Sunday, December 16, 2012

LegCo Ices Forestry Peace/Surrender Deal - Updated

UPDATE:  This is an old article with a now dated title that has been updated.  For the updates scroll to the bottom.

(Admin notes: 1. Thanks to readers who voted in the jump breaks poll; poll has closed and preferences have been distributed!  2.  On or about 1 January 2013 this site will award the inaugural Ehrlich to the maker of the most wrong prediction in or relating to the year 2012 in any field that interests me.  The winner has been decided already, but nominations are welcome!  3. This article concerns (i) my views of the Tasmanian forest "peace deal" (ii) my comments about the voting behaviour that occurred during the LegCo vote on it and the (iii) possible future electoral and reform impacts.  As there are some out there who may not be interested in (i) and only wish to read (ii) and (iii), I advise them to scroll down to the point marked "It is safe to come out now".)


In the beginning, there was the Acronym, and the Acronym was HCV.

And HCV stood for "High Conservation Value", and was a term employed to imply that certain forests were objectively so important that it would be unconscionable to log them.

In fact, HCV is a term with no objective scientific standing, since there are many different conservation-related properties that different people think are important, and valuation is a subjective process.  One person might think the forests that are most important are those that are the most scenic, another might most prefer those that shelter rare animals, and still another might prefer those that they believe best capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Any forest might be found very valuable by someone who in some sense cares about "conservation", and of little value by someone else who meets the same description.

The term, however, formally derives from its use by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international forest certification agency.  At the time of writing Wikipedia has what appears to be a sound coverage of this term and if you fancy a detailed look at implementation possibilities the High Conservation Value Forest Toolkit is also worth a look.

Negotiations between environmental groups known collectively as the ENGOs (Wilderness Society, the umbrella group Environment Tasmania and the Australian Conservation Foundation) and industry bodies began in 2010, against a backdrop of the desire by the now under-administration Gunns Limited to get out of native forest logging in order to obtain a social licence for its proposed Bell Bay Pulp Mill, one of an endless series of pie in the sky development proposals for the state, most of which never eventuate.

Even with the apparent demise of Gunns the process has continued, on the basis of the desire of the forest industries to have "market attacks" (protests and criticism by environmental groups, directed at potential buyers) cease, so that the embattled industry can attempt to still extract something from a hostile market environment dominated by a high Australian dollar and changing market preferences.  It is probably no coincidence that all this has happened with a Labor-Green government in play, since it has helped to keep conflicts between supporters of the coalition away from each others' throats.  The economic decline affecting the industry has been a blessing to the government's stability in that sense. 

The ENGOs' claims for forests of High Conservation Value status were released in this report in mid-2011.  However, the report altered the definition of HCV status from the FSC one by adding criteria that were not explicitly part of the FSC definition (such as carbon capture and reserve design).  It also assessed HCV status through an unsatisfactory pointscore system (see my comment 6 on this TT thread) and then accepted claims using pretty much any source imaginable including the submissions, propaganda reports and unpublished "research" of activist groups.  I wrote at the time:

My impression is that the ENGOs simply do not have the scientific knowledge base to conduct a remotely credible assessment of the value for flora and fauna of their own recommendations.  This is another reason why the conduct of the negotiations as a political lobbying process without expert scientific input has been a sham practically from day one. 

Much worse was to come.

The ENGOs' claims for new reserves (572,000 hectares of public forests in all) were then referred to a verification committee which was supposed to present an independent scientific decision.  What it actually produced was a rush-job with reports of enormously varying quality. Some of these were written by people whose past strong involvements in the debate meant that they were practically ENGOs themselves and hence well short of neutral.  The verification committee actually made no attempt to assess whether the ENGOs' HCV claims were true even according to FSC criteria, summarily dismissing the ENGOs' point-counting system in a single paragraph that pointed out the bleeding obvious, that:

different forest conservation values are not fungible, i.e. they cannot be reduced to a common
numerary; unlike the market value of different minerals or wood products.

