Revisiting logging in Tasmania

With Kevin Rudd’s announcement that Labour will not lock up any more old growth forests in Tasmania in the campaign for the 2007 federal elections, it is worth taking a look at the following article for a perspective on how Tasmanians feel about the logging issue.

The election in Tasmania – a referendum on old-growth logging?

By Peter Tucker – posted Wednesday, 13 October 2004

    From the minute Mark Latham announced Labor’s $800 million plan to end old-growth clearfelling in Tasmania, nearly everyone – commentators, journalist and the politicians themselves, state and federal – declared the ballot in Tasmania would be a referendum on forests.

And so it was. For the first time ever Tasmanian voters had a clear choice between the two major parties on the "forestry issue". While little more than a sideshow to mainland voters, Tasmania’s forestry practices have divided the locals for over a decade and quite frankly, exhausted them.

But in state elections the major parties have always been in sync on forest policy, both strongly supportive of the industry. The only way to lodge an anti-logging ballot has been to vote Green, an option exercised in recent years by about 15 per cent of the population but because most prefer majority government the remaining 85 per cent, whatever their feelings on forestry, stuck with Liberal or Labor.

Then along came Mark Latham. His platform to end old-growth clearfelling versus John Howard’s endorsement (almost) of the status quo meant that the voters’ decision could, at last, be taken as an indication of their view on forestry. State Liberal leader Rene Hidding went as far as to declare that if a single seat was held by Labor in Tasmania, he would take it as an indication that both parties would need to reconsider their strong pro-forestry stand. The Hobart Mercury on the Tuesday before the election quoted Mr Hidding as saying Mr Latham’s "betrayal" of the state was a "disgraceful and outrageous day in Australia’s history". Mr Hidding called on Tasmanians to "rise up" to defend "states’ rights".

So, did the locals "rise up"? No, not really. Labor lost its two most marginal seats, Bass and Braddon, and in the Senate the Liberals nabbed three seats to Labor’s two, but an analysis of the poll shows that the majority of Tasmanians voted to save the forests.

Let me repeat that because a lot of commentators will be calling the Tasmanian election outcome some sort of win for the forest industry: the majority of Tasmanians voted to save the forests. The table below illustrates this clearly: 

 

 

Bass

Braddon

Lyons

Franklin

Denison

Totals

Liberal

27,500

27,431

22,065

21,888

18,149

117,033

Labor

22,030

24,860

23,056

26,028

27,567

123,541

 

On a two-party preferred basis: Labor 53.9% compared to the Liberals 46.1%

2004 Federal election in Tasmania – major party primary votes and two-party preferred

 

 

 

Bass

Braddon

Lyons

Franklin

Denison

Total

2 Party Pref % Swing

4.7 to Libs

7.4 to Libs

4.9 to Libs

0.6 to Libs

1.4 to Libs

3.8 to Libs

2004 Federal election in Tasmania – two party preferred swing

Figures from The Mercury 10 and 11 October 2004. Close to, but not final count.

Tasmanians who voted for one of the major parties opted for Labor by a margin of some 6,500 votes. Not a big majority, but a majority nonetheless. But then consider the Green vote. Because close to ten per cent of the electorate gave their primary vote to the Greens who also of course oppose old-growth logging, the two party preferred result gives Labor a clear 54/46 lead.

Those who wanted a referendum on old-growth logging now have their answer, 54 per cent want to save the forests.

The above analysis should not be taken to mean that Labor’s forestry policy did not cost them in Tasmania. Although the statewide swing to the Liberals at 3.8 per cent was only slightly higher than the national swing, the larger swings in the rural regional electorate were enough to see the Labor sitting members in Bass and Braddon lose their seats. There is no doubt Latham’s forestry policy was the key reason for this.

But Tasmanians clearly did not "rise up", quite the contrary. Even in the rural seats nearly half the voters chose to halt old-growth logging.

In Tasmania there is a state election due sometime in 2006. Both the Premier, Paul Lennon, and Hidding must be wondering if they have backed the right horse in so staunchly getting behind the forestry industry. How can they continue to pursue a policy supported by fewer than half the voting population?

Political commonsense should tell them they cannot. The first of the major parties to wake up and realise that there are more votes in ending old-growth clearfelling than supporting it should win the next state election.

Believe me, Tasmanians are sick and tired of the whole forestry debate. Like all major divisive issues in our society it is politics that must give us an answer. It is not science, not ideology, not the economy, not anything else: just politics.

But are our politicians up to it?

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