When will your disastrous numbers come up?

Janet Albrechtsen’s column in today’s Australian recites the phrase “Latham’s disastrous logging policy”.

By a happy coincidence I have come across the Tasmanian forest industry’s own estimate of the employment consequences of phasing out old growth logging in Tasmania, as Federal Labor was promising to do in 2004. The 2004 study, by forest industry economist Bruce Felmingham on behalf of the Forest Industry Association of Tasmania, projected that 1,345 forestry workers would be displaced by this policy. This estimate was disputed by other stakeholders in the debate, but for the sake of the argument let us assume the estimate to be correct. We then find that Labor’s 2004 proposal for an $800 million forest industry restructuring package would have amounted to $594,795.54 for each displaced worker.

If the forest industry’s forecast exaggerated the employment effect by a factor of two (and industry forecasts of “job losses” from environmental protection decisions typically overestimate them by orders of magnitude) we then find that Latham’s disastrous restructuring package would have inflicted over a million dollars worth of disastrous income support, retraining and re-employment on each worker.

To put this into some sort of perspective, since I was retrenched from my old job on the cusp of Keating’s “recession we had to have” in July 2000, for a small fraction of $594,795.54 I have been able to retrain to the level of a First Class Honours degree and a Ph.D., and be gainfully employed as a consequence in a much more remunerative and satisfying career than when I was receiving a minimum wage to field endless carping complaints from Stalinists, cranks and ASIO provocateurs.

To put it into a perspective which a larger number of readers can identify with, on Saturday night many readers of LP, many readers of The Australian, no doubt a goodly number of Tasmanian forestry workers and perhaps even a few Murdoch press journos will be sitting with their eyes glued to their TV screens, Lotto tickets clutched in their nervous little hands, hoping against all odds that the tumbling numbers will visit upon them a disaster of comparable magnitude to that with which Latham was threatening Tasmanian forestry workers.

Indeed, the only way I can think of to lavish more largesse on Tasmanian forestry workers would be to give each of them a dollar for every time a writer for The Australian has used the phrase “Latham’s disastrous forest/logging policy” since the 2004 election. Even Michael O’Connor would consider that an offer too good to refuse!

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Posted in elections, environment, Federal Elections, history, media, politics, Poverty
35 comments on “When will your disastrous numbers come up?
  1. The Editor says:

    It’s more than a job, man, it’s a way of life.

  2. Spiros says:

    If Latham was planning on spending $500K-$1 million per displaced forestry worker then his policy could correctly be called disastrous. It was too generous by a factor of 10, and it’s a good thing he never got a chance to implement it.

  3. Paul Norton says:

    A fair point Spiros, especially considering that it would have then set a fiscally unsustainable benchmark for other industries where employment readjustment has to occur for environmental, social or other national interest reasons. Even the conservation groups were only proposing about $250 million in their industry restructuring proposals at the time.

    The point nonetheless remains that people weren’t trucked into Launceston two days before polling day to complain about Latham’s excessive generosity and fiscal irresponsibility.

  4. Paul Norton says:

    It’s also worth noting that at the pro-logging rallies in Tassie in 2004, the workers were regaled with horror stories about job losses in forestry in WA as a result of the Gallop government’s forest conservation policies – yet Gunns, in its annual report for 2003-2004 released during the height of the debate, waxed lyrical about the opportunities for expanding its operations and boosting employment in WA as a result of the WA government’s forest policies.

  5. Guise says:

    The hilarious thing about JA’s latest column is the new dimension it adds to the cult of Howard: the Great Leader is so great even a resurgent Opposition can be credited to him.

  6. Helen says:

    Great post, Paul, thanks.

    It infuriates me that manufacturing workers get put out of work by the hundreds in the Western suburbs of Melbourne alone each year, but forestry workers are sacrosanct somehow. And then *they* claim that *we*, that is the city folk, don’t care about *them*.

    Since we already subsidise the woodchipping industry with our taxes, let’s use some government money and:

    (1) employ all the ablebods who still want to work in the bush, on national park maintanance, revegetation, feral pest eradication, track maintenance, fire prevention etc, and of course in plantations;
    (2) Retrain all the ablebods who would rather move somewhere else to do something else;
    (3) Give a nice generous package to all the older and more creaky forestry workers.

    Of course, with (1) you’d also stop the whingeing about national parks being cradles of pests and vermin and weeds. Some of them are, but it’s because of a lack of political will to employ people to keep the fringes weed-vermin-and feral free. Partly because of an ideological climate that says direct employment of workers by governments makes the baby jesus cry. We need to GET OVER that people – as I’ve said, we already subdise the companies with our taxes.

  7. Don Wigan says:

    Very good post, Paul, though I assume the Keating retrenchment was 1990.