Instead they attempted to validate the areas claimed by ENGOs against the idea that they had some significant conservation value (World or National Heritage, or contribution to reserve design, for instance), and reached the unremarkable conclusion that most areas of forest claimed by the ENGOs, often including those that had already been logged, were not entirely useless.  To anyone who juggles forest conservation values and commercial values on a regular basis, this is a starting-point for tradeoffs, not the point at which you start drawing boundaries. 

It didn't help that that job was not even consistently done properly.  In post 14 of this TT thread here, I pointed out that in one of my other areas of expertise (native land snails) not only did I find grossly wrong claims the instant I started looking, but also that claims of sufficient independent expert oversight made in the Conservation Summary were simply not true. (UPDATE: See bottom of article for my comments as link is now not working.) I have it on good authoritaah that the verification of some range mapping for threatened species was dumped on a government department at very short notice.

Plenty of good work came out of the process too, but overall rather than a verification process, what we got was a verification process in need of its own verification process.  But it didn't matter, because this was not really about science, but rather about the patchily-supported illusion of scientific respectability so that everyone could largely ignore the science and get on with the political negotiations.

Starting from mid-2012 came a rash of false claims, by groups outside the ENGO tent, that the verification process had found 563,000 hectares of forest to have been "verified as having high conservation values" or "independently verified as world heritage and national heritage value", when in fact the process had not verified any such thing, and 563,000 hectares was the amount of forest assessed at all after adjusting for ENGO mapping discrepancies.  Remarkably, although most of this area was found to have at least some conservation value, the total area dismissed as lacking evident worth was not published in the main release of verification reports, and I have still not yet managed to find it.  But through the usual process of claim slippage and distortion as propaganda passed from one press release to the next, the myth built up that virtually all the ENGO claims had been validated.

As political negotiations dragged on past an endless parade of final deadlines, the most glaring defect of the whole process became more and more obvious.  The idea was to stop protests, but if a group is bound to not protest, then any member who does not agree with that can simply leave and start or join another group that does.  Groups like Markets for Change (fronted by former Greens leaders Peg Putt and now Bob Brown), the Huon Valley Environment Centre and Still Wild Still Threatened were never bound by the deal and were incapable of being directly controlled by it.  It wouldn't matter if only a minority of activists continued protesting, because especially when it comes to marketplace decisions by customers, any level of it at all could be damaging. 

Another salient point against the deal was made by the Tasmanian Confrontation Trust * which pointed out that with so many conservation issues in Tasmania arising on private land, the deal's contribution to biodiversity protection would be limited.  However the TCT undermined their substantively sound arguments about the deal's flaws with an extremely greedy solution that was never likely to be taken seriously (that the whole "validated" (yeah right) ENGO claim be awarded and that all manner of other conservation measures would be put in place as well.)

These are just my own sample of the absurdities and problems with the deal, and at every stage others have been making similar arguments in their own areas of interest about what a trainwreck the entire process is.  Somehow just when it seemed the whole thing was going to die for good, agreement was actually reached, and theindustry managed to avoid the total capitulation to ENGO demands that for a while looked like a foregone conclusion.  395,200 hectares would be reserved immediately with the total increased to 507,000 hectares later subject to protests ceasing, and the industry would have resource security but at a much reduced level. 

Process should not be confused with outcome, and while I have outlined some of the many reasons why the process was invalid, this does not mean either side would have been better off saying no to the final agreement or that it should necessarily be rejected. While out of sheer scientific purism I would have always liked to see the whole thing razed and restarted on a credible footing from the beginning, when it came to actually listening to the arguments on the floor of the Legislative Council, I found that I was not greatly enthused about the Bill's ultimate fate either way. 

For those who skipped all that: 

It is safe to come out now!

The Legislative Council Debate on the Bill

(The following account is based on listening to and watching the webcast of the debate. If you find any errors email me and I'll fix them up.)

