The power of the peo­ple

Australian Forests and Timber - - IN THE NEWS - By He­len Mur­ray Na­tional Co­or­di­na­tor, Tim­ber Com­mu­ni­ties Aus­tralia.

THE TIM­BER in­dus­try sup­ports a large re­gional work­force dis­persed across Aus­tralia which is the back­bone of many small lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. Tim­ber work­ers’ achieve­ments and in­ter­ests largely go un­no­ticed.

Un­til some­thing comes along that draws me­dia at­ten­tion to them.

Soon into new year 2017 the Hey­field com­mu­nity in Gipp­s­land, Vic­to­ria, burst onto the head­lines. Or­di­nary peo­ple who shy away from the limelight as a rule – have stood up to fight for their liveli­hoods which de­pend on the large lo­cal hard­wood mill at Hey­field. Their drive and unity of pur­pose is vis­i­ble and pow­er­ful.

The peo­ple of Hey­field and sur­rounds made ex­cel­lent use of so­cial me­dia to get their mes­sage out. Im­pres­sively, they raised around $25,000 in quick time via an in­ter­net fund rais­ing site and a lo­cal com­mu­nity mem­ber paid for prime week­end news­pa­per ad space to pub­lish his open let­ter to the Vic­to­rian Premier, Daniel An­drews.

It’spow­er­ful to see com­mu­ni­ties mo­bil­is­ing in this way. In­dus­try bod­ies and lo­cal gov­ern­ment have been strong voices, too.

To lend na­tional network sup­port to the work­ers and fam­ily busi­nesses from Hey­field, as well as the other lo­cal dis­tricts im­pacted, TCA re­leased a state­ment to the me­dia (find it www. tca.org.au) and wrote to Premier An­drews. An­other to put pen to pa­per was TCA Life Mem­ber He­len Hopp­ner, OAM, who lives near Hey­field. She urged the Premier to lis­ten to rea­son and recog­nise this is an en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able in­dus­try and job losses must be pre­vented.

TCA sin­cerely hopes that jobs will not be lost. We are not privy to the ne­go­ti­a­tions but at the time of writ­ing the mill’s fu­ture is still at risk, with no an­nounce­ment to the prob­lem of enough tim­ber vol­ume be­ing made avail­able from state owned for­est ar­eas.

The very straight­for­ward four syl­la­ble word, ‘com­mu­nity’, gets bandied around in Re­gional For­est Agree­ments and all man­ner of gov­ern­ment poli­cies and pro­nounce­ments. Mostly it is found nes­tled along­side phrases like ‘so­cial ben­e­fits’ or ‘pos­i­tive [com­mu­nity] out­comes’. Tim­ber work­ers and their fam­i­lies know the mean­ing of the word ‘com­mu­nity’. They don’t need any­one else to tell them what’s good for them; and they have a deep com­mit­ment to a long term sus­tain­able for­est land­scape.

The Hey­field peo­ple are bring­ing home to politi­cians and oth­ers who ig­nore them, that their com­mu­nity will not ac­cept their fu­tures and their needs be­ing ig­nored.

Con­sult­ing the on­line Ox­ford dic­tio­nary con­firms the word com­mu­nity is de­fined as group of peo­ple liv­ing in the same place or hav­ing a char­ac­ter­is­tic in com­mon. Peo­ple are chil­dren, par­ents, grand­par­ents, neigh­bours, friends - go­ing through life’s de­lights, tri­als and tribu­la­tions in a place that they call home.

Lo­cal com­mu­nity al­ways mat­ters most to the peo­ple who call it home. This goes for every tim­ber com­mu­nity – whether linked into na­tive or plan­ta­tion forestry or both. They are in­vested in their home, their com­mu­nity, more than all the schol­ars, ex­perts, politi­cians, bu­reau­crats, com­men­ta­tors or lob­by­ists. They, more than any­one else, want their com­mu­nity to be a good one – and know what makes it a good one - with a fu­ture for their young, a vi­able means to earn a liv­ing and a safe life for their el­derly.

Peo­ple in tim­ber com­mu­ni­ties want a healthy en­vi­ron­ment too.