    Those were the days when industry restructure was taken seriously. Of course we had a CES then, which coud give fairly reliable information on the impacts in the local job markets. I doubt whether there is any capacity to do this under the current Job Network and whatever wizards they have working on labour market economics in Canberra.

    You have hit onto a very good point on the Howard Government approach to these things. They can round up supporters for a jobs scare, but their serious backing is for Gunns. It’s a similar story with coal mining.

  8. Rob S says:

    Shorter Janet in today’s Australian:

    “A defeat for John Howard would be a victory for John Howard.”

  9. melaleuca says:

    Latham’s policy was politically disasterous, was it not? Labor lost seats, votes and alienated parts of its blue collar base in Tasmania on the back of Latham’s policy. Surely that constitutes a disaster.

    Green leaning folk need to take a reality check. We need timber products and they have to come from somewhere. At the moment a significant proportion of our timber products come from illegal and/or unsustainable operations in developing countries like Indonesia. This situation will only get worse if radical Greens have their way and we “protect” too much native forest from logging.

    Far more native forest is destroyed each year in bushfires than though logging.

    A major argument for the protection of old growth forest is that older trees have more hollows and these are essential habitat for a range of birds. But in reality they aren’t essential at all. For example the relatively young forest at the Organ Pipes National park 30 minutes north of Melbourne is teeming with hollow dwelling wildlife like sugar gliders because nest boxes have been fitted to trees. A moderate degree of old growth forest logging should be permitted provided the loggers install nest boxes etc to mitigate any harmful effects on forest ecology.

  10. grace pettigrew says:

    Oh stop it Melaleuca or you’ll go blind.

  11. melaleuca says:

    We already knew you had no grace, Grace.

    What we want to know is do you have a substantive point to make?

  12. Paul Norton says:

    Mel, Labor’s forest policy lost just one seat (Braddon) which would not otherwise have been lost on the strength of the overall swing to the government – and who knows how the forestry workers might have voted had the penny dropped that they were being promised the equivalent of a Lotto Division One prize. Even the forestry union admits that the policy was a factor in Labor winning Richmond (NSW) against the tide, and some commentators would add Hindmarsh and Adelaide (both in SA) to that list. As I have argued on this blog and elsewhere, Labor may have won more mainland seats on the strengths of the policy had it released it earlier and gone hard in promoting it.

    As for timber products, during 2004 two separate coalitions of environmental groups, and the Greens, produced three different plans for Tasmania to produce timber products from Tasmanian forests without logging old growth forest. Here in south-east Queensland we are producing timber products from our forests without logging old-growth. The trick is to harvest relatively small quantities of wood from selected forests which can be sustainably logged, and then adding lots of value to the wood to produce timber products and pulp and paper, rather than harvesting lots of wood and adding no value (as is the case with export woodchipping).

    Finally, old growth forests, which are the product of several centuries of successional processes, cannot by definition be sustainably logged on a 40 year cycle, Clearfelling entails a qualitatively different kind of disturbance to natural events, amongst other things permanently removing millions of tonnes of nutrients from the ecosystem.

  13. adrian says:

    melaleuca, it’s a bit rich for you to criticise others for not making a ‘substantive point’ when your contribution is a series of half truths and assertions masquerading as something of substance.

    If you have any proof of the following assertions I would be pleased to see it:

    1. ‘Latham’s policy was politically disasterous (sic)’ This is largely a myth as Paul Norton points out.
    2. More native forest is destroyed by bushfires than through logging. Even if this were true it is a different kind of destruction which allows for regeneration.
    3. Hollows and birds. This is but one element in a complex ecological system. To emphasise this above other elements because this has an easy solution is rather disingenuous.

  14. melaleuca says:

    Interesting points, Paul. Nonetheless I’ll take you up on these:

    – Woodchipping. If Australia doesn’t help meet the world’s demand for woodchips then the rainforests of Borneo, and such-like and so on will. I’m not sure how anyone could construe this as a positive.

    – Clearfelling and removal of nutrients. As Tim Flannery among others has pointed out, the Aboriginal practice of “firestick farming” had been robbing our ecosystems of nutrients for millenia prior to white settlement. Nutrient is lost to the atmosphere in the fire itself and more is washed away when rain occurs shortly after fire.

    I’m not sure clearfelling robs forests of nutrient on a scale comparable to that of firestick farming or the deliberately lit and natural bushfires we now see. In the event that they do, clearfellers could be required to replace whatever nutrients are lost. Too easy.

    – If sapling thinning was allowed in areas of new growth in native forests, trees would mature much faster than they do naturally, hence we would have more old growth forest.

    While my above ideas may seem interventionist for what we call the natural environment, we should remember that Australia’s environment was actively managed by Aboriginals for 50,000 years prior to white settlement. There is no such thing as wilderness in Australia if one uses the strictest definition of this term.