In the early stages of the LegCo Second Reading debate on the forest peace deal legislation, it was clear that in-principle positions on the bill were split 7-7 between accepting it on some level and rejecting it entirely.  The lineup here was exactly the same as for same-sex marriage, except that Rosemary Armitage was in favour:

In favour: Farrell (ALP), Finch, Gaffney, Mulder, Valentine, Forrest, Armitage
Against: Goodwin (Lib), Wilkinson, Harriss, Hall, Dean, Rattray, Taylor

This presented a problem because of the chairmanship conventions of the Legislative Council which are addressed at length in this PDF.   President Sue Smith would used her casting vote at the Second Reading stage to progress the bill to the stage where amendments could be taken and the bill further considered, but if at the end of all that the numbers still stood at 7-7 at Third Reading then the bill would have been lost on a casting vote and defeated. The casting vote conventions in the Legislative Council are:

* to continue discussion on a matter where further discussion is possible
* to leave a bill unamended if an amendment is tied
* to reject a matter on which a tie occurs and no further discussion can occur.

What happened in this case was that Paul Harriss moved a motion to send the matter to a select committee consisting of the whole LegCo except for the President.  Two attempts to amend this motion (to a form in which the main bill would be passed first with the select committee later) were put up, one by Craig Farrell and one by Ruth Forrest.  Farrell's amendment was the subject of a fair amount of debate but was withdrawn immediately after Tony Mulder became the first to break the pattern and indicated he wouldn't support it. The Forrest amendment was tied 6-6 (along the same lines as the original lineup but with the absent Armitage paired with Ivan Dean).  This amendment was then defeated on casting vote and debate returned to the Harriss motion.

Had numbers remained the same as the apparent lineup on the bill itself, then I believe the Harriss motion would have been defeated on casting vote, and the Second Reading would then have passed on casting vote, and then it would have been up to those supporting the bill to try to amend it heavily enough to convince one of the seven opposing it to switch votes.  But the first sign for those watching online that this might not go down this path came when Rose Bolger (Examiner) tweeted that Armitage would be paired with Mike Gaffney for the vote on the Harriss motion.  This meant that Armitage had crucially decided, in absentia if my interpretation of her earlier speeches is correct, to support the Harriss proposal.  In the end Tony Mulder voted with the Harriss motion too, and the Harriss motion was passed 8-4:

In favour: Goodwin (Lib), Wilkinson, Harriss, Hall, Dean, Rattray, Taylor, Mulder
Against: Farrell (ALP), Finch, Valentine, Forrest
Paired: Armitage (in favour) - Gaffney (against)

The vote on both divisions is very consistent with what I published about Legislative Council Voting Patterns , conforming almost perfectly in one case and perfectly in the other with a divide between the left/centre and the right. If I redid that piece to add data from these two votes (quite a lot of work actually so please excuse me for not yet doing it!) Armitage would move a little towards the left but not that much would change.

Among the reactions I noticed this from Paul Oosting (GetUp, ex-Wilderness Society).  Oosting's assessment of an X for Sue Smith for "Vote for the passage of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement" (alongside Wilkinson and Goodwin) is in my view rather harsh.  Smith's only actual vote was a casting vote on an amendment, which she rejected in line with established chairmanship conventions to keep the motion before the house in its original form. If that really counts as a vote against, or if Oosting's expectation was that Smith would send signals that she would pass the whole peace deal bill if it was tied, then it appears that Oosting doesn't accept the neutrality convention and expects Legislative Council Presidents to overturn it and take sides on tied votes.  (And do so in the direction of his preference, of course.)  If his problem is with the neutrality convention itself then he may as well have gone the whole hog and given Smith an X for same-sex marriage too.  After all if Smith had supported same-sex marriage, this would have meant that every MLC voting against did so in the knowledge that their vote had individually blocked the bill.

I'm having even greater trouble with Oosting's assigned marks for the pulp mill.  Smith and Wilkinson both voted against the infamous Pulp Mill Assessment Act (2007) and Goodwin hadn't even been elected when it was passed. 

