically unsustainable focus on pulp.

There is a general apprehension in Tasmania is that the ‘roundtable’, from the industry point of view, is about ensuring the delivery of public money from the Federal Government coffers into the pockets of the industry. The twenty odd million dollars of exit packages so far delivered is but a drop in the ocean compared to the hundreds of millions of public money that the industry has already swallowed up in order to be ‘more sustainable’ or to ‘retool’ or to ‘exit with dignity’.

An industry grown flabby on subsidies thinks the solution to its woes is more public money.

From the industry point of view, while the ‘roundtable’ is centered on the delivery of the Gunns pulp mill, Gunns is a heavily indebted company that has sold off most of its cash flow assets to reduce debt, and is in survival mode. Yet the Prime Minister, egged on by a chorus of Labor politicians, is considering funding the pulp mill with money that belongs to the citizens of Australia.

As you are the ‘honest broker’ and will, I presume, be reporting back to the Prime Minister, please pass on this message. If any more public money is gifted to Gunns the hostile reaction in Tasmania will be tremendously exacerbated. Divisions within Tasmania will deepen further, in much the same way as has occurred, and continues now, at the site of the Botnia mill on the Argentine-Uruguay border.

There will never be peace if the corrupted pulp mill policy proceeds.

For governments, picking winners invariably means picking losers.


The road to peace in Tasmania does not rest with a narrowly constituted ‘fixit’ group secretly seeking a balance of self-interests, while behind the scenes political manipulation is rampant, despite denials to the contrary. Only a properly constituted, broadly represented, fully informed, open and public process has a hope of coming to any resolution.

TAP Into A Better Tasmania would only consider participating if these conditions were met.

What is needed is a fundamental overhaul of resource allocation principles including forest management systems, which see forests as a durable long-term resource requiring the best possible care. Only such an approach will provide the social and economic balance leading to peace in the forest, the population, the workforce and the involved businesses.

As the ‘honest broker’ you are ideally placed to put the third option of a multiple bottom line of a forest and business management approach on the table as a realistic way out of the tunnel vision of EITHER old growth clear felling OR fibre monoculture plantations. The third option models are increasingly cutting edge world- wide

Finally, here is a quote from Tasmanian resident Peter Brenner, who was formerly Head of Information of the Swiss Timber Information Council (Lignum).

“It has been and is impossible to this day to represent the strong desire in many of the general community to move towards forest management methods that answer to multiple bottom lines, are truly sustainable over centuries, provide quality jobs throughout the State, increase biodiversity, enhance quality and quantity of scarce water, avoid the use of dangerous chemicals and fertilisers, retain the viability of rural communities and offer an aesthetically pleasing environment for residents and visitors.”

Yours Sincerely,

Robert McMahon
Contact: (03) 63944225 mob 0448 547290

TAP INTO A BETTER TASMANIA (formerly Tasmanians Against the Pulpmill)

TAP is a broad based community organization that for five years has resolutely opposed the establishment of a world scale pulp industry for Tasmania. The grounds for opposition are social, economic and environmental. Perhaps the most compelling argument revolves around the financial risk of a high cost producer like Tasmania, competing against much cheaper producers in Asia and Latin America and what that might mean for the people of Tasmania who will be locked into subsidising an industry ‘too big to fail’.

TAP has over the years organized rallies on water and land involving flotillas of boats and up to 12,000 people. TAP has organized numerous public meetings, petitions (the largest ever presented to the Tasmanian parliament), demonstrations, has done much futile lobbying of politicians, developed a Voter’s’ Block and has established a strong media presence.

Many members of TAP have sacrificed years of their lives to ensure the community has a voice.