  15. Guy says:

    Paul, at the risk of doing an Albrechtsen, wasn’t the policy then therefore even more disastrous then generally believed, given the extent of the pork-barrelling involved per person and Labor’s apparent failure to win over timber workers to the receipt of such pork?


  16. Kim says:

    The timber workers might have bought plasma tvs with redundancy payments, thus becoming complacent about how fantastic everything is in Howardland! 🙂

  17. zorronsky says:

    A moderate degree of old growth forest logging! Well an immoderate degree of old growth forest logging has already taken place and no matter how much more is made available there will always be calls for more. The christmas island syndrome.I was cutting stag timber in the strezleckis in the 50s to make way for radiata pines that were supposed to have strips of eucalypts, mainly silvertop ash mesmate stringy and manna gum but after the first cull all eucalypt strips went too. So much for moderation. Clear felling is nothing short of a disaster. Selective harvesting at least left habitable environments.

  18. Ron says:

    A slight digression on the state of Tasmanian forests.

  19. melaleuca says:

    Aidien says:

    “Hollows and birds. This is but one element in a complex ecological system. To emphasise this above other elements because this has an easy solution is rather disingenuous.”

    Complex but arguably not “natural”. Aboriginal firestick farming caused mass extinctions of flora and fauna, white settlement has accelerated the extinction of mammals in particular and most of our native forests are home to countless feral weeds and animals. Moderate old growth logging is comparatively akin to a pimple on an elelephant’s bum.

  20. Paul Norton says:

    Guy, a fair point, and similar to the one previously made by Spiros.

    Mel, I’ll have to pass up your challenge today as I am busily researching the current Tasmanian pulp mill dispute, but hopefully other contributors can give you satisfaction 🙂

  21. John Greenfield says:

    If Labor wins and a Left(ish) mood sweeps the country, I really hope a decent replacement is found for L’Albrechtsen. But are there really any left-wing female scribes in Australia that are capable of being as provavctive as the Devine Ms. Miranda and L’Albrechtsen?

  22. pablo says:

    Even assuming that $800 million restructuring package was to be spent over a number of years, say ten years, it was still extraordinarily generous.
    I agree it was left far too late. An earlier announcement could have talked about the job multiplier effect, that presumeably for every sacred forestry worker’s job then the four or five local community workers who were looking down the barrel could have seen some benefit from the restructured forestry industry.
    If Latham, or a future Rudd policy had a pitch toward local communities and given them time to respond, even with investment ideas of their own, then the sway of the CMFEU Forestry Division might have been dented. Lets hope that some wider arguments for selective, sustainable, value added timber harvesting can get a community wide response, including global warming threats/benefits from a considered Rudd offer.

  23. Robert Brown says:

    Adrian, you say that buhfires is a different type of destruction in that it allows for regeneration. My understanding of logging coupes is that they must employ seed collectors to harvest seed and replant it in the same spot as the tree it came from. I think most of the people here need to realise that once an area is logged it is not a barren wasteland but an area that provides us with the best source of renewable material on earth.
    Think of a forest as a rose bush, it flourishes and grows stronger as it is pruned.

  24. Joe D says:

    Aboriginal firestick farming caused mass extinctions of flora and fauna

    This view is not widely accepted in the archaeological and palaeontological community. Tim Flannery’s assertions are useful and provocative starting points for many researchers, and some of them may well prove to be correct, but it is not by any means an established fact that past firestick farming caused any extinctions or robbed nutrients from ecosystems (although they might have prevented the latter – wildfires can lead to a lot of erosion). As a researcher looking at some of these ideas I own up to being skeptical of the arguments used to support pre-historic extinctions caused by the first people in Australia, but google faunal extinctions australia and you’ll see there is a range of views. I’m not sure anyone thinks firestick farming caused extinctions of flora – maybe local changes.

    While my above ideas may seem interventionist for what we call the natural environment, we should remember that Australia’s environment was actively managed by Aboriginals for 50,000 years prior to white settlement.

    This is an assumption based on good ethnographic and historic observations but few archaeologists would comfortably extend modern or historic analogy to societies of 50,000 years ago without hard evidence that is currently lacking. Anyway, 50,000 years is a geological instant – I am not a biologist but plants and animals coped without human intervention before then and presumably have not had time to evolve dependence on it.

    On tha main point, as other people pointed out, a moderate amount of old growth logging – is that a sustainable amount? In which case the relevant proportion of old growth forest to log in any one year would be something like 1 divided by the number of years it takes to grow that old growth forest, eg 1/400 or 0.25%. Here in SW WA, old-growth logging probably needs to take a rest for a century or two, so the forest can catch up. After the Gallop government intervention around 800 timberworkers got retrained, apparently. A lot of these people worked in mills in the Perth metro area. One social impact I heard about was a fall in house prices in timber towns, but since then grapes and tree plantations have become big crops. Is old-growth logging an issue in those towns now?