The actual impact of the bill's deferral remains to be seen.  Many threats were made on this matter, some of which were bluffs, and some of which may not have been.  

Prognosis for change

Naturally the double-whammy of same-sex marriage being knocked back and the forest deal being put on ice for up to three and a half months (which to some is just killing it softly) has resulted in much anger against the Legislative Council, and calls for its reform.  It has, of course, had its defenders too.

Much of the anger has been of a populist and urgent nature.  There have been calls for the LegCo to be abolished by referendum, which is not constitutionally possible without the LegCo's cooperation as there is no mechanism in the Tasmanian constitution to hold a binding referendum (and since there is no mechanism, you can't even have a referendum to install one).  There was a call from Bob Brown for the LegCo to go to an election, which can only occur if all members resign together.  Possibly this was a well-deserved and deliberately cheeky parody of the Liberal Party's incessant and inane habit (both state and federal) of calling for new elections following pretty much any government setback.  There is a lot of feeling about for the idea that the LegCo must be fixed and must be fixed now. But the instant reactions are ignoring this: that only the LegCo can reform the LegCo.

I totally agree the LegCo needs reform, at least to make its elections more competitive and better publicised.  But those who want to work for that need to realise that it is not something you will win overnight by rounding up your mates for a quick bit of social-media clicktivism.  What it would take to really change the LegCo would be a determined and well-funded multi-year campaign to gradually pick off conservative Councillors and replace them with candidates committed to specific reforms.  It's an uphill battle for anyone wanting to start that now, with the Liberal Party soaring in the polls and public sympathy for the Labor-Green coalition government hard to find beyond both parties' loyalists.

A new group, of as-yet unknown nature, that has sprung up following this week's decision is the Transform Tasmania Alliance which claims:

Let's transform Tasmania for the 21st century. We need a state parliament that is relevant and in touch with modern standards, and that means major reform of the Legislative Council, which is holding back our prosperity.

The group has also issued a press release detailing the results of a claimed "survey of 2500 residents" in the Division of Nelson.  It is not stated by whom, or by what methods, the survey was conducted, but it's hard to believe it was a paid poll, since if so this would have been an astonishingly large sample size for a survey of the sorts of questions canvassed in such a small electorate. It would mean that a double-digit percentage of the voters of Nelson were surveyed.  Much more publicly available detail is needed on the method of surveying, and the company (if any) behind it, and the exact questions asked, before this survey even might be taken seriously.  Hopefully this article will prompt the emergence of such detail.  However, based on some evidence of inexperience in the press release (eg calling the House of Assembly the Legislative Assembly) I'm not that optimistic about its quality.

In any case, the claimed result that 45% of Nelson electors don't know offhand that Jim Wilkinson is their local MLC after 17 years would not surprise me all that much if  true.  A not much lower percentage of NSW voters did not know Barry O'Farrell was Premier after he had been so for 18 months, and most of the time the LegCo is not exactly high-profile (whether through lack of media effort or lack of effort by members, with some making especially little effort.)

It remains to be seen what the TTA actually is or amounts to.  Its spokesman was described as a Labor Party member and some of those commenting on the Facebook site are also Labor figures.  

The Prospects for 2013 

(UPDATE March 22: The following section is now out of date as many candidates have been declared; see my very popular LegCo Challengers Guide)

My current view of the prospects for 2013 is as follows:

Vanessa Goodwin (Lib, Pembroke) is likely to face multiple challengers (probably a Green, perhaps someone Labor-ish and the usual gaggle of Clarence aldermen wanting to lift their local government profiles).  At the moment I see no reason to doubt she will win easily, assuming that she recontests.  

