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Calculating the costs of forest focus

DURING the 1998 football season, Eagles coach Mick Malthouse boosted his profile by joining vocal anti-logging campaigners.

Others to join the movement included Liberal Party matriarch Dame Rachel Cleland and up-market clothing designer Liz Davenport.

Dame Rachel lobbied until election night, while Ms Davenport failed in her attempt to become a State and Federal Liberals for Forests candidate.

Doctors Keith and Janet Woollard, joined the anti-logging movement, with the latter winning a seat for Liberals for Forests.

Although Mr Malthouse – now coaching Collingwood – had the highest media profile of any of the group, he ended up speaking least.

This was dramatically demonstrated when he refused to debate former Labor Environment Minister Bob Pearce.

Coincidentally, Mr Malthouse was lifting his profile when Mr Pearce became executive director of WA’s Forest Industries Federation, so promptly challenged the football coach to debate forestry policy.

Last week I met Mr Pearce and asked what he intended saying in the debate that never was.

“I’d have told Mick he knew nothing about forests, especially WA’s,” Mr Pearce said.

“I’d have asked Mick to explain why he’d refused to visit our forests when he was invited to see the work being done.

“I’d have said the best policy was the one international botanist David Bellamy backed – to save the jewels of our forests like the Valley of the Giants and go on and manage them to gain the benefits of timber and have trees.”

All that ended when Labor’s Geoff Gallop became premier.

Dr Gallop was carefully monitoring polls and concluded that, to become premier, he had to copy Mick Malthouse, who’d boosted the green crusade, marketing it as “saving old-growth forests”.

So Dr Gallop devoted much time talking Labor and union power brokers like Kevin Reynolds into backing his planned ‘Malthouse approach’, claiming he would save old growth forest, meaning the Bellamy-Pearce path was doomed.

“When Geoff opted for that – two years out from the election – Labor faced defeat,” Mr Pearce said.

“Geoff saw it as crucial to becoming premier. But what’s interesting is that many areas they’re wanting to classify old growth were once logged, meaning he and the Greens concede my point that we can have the benefits of timber and forests.”

Union officials have spent hundreds of hours negotiating compensation packages with bureaucrats for more than 1000 workers whose jobs are vanishing.

Treasury bureaucrats are watching the impact of the Malthouse-Gallop path on WA’s bottom line and triple-A rating.

It’s debatable if this or the mortgage brokers’ scandal primarily led to the Court Government’s demise.

Mr Pearce said estimates suggested WA’s Treasury would lose about $14 million in timber royalties, and this figure could blow out to $30 million once payroll tax and other revenues were tallied.

In June the Government lifted its compensation package estimate from $57 million to $123 million.

Mr Pearce believes it’ll be closer to $170 million, so $200 million all up.

Cabinet has decided that, under the next 10-year Forest Management Plan, 140,000 cubic metres of timber will be harvested annually, down from 286,000 cubic metres.

WA spokesperson for Timber Communities Australia, Tish Campbell, said 47 mills presented submissions for allocations from the halved quota.

“Only 10 were selected for consideration with eight likely to miss out for lack of timber,” she said.

If that happens 55 won’t have timber to process, so must turn to the $28 million Dr Gallop has allocated for so-called ‘business exit assistance’.

Their and other affected timber workers will turn to the $35 million Dr Gallop has allocated for so-called “worker assistance”.

Mr Pearce said green lobbyists were pressing for more once-logged tracts to be proclaimed parks because they claim these had high conservation value, so the Malthouse-Gallop point isn’t the end of green demands.

But there are more ominous signs on the horizon.

Last month, former Labor Finance Minister Peter Walsh addressed the Pastorists and Graziers in a speech entitled The Need to Farm.

“About a kilometre north-east of Northcliffe town site is a recreation area known as Forest Park,” he said.

“It contains a one-hour walking trail through karri and marri forest known as the Marri Meander.

“The area has not been burned for at least 12 years. Most of it carries a dense non-eucalypt understorey. The trees are old and huge. For some years they’ve been falling down, probably at an increasing rate.

“None is being replaced by seedlings, and none will be until an intense fire destroys the understorey.

“Without such a fire, before the end of this century there’ll be no forest.

“All who have the opportunity should walk the Marri Meander to preview the end result of the State Government’s ‘old growth forest protection policy’, a policy which, in the absence of devastating wildfire, will ensure the forest will be gone before the end of this century.”

What do we do if Messrs Walsh and Pearce are right, and Mr Malthouse and the premier wrong?

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