  25. melaleuca says:

    Joe D says:

    “I’m not sure anyone thinks firestick farming caused extinctions of flora …”

    Actually, the evidence is now overwhelming in showing that Aboriginals were the original environmental vandals. The early European settlers could see the smoke for miles before they saw cited mainland Australia. Aboriginals burnt the land like a pack of pyromaniacs and radically altered Australian ecology as a result. We will never know how many plant species were lost due to Aboriginal practices but we have a reasionable idea regarding fauna.

    Note the following for instance: http://media.uow.edu.au/releases/2006/1222a.html


    Unfortunately the black-armband casts a shadow over much of our understanding of this continent. Ecology and biology have not been immune from this symptom of middle-class guilt but fortunately the truth has started to emerge in the last few years.

  26. philip travers says:

    Mela whatever he is a beauty,isnt he! Gee.What can you say about his analysis but know he is a well studied giant killer of the intellectual pygmies amongst us.Well he must be surely his writings indicate,a wary tiredness with those who dont see eyeball to eyeball with him.Or to put it another way..now lets see.Gnashing teeth at the designer fly.I know science is amazing so is nitrogenous fertiliser.If you had to take a pick between the two of them what would you choose?Well a giant doesnt need to make the era of fertiliser choice that burns the soil up,because he is a scientist.And the intellectual pigmies wouldnt know what a nitrogenous fertiliser looked like.God knows I dont even know what a employee of N.S.W. State Forests looks like either as they seem to be employed doing as aboriginals did…and in my living memory even sawmillers agreed with the practice for the reason of getting the logs out cleaner.,Because I am as deaf as a babyboomer can get,I didnt hear the CSIRO are trying something from South America.And by joves Bryant and Mays matches didnt exist,and were never seen lighting a cigarette either..Guy Fawkes nights never existed and got away,and lightning never strikes other trees accept the oneMela?

  27. Joe D says:

    Melaleuca, there isn’t even scientific consensus about the ideas you espouse let alone overwhelming evidence. The reason we will never know how many plant species were lost to Aboriginal burnng is because it is an unknowable number. Europeans saw lots of smoke in the 1800s. What do we know about 1800AD-50,000? There is no black arm band at work denying Aboriginal caused extinctions just old fashioned (conservative if you will) scientific sceptism.

  28. Alex on the Bus says:

    The hilarious thing about JA’s latest column is the new dimension it adds to the cult of Howard: the Great Leader is so great even a resurgent Opposition can be credited to him.

    True. More the point, it sounds like JA’s trying to run the ‘Howard Lite’ line with Rudd (“why go diet when you can go fully fat?”), hoping that another 2001-esque Labor collapse ensues. Of course, the silly old bint doesn’t get the irony of crediting Rattus for Tintin’s rise – it’s not because he’s so good but because he’s so bad.

    Speaking of silly twats at the ABC, the IPA’s John Roskam sinks the boot in yet again. What, you want it unwatchable as well as insipid?

  29. Paul Norton says:

    I can now report that my letter to the Australian briefly stating the essence of this post, and ironically suggesting that the papert’s coverage of Lotto results should refer to Division One as “Division Disaster”, was not published.

  30. Paul Norton says:

    I have just come across some more estimates of employment impacts of ending old growth logging in Tasmania. Gillespie Economics estimated that 320 workers would be displaced, whilst Bruce Felmingham’s model suggested that 336 to 1345 jobs could be lost, including jobs supported by logging. If Felmingham’s lower end estimate is correct, Latham’s package would have amounted to $2,380,952.38 for each affected worker. If the Gillespie estimate is correct, it would have amounted to a nice round $2,500,000 per worker.

  31. John Greenfield says:

    Anybody who does not believe that Kevin Rudd’s ascension is the full-time whistle in the Culture Wars – with the Neocons victors by the mightiest of bitchslappings – is in denial.

    I wonder if any of the “It’s Time” set ever imagnined their Messiah would be a Bible-basher, teacher-basher who tells Muslim leaders to go back where they came from!?

  32. steve munn says:

    I sez on 11/4/2007:

    “Green leaning folk need to take a reality check. We need timber products and they have to come from somewhere. At the moment a significant proportion of our timber products come from illegal and/or unsustainable operations in developing countries like Indonesia. This situation will only get worse if radical Greens have their way and we “protectâ€? too much native forest from logging.”

    According to The Age on 12/4/2007:

    “RAINFOREST covering an area almost the size of Britain has been obtained by a group of European and American industrial logging companies in return for minimal taxes and gifts of salt, sugar and tools, a two-year investigation will disclose today.”

    I’ll have that apology now thanks, cabbage brains.

  33. Fiasco da Gama says:

    Rats, sinking ships, John. You’d better hope Kaptain Krudd lets you on his boat.

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