Sue Smith (Montgomery) has not faced an election for ten years in her Burnie/Ulverstone area electorate.  Assuming she recontests, it's hard to see her being vulnerable to any left-leaning or Labor-ish opponent in the current climate.  It remains to be seen what level of opposition she will face if any.  (UPDATE: Smith is not recontesting)

Jim Wilkinson (Nelson) will be opposed and is very likely to face serious challengers (probably at least a green and some high-profile left-leaning or Labor-linked candidate, perhaps others).  Wilkinson has only faced one serious challenge in his two prior re-election wins, from then Hobart Deputy Mayor Pru Bonham in 2001.  (He won easily with 58.6% two-candidate preferred). From my own experience with my mother's campaign in that election, two things were especially apparent - firstly that Wilkinson was especially well entrenched through a range of community links in the electorate, and secondly that Wilkinson polled very strongly in certain booths in the south of the electorate (upper class and Bible belt, basically).  A redistribution since has included more bible-belt and made the electorate more right-leaning.  Nonetheless Wilkinson's margin over an inexperienced Green opponent in 2007 was not that hot.  Wilkinson will be very difficult to beat but I think this one may be more interesting than Pembroke.


Disclosure: The author works in the forest industry from time to time as a scientific research consultant and specimen-sorter, but is not currently doing so, and has never worked for Gunns. 

(* They claim to be "non-confrontationist", but after having to go to RMPAT to successfully defend my research after they lodged a futile and obstructive appeal against a government decision based upon it in 2001, I can advise against believing them. )  

Correction: Original version gave Paul Oosting's affiliation simply as Wilderness Society.  He switched to GetUp in 2011. 

Addendum: A notable event that occurred during the debate about the Harriss motion,  is that Kerry Finch MLC explicitly stated that he would decline to serve on the select committee if it was created.  

UPDATE (March 22):  

The not-so-select committee of 13 Legislative Councillors (all bar Finch and Smith) has finished its report, and the website for the committee is here.  There you can find the final report, the summary, the submissions and lots of other goodies.  A submission of particular interest to me was the very thorough submission by my friend, fellow field naturalist and sometime professional colleague Dr Simon Grove. Simon's offering covered some similar ground to my own comments on the HCV/verification farce but was much more comprehensive (and even more damning too).

I take the liberty of reproducing a chart from Simon's submission (p 14) which compares a proper scientific assessment process for conservation value deficits with what the process actually did.

In my view the select committee is to be greatly commended for the effort it has gone to to give a voice to many people with relevant input who should never have been excluded from the process in the first place. The decision to conduct the select committee hearing prior to making decisions about the bill has been vindicated by the quality and breadth of critique that has been produced and has become available to the public.  Amazingly, we even got to find out what area had been found by the verification process to have conservation values! (507,000 ha).

The peace deal bill has now passed its second reading, with the votes as follows:

In favour: Farrell, Finch, Forrest, Gaffney, Valentine, Taylor, Armitage, Mulder
Against: Goodwin, Rattray, Wilkinson, Hall, Dean, Harriss

This 8-6 vote largely follows the patterns discussed in the LegCo voting patterns article except that Armitage voted with the "left" side.  I will be reviewing those patterns in the near future to see if recent bills have made any great difference to the position of some members.  Had the second reading vote been 7-7, the second reading still would have passed on casting vote to allow more discussion.

What now happens is that the Bill will be subject to amendments.  If the Bill is passed on the third reading after all successful amendments are added, then it goes back to the Lower House to see if they will accept the amendments.  It is also possible that the Bill could be defeated on the third reading.

It was rather cute for Deputy Premier Bryan Green to warn the MLCs not to get "cute or tricky" with amendments (including one by Paul Harriss to hold most of the proposed reserves hostage subject to the deal working in delivering an end to protests), arguing that some amendments will not be accepted by the signatories and the deal will therefore collapse.  After all, the whole process has been little but political tricks from the beginning.  What's a few more between friends?

I will be following further developments and updating this piece with records of relevant votes from time to time.

