Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Another subsidy to the forest industry

Here's another group looking for government handouts to help them stay in the business of harvesting Tasmania's forests. No doubt it's difficult for them, and they've probably been hung out to dry by their erstwhile guardians, big business. However if we took into account all the assistance and subsidy that government provides, as well as the opportunity costs of our harvested forests, and all the other costs, are we sure that cutting down Tasmania's forests is even economically defensible? No doubt Erica will be looking to help them, if he can. Then again, it could be yet another opportunity to publicly stick it up the Labor state government, and may I just say, they undoubtedly deserve it anyway.
What we really need is for someone to be allowed to independently assess all the costs, benefits and risks associated with forestry in Tasmania. I did speak to someone in the mid-90s who had given up trying to do a PhD on the subject, because their employer (and PhD sponsor) wouldn't cooperate in allowing any intangibles to be considered, like opportunity costs of Tourism. Have a look at some of the issues canvassed here. Is there a long term cost of not having food crop farms for instance? Bear in mind that tree farming is subsidised via the tax system.

Whatever the detailed, mathematical truth, the continued difficulties for Tasmanian forestry contractors, their struggle to survive on subsistence income and the continued loss of jobs must give us pause to question who or what big business is actually interested in. The people of Tasmania? Their contractors? Forests? Wedge-tailed eagles? Shareholders? Their own enrichment?

There's clearly something wrong at Forestry Tasmania. Their financial reports tend to be chock full of excuses for poor returns, and they make either losses or small profits. They were sprung borrowing more than they earned a few years ago to stay afloat, yet still claimed to have made a small profit. The truth is they don't charge high enough royaltys for our forests. As a result, we barely cover the costs of forestry. If you take into account other indirect costs, we clearly subsidise forestry heavily. And all the time we damage our own environment. Check this story by Tom Ellison in the Examiner. (The Examiner!!) And the follow up comment on Tasmanian Times.

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