And they are the ex­perts on how all this links up in their own com­mu­nity. They know what af­fects it. They know what ben­e­fits it. They know what harms it. They to­tally ‘get’ the pos­i­tive im­pact of a healthy, long term sus­tain­ably man­aged for­est sec­tor on their com­mu­nity. They know that well-reg­u­lated for­est ac­tiv­ity [har­vest and re­gen­er­a­tion] in au­tho­rised ar­eas, does not need to be at odds with good en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship of our nat­u­ral land­scape.

It’s very in­ter­est­ing to think about how much sim­pler this all should be. Un­der the state and fed­eral forestry char­ters’ or Re­gional For­est Agree­ments (RFAs) the com­mu­nity/ so­cio-eco­nomic im­pacts must be a key con­sid­er­a­tion.

If you haven’t read them for a while, as unimag­in­able as that is, I can re­mind you that the pur­pose of an RFA, signed by the Com­mon­wealth and the State as the par­ties to the Agree­ments, is that it ‘es­tab­lishes the frame­work for the man­age­ment of the forests of the re­gion. Par­ties are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing the Agree­ment is durable and that the obli­ga­tions and com­mit­ments that it con­tains are de­liv­ered to en­sure ef­fec­tive con­ser­va­tion, for­est man­age­ment and for­est in­dus­try out­comes.’

The RFAs re­quire Com­mon­wealth and State to have “re­gard to stud­ies and projects car­ried out in re­la­tion to all of the fol­low­ing mat­ters rel­e­vant to the re­gion:

(a) en­vi­ron­men­tal val­ues, in­clud­ing old growth, wilder­ness, en­dan­gered species, na­tional es­tate val­ues and world her­itage val­ues;

(b) in­dige­nous her­itage val­ues;

(c) eco­nomic val­ues of forested ar­eas and for­est in­dus­tries;

(d) so­cial val­ues (in­clud­ing com­mu­nity needs); and (e) prin­ci­ples of eco­log­i­cally sus­tain­able man­age­ment.” This is ver­ba­tim from the RFAs.

There it is in black and white. Mat­ters im­pact­ing on peo­ple (d above) are meant to be re­garded with equal rigour to the en­vi­ron­ment. It’s not one or the other – it is both. Tim­ber com­mu­ni­ties will cer­tainly con­tinue to make gov­ern­ments ac­count­able for meet­ing their obli­ga­tions to the peo­ple they serve.

The obli­ga­tions un­der the RFAs boils down to show­ing equal re­spect for the valu­able peo­ple of each re­gion as for their valu­able sur­round­ing forests.

I like to think that some Aus­tralian politi­cians are find­ing their voice about this. We need to en­cour­age them. It’s clear that the forestry pol­icy pen­du­lum has swung too far out of bal­ance. Peo­ple of tim­ber com­mu­ni­ties de­serve very much bet­ter from our multi lay­ers of gov­ern­ments.

Such fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity is right in front of our eyes for us­ing more lo­cally grown and pro­cessed wood out of a sen­si­ble, pru­dently bal­anced, well-reg­u­lated and mon­i­tored har­vest and pro­duc­tion sys­tem. For­est man­agers mostly all choose vol­un­tary cer­ti­fi­ca­tion too, un­der one of two or some­times both in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cepted cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tems (FSC or PEFC/AFS). Vol­un­tary cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is well em­braced by in­dus­try. This is sim­ply ter­rific – to pro­vide re­as­sur­ance for the con­sumer want­ing to do the right thing and for those out­side the tim­ber in­dus­try who won­der whether its prac­tices are up to scratch with the rest of the world (af­fir­ma­tive).

My clos­ing thought is that none of us can fail to no­tice the push back by cit­i­zens who feel their needs have been too long dis­re­garded by the po­lit­i­cal folk of the day. Wit­ness this in the USA, amongst other af­flu­ent western demo­cratic coun­tries. The po­lit­i­cal sands are shift­ing here too. Modern Aus­tralia’s tim­ber com­mu­ni­ties ex­pect to be re­spected and ex­pect to be heard.

The Hey­field peo­ple are bring­ing home to politi­cians and oth­ers who ig­nore them, that their com­mu­nity will not ac­cept their fu­tures and their needs be­ing ig­nored.

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