Update: (18 April)

The peace deal has now finally passed the Legislative Council but in a heavily amended form, and it remains to be seen what its fate will be, as the amended bill now needs support from the Lower House to become law.  The government accepted an amendment from Tony Mulder to defer reservation of 272,000 ha of forest until Oct 1 2014 and pending Forest Stewardship Council certification.  (A future Liberal government opposed to the deal may also be a complicating factor in what happens with the deferred reserves.)  This passed 8-5 and David Obendorf on Tasmanian Times states that the vote was:

In favour: Wilkinson, Finch, Armitage, Valentine, Mulder, Taylor, Gaffney, Farrell 
Against: Goodwin, Harriss, Hall, Dean, Rattray
Absent: Forrest.

If this is correct then this so-called "wrecking" was in fact mostly supported by MLCs who were sympathetic to the deal from the start, and opposed by the hardline opponents. I originally wrote that on this basis it appeared the original conception of the deal no longer had any support upstairs.  But I've since rethought this, since most likely some MLCs who did not actually consider this amendment desirable voted for it in order to get the crucial vote of Tony Mulder (and perhaps others) on board.  It turned out that at third reading the bill needed every vote it could get.

Greg Hall also successfully moved to have 50,000 ha of forest in the Western Tiers removed from the World Heritage area extension nomination (although Tony Burke may not be listening), and some other amendments were passed.

The final vote on the heavily amended peace deal was 7-5 in favour:

In favour: Farrell, Finch,  Gaffney, Valentine, Taylor, Armitage, Mulder
Against: Goodwin, Rattray, Wilkinson, Hall, Dean
Paired: Forrest (in favour), Harriss (against) 

Had any of the seven who voted in favour voted against, the motion would have been tied 6-6 and, based on precedent for final reading votes, lost on a casting vote.  

The ball is now in the Greens' court, since with Labor willing to vote for the current deal in the Lower House and the Liberals presumably set to vote against it in any form, the Greens can either accept the deal as it is, or seek to re-amend it.  If the deal is re-amended in a form acceptable to both Labor and the Greens there could be a prolonged phase of legislative ping-pong between the houses in search of an agreed solution, or even without any eventual resolution.  It's also in theory possible that Labor and the Greens might now be unable to find a version of the deal that they will both support, in which case I don't think the Liberals would be at all keen to help them.  

The Greens are under a lot of pressure here lest they now become the "wreckers" that they are keen to call the Liberals and the Legislative Council, at least in the view of those who just want the conflict over (not that it will be, in my view) and are not too fussed about the technicalities.

Ivan Dean MLC clearly believes the fix is in, stating that the government would have determined the most contentious amendment was minimally acceptable to the ENGOs before voting for it.  It would certainly be odd for the government to state one day that they would only approve amendments if the signatories agreed and then the next day have their MLC vote for them if this wasn't the case, but it also wouldn't be the first about-face in this process.  The impression I get from the tone of Premier Giddings' comments about the upcoming sitting is that she believes that the deal will be passed. 

With the Lower House recalled for April 30th, if it does happen that there are more amendments, there is a question of whether the final vote will be taken in this Legislative Council or the next.  If the Legislative Council does not sit before the elections then there is the possibility that the one that finally decides the debate will have a different makeup.  This applies especially if either Cheryl Fuller or Ed Vincent, both of whom support the peace deal, get up in Montgomery (replacing Sue Smith, and on the assumption that one of the "conservatives" will take the Presidency).  It also applies if either of the southern incumbents loses, though I still think that is much less likely. 

Update (30 April):  As I write the amended deal has just passed the House of Assembly 13-11 with Kim Booth joining the Liberals to vote against while the remaining Greens joined Labor in voting for.  The final version substantially extends the World Heritage Area (subject to approval of nomination) and places most of the original alleged HCV forests in interim protection from logging.  The final fate of areas in interim protection depends on many things including FSC certification, effective cessation of market attacks and other protests, and the will of the next state government.  More comprehensive coverage of the outcomes can be found in other places - for a list of conservation commitments given see here.

