Tasmania Together sparks forest debate



HOBART — Benchmark targets for Tasmania Together were released on September 3. Tasmania Together is the state Labor government's consultation program designed to draw up "goals" and "visions" for the state by 2020.

There are 212 "benchmarks" which cover a wide range of social issues. Many incorporate specific targets; other targets are less specific.

The Tasmania Together web site claims the benchmarks are aimed at "ensuring our children inherit a fairer, cleaner and more prosperous Tasmania".

While not all targets could easily be legislated, most progressive people would find it hard to disagree with their overall direction, even if some of the specific goals are pitifully modest.

Examples include: "Ensure every Tasmanian household has income above the poverty line (currently $415 per week) by 2020"; "Reduce by one third the incidence of family violence by 2020"; and "Improve the adequacy and cost of public transport".

The benchmark that has received the most attention is the one most directly at odds with government policy. It calls for an end to clear felling high conservation old growth forest before 2003 and an end to all clear felling of old growth forest by 2010.

The forest industry says it has no problems with a vaguely defined plan to phase-out clear felling, but claims that the time line is impossible to meet without unacceptable job losses.

Environmentalists are encouraged by this benchmark, which seems to offer the best chance since the regional forest agreement was signed in 1997 for a significant breakthrough on forest conservation.

Doctors for the Forests organised a protest, attended by 50 people, on September 4 to call on Premier Jim Bacon to honour his earlier promise to implement this benchmark.

Usually liberal columnist Wayne Crawford, writing in the September 8 Saturday Mercury, argued against the clear felling benchmark because it risks "discrediting" the whole Tasmania Together process. "It would be an awful shame if the good work all came to nothing because of one issue."

Socialist Alliance convenor Kamala Emanuel told Green Left Weekly that this missed the point. "Bacon is already trying to let the community down gently by saying that the limited goals of Tasmania Together actually aim 'very high' and that they will be difficult to meet. What progressive content there is in the benchmarks is only useful if we make them part of a platform of demands around which we can organise. Therefore, we should fight hard to win on this supposedly 'controversial' benchmark."

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