THE best laid plans of mice and men, it’s said, often go awry.
Before last election, the Liberals were effective in their attack on Labor and the Greens over forestry, and successfully prosecuted the former government in the public’s eye as the chief architect of the industry’s demise.
The minority government, and particularly the Tasmanian Forests Agreement, they argued, had a ruinous effect on an industry that would have otherwise had a bright future.
But rest assured, the Liberals had a plan to rebuild the forestry industry.
That plan had three prongs: mandatory sentences for pesky environmental protesters, allowing companies to sue for defamation, and most importantly, the government’s “support” for the industry.
As a political strategy, it was spot on.
It harnessed the strong anti-green sentiment, particularly in Braddon, and managed to tar Labor and the Greens as partners in crime who were thrilled about the sector’s decline.
But since coming to government, the much-vaunted plan has slowly gone awry.
The TFA was indeed scrapped, but there will be no additional trees for the industry until 2020.
Anti-protest laws eventually made it through Parliament, but only after they were neutered by the Legislative Council, with mandatory sentencing provisions removed.
The net result was largely a duplication of existing trespass laws.
The introduction of corporate defamation laws was then unceremoniously dumped when the government discovered the Tasmanian community and every other state and territory government thought it was a bad idea.
This week, the public finally learned the government’s plans for Forestry Tasmania – let the company sell valuable hardwood assets to stave off immediate ruin, and shrink in the hope that the private sector can fill the void.
The endless streams of public money for Forestry Tasmania will stop, but there will be job losses and no clear date at which taxpayers can expect a dividend.
It should be remembered that markets are the primary cause of the industry’s woes.
As Resources Minister Paul Harriss belatedly noted in Parliament this week, the collapse of Gunns and the global financial crisis wreaked havoc on the sector.
Regardless of whether selling FT’s hardwood plantations is a broken promise or not, the sale looks like a temporary fix for a permanent viability problem.
Additionally, the government has put the Southern residues problem in the too-hard basket, and has instead asked the industry to find a solution.
This is just months after its decision to pursue Macquarie Wharf as the best point of departure for Southern timber residues.
Perhaps a solution could have already been found if fewer resources were invested into the politically motivated inquiry into the sale of the Triabunna mill.
The announcements gave Labor and the Greens a second wind, particularly for Opposition Leader Bryan Green, who seems more comfortable talking about forestry than most other issues.
But a day after the ministerial statement, the chamber descended into farce as the non-governmental parties excitedly returned fire on the government.
Greens leader Kim Booth was ejected for disrespecting the chair, before Speaker Elise Archer suspended the entire house during the debate of Labor’s no-confidence motion against Mr Harriss.
It painted a poor picture of Tasmania’s political leaders, while the forestry sector is still on its knees.
The next time the government faces voters, it will have a much harder task selling the effectiveness of its plan, particularly if Forestry Tasmania is still losing money and has shed dozens of workers.
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