Of  interest to me were claims by Australian Greens Leader Christine Milne and dissenting Green MHA Kim Booth that the no-protest condition represents a threat to free speech.  Provocative as it is, it does not.  No penalty is imposed on any person for protesting by virtue of the requirement.  Rather, the parliaments (in effect the Legislative Council) are saying that they are only willing to support reservation of certain areas if market attacks and other protests substantively cease.  The parliaments had the option instead of simply refusing to support reservation of those areas at all, and that would not have been any imposition on anyone's freedom, so it is hard to see how adding the conditional possibility of more reserves can be considered to breach freedom of speech.  

Kim Booth employed a hypothetical involving the same conditions being placed on the rights of suffragettes.  But that would have been a condition in which protestors had to weigh up their right to vote against their right to speak.  In this case there is not a truly comparable weighing up involved as there is no human right to have bits of forest protected from logging just because you like them or ascribe an environmental benefit to them.

What the no-protest condition really does is put the claim that the deal truly represented the Tasmanian environment movement to the test.  If the signatories and the Greens can convince the hardliners to accept the deal, then the deal was representative of the bulk of the movement.  If they fail, then it wasn't.  However, with the assessment process for the condition being political (the LegCo decides) rather than judicial or objective, the politics of this one may have a while to play out yet.

Are we there yet? I doubt it.  Seems more like a partial resolution and attempted ceasefire than a permanent end to the conflict. 

Update 7 May: Australia Institute Fleeces Its Flock  

The Australia Institute, a rather presumptuously named left-wing "think tank" has issued a piece written by its director Richard Denniss, entitled "Silence of the Logging Lambs".  This was published in the Financial Review.  

The article described the no-protest component of the deal as "an unprecedented restriction on free speech." and goes on to quote this already infamous comment by Prime Minister Gillard:

"The obligation is on the signatories that first came together, the parties who started this process, to do everything they can to use their abilities to silence those who haven’t gone with the mainstream consensus.

Now this was, of course, a silly thing for the Prime Minister to say.  The word "silence", especially in the context of doing everything one can, conjures up images of forceful thuggery, SLAAP* suits and other such shenanigans.  But really she meant that the signatories need to peacefully convince the dissenters that it is in the interests of their cause that they stop protesting.

Denniss writes:

"The creation of this legislative poison pill is equivalent to telling a union that if it strikes for
better conditions then the minimum wage will be cut, or telling human rights groups that if
they protest for improved treatment of asylum seekers the annual intake of refugees will be

This is absolute nonsense.  The reason it is absolute nonsense is that the basis of the deal is that new areas are reserved provided (among other things) protesting stops.  If the deal as passed by parliament had created all the new reserves with no conditions, and then immediately after the deal the government had threatened to revoke the newly-created reserves if protests continued, then such comparisons would be justified.  But as it is, Denniss' analogies involve taking something away that was already there.  

If those outside the tent choose to wreck the deal by protesting, they are not losing something that they already had (as in the case of the minimum wage being cut); rather, the net outcome is they gain nothing and remain where they started.  The non-signatories thus have the choice: accept the deal and supposedly gain certain reserves in exchange for their compliance, or reject it, and in terms of the state of prospective reserves compared to before the deal, gain nothing and lose nothing.  

Indeed if radical groups think the deal is such an unacceptable threat to freedom of speech, they can speak out and freely and destroy it, which would (in the process) prove that it was actually no infringement on freedom of speech at all.  After all, in addition to having their say they would be killing a deal they maintain to be unacceptable, which from their perspective sounds more like a reward than a punishment.

The concept surrounding the deal is simply that activist groups should not expect to get things for nothing and should compromise.  Whether it is a fair compromise or a workable compromise are other matters, but it's hard to think much of a "think tank" that confuses this for a free speech issue.

*SLAAP: Strategic Lawsuit Against Activist Participation (my re-rendering of the common SLAPP spelling which I think ignores how often those SLAPPed by major companies on environmental issues are not exactly everyday members of the "public", but rather career protestors.)

Update (2019)

I am quoting my snail comments from an old TT link here as they are no longer readily available online:


"Thought I’d subject the report to my own verification process in my own primary field of expertise, land snails. As soon as I looked I started finding errors.

The conservation summary claims “For terrestrial invertebrate species the proposed ENGO reserves would protect >40% of additional habitat for 10 species (7 rare land-snails and 3 vulnerable stag
beetles).” This is an error with the snail category having that attribute actually being [i]all[/i] snails, since none of the land snails receive 40+% additional habitat protection.

Land snails correctly listed as having their core range intersecting with ENGO forests are actually Skemps snail (16%), and burgundy snail (22%).

The southern hairy red snail is listed as having 19% of its potential range intersecting with ENGO forests. The Tasmanian population of the SHRS is confined to King Island. There is no realistic chance of finding the SHRS elsewhere in Tasmania except perhaps on near-Victorian Bass Strait islands. There are no ENGO forest claims on King Island. Any assessment of any Tasmanian mainland area as potential habitat for this species (unless it is introduced there) is rubbish.

7% of the potential range of the ammonite snail (Discocharopa vigens) is claimed to be in ENGO forests. This is again false. No ENGO forest reserve area is considered potential habitat for this species (as mapped by FPA on my advice). Indeed, based on known records this species appears endemic to the Greater Hobart area, although it is possible that it is slightly more widespread.

Whatever method was used to classify the “potential range” for these two species is clearly unsound and this brings into question any other “potential range” assessments that have not been run past a specialist, directly, in the relevant groups.

Reading the descriptions of the methods used to construct these potential ranges it appears that had the methods been followed as stated these errors could not have happened. This raises the question of how they happened.

It seems the problem lies in the following:

“5) Draft core and potential range boundaries were also developed using definitions,
locality data, habitat descriptions and TASVEG mapping
6) Input was sought from specialists into the draft core and potential range boundaries
and these were then modified based on expert advice.”

I am the only specialist on Tasmanian native land snails who is qualified and sufficiently experienced to provide such advice.

Although I was readily available if needed, my input was not sought by the process at any point."



  1. Kevin, since you watched and listened to the debate on the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, perhaps you could comment on the following:

    1. Did Paul Harriss manipulate the outcome by bringing on a motion that the bill be referred to a select committee, thereby ensuring that there would be no passage of the legislation in the time frame supposedly required to ensure the commonwealth funding?

    2. Harriss' motion was made without notice. Was the requisite leave sought and granted pursuant to Part 11 Order 58 0f the LegCo Standing Orders?

    3. Standing order 175 of Part 19 of the LegCo Standing Orders provides that membership of a LegCo select committee shall be no less than three and no more than five members, 'unless the Council shall order otherwise'. The select committee considering the Tasmanian Forest Agreement Bill has 14 members - was such an order made?

    4. Is a select committee comprising all 14 members of the LegCo - apart from the President - compatible with standing order 172 of Part 19 which provides that it is not compulsory for any member to serve on a select committee? Did all 14 members agree to serve on the select committee?

    5 Was a time fixed for the first meeting of the select committee pursuant to standing order 186 of Part 19?

  2. Thanks for these; my best attempts (I add that I did not see absolutely all of the debate, probably about 90%) :

    1. It was, at least, very clear that MLCs were aware that there was a prospect that the deferral could result in a loss of Commonwealth funding, that it had been stated it would do so, and that some MLCs believed the Harriss motion was tantamount to killing the bill. Some MLCs supportive of the Harriss motion quite openly referred to this and indicated that they felt the Commonwealth was holding a gun to their head and they preferred to risk missing the funding to making what they considered to be a rushed decision.

    2. Yes.

    3. I expect that the passing of a motion which listed more than five names itself was enough to meet this requirement.

    4. Can't believe I forgot to mention this in my article! (I'll edit it in). Kerry Finch MLC explicitly stated in his speech that if the committee was formed, he would refuse to serve on the committee as he wanted no part of it. I did not see any further comment from him after the Harriss motion was passed so it remains to be seen how this pans out. I did not see any such comments from anyone else.

    5. I assume so but I do not clearly remember the fixing or what time was specified.


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