Water S.O.S Tasmania

The New Democracy
Andrew Bent
A story of how a group of interested executives created a plan to make ‘instant millions’ courtesy of Australian taxpayers, and how governments are complicit in supporting a social engineering scheme that threatens our food supplies, our rural communities and shatter regional tourism income while exposing our economy to severe threat.

IN the 90s, a group of concerned businesses including multinationals like Poyry, wanted to find ways to deal with the threats presented to them by community responses to climate change, which many of their businesses were helping to create. Their conclusion, reached over time, was to convert a problem into an opportunity and use climate change as a means to increase, or at least carry on, business as usual while consolidating their position.

One idea was to create a carbon trading scheme, in which carbon is kept ‘locked up’ (sequestered) on a large scale to act as an ‘offset’ for the emissions from their businesses (coal, oil etc). The carbon sink would then form the underpinning for a carbon trading scheme, in the same way that gold was used to underpin money. The bigger the sink, the more money it would be worth both to them and any other polluting industries.

For this to work, the polluters needed to be able to control the scheme so that they didn’t have to pay too much in exchange for purchasing the ‘carbon credits’ that would be available. With the support of government, any carbon penalties could be met by increasing power prices, thus passing the costs back to the taxpayer. In addition the scheme needed to be financed so that the carbon sink could be brought into existence without the polluting industries having to pay the costs. Big energy interests would be proponents of the trading scheme and could use their influence with the federal government to help get the whole thing approved.

From a conventional standpoint, the most visible contender for a carbon sink was, and still is, trees. So a plan was devised for a massive area of trees to be planted and converted into a carbon sink (3.3 million hectares under Federal 2020 Vision).

Once of sufficient size, the carbon estate could then be used to underpin the market for carbon credits via trading arrangements similar to the futures market. The operators of the carbon estate would become instantly wealthy as the ‘carbon estate’ that they controlled would be used to underpin carbon credits worth billions. With the promise of a huge carbon sink available, competition from solar and wind power was ‘unnecessary’, because ‘conventional’ energy generation by coal etc could continue.

The plantation estate method had the additional advantage of providing a means to mute criticism by environmental groups like the Greens and Wilderness Society. In fact it proved easy to get their support by first threatening native forests then ‘negotiating’ a trade off to gain their support for a ‘replacement’ activity in plantations. This enables plantation interests to market to ‘environment friendly’ investors, regardless of the intention to permit the energy lobby to continue to pollute.

To support financial requirements, a tax incentive scheme was conceived where the establishment and growth of plantation trees was funded by the taxpayer (MIS). This scheme was developed and rolled out through the ATO and open public debate was thus avoided. The amount paid per hectare needed to be above the actual cost so that the tree growers could make enough profit to buy land – land ownership being thought essential for the long-term stability of the plantation estate, and thought essential by plantation interests who would end up as major land holders without using their own money.

The only industry that could create a really huge tree based carbon sink was the forestry industry and it was thought that they needed incentives during the extended plantation development process. The forestry industry could benefit if the plantations could be planted at high densities and the thinnings used as pulp feedstock or if trees could be cut down and used.

Forestry’s preference was to cut down the plantations every 20 years and claim the paper products as sequestered carbon, a claim that seems to have the sympathy of John Howard’s government. The forestry industry wanted government support to help them to ‘value add’ to woodchips by producing pulp and paper, thereby increasing their profitability - justified on the basis of ‘balance of trade’ being achieved.

The usual tedious approval impediments to establishing pulp/paper operations needed to be ‘softened’ or removed entirely so that the forest industry could profit easily from the arrangements. Agreements were reached for governments to facilitate plantation and pulp/paper mill approvals, including taxpayer subsidies for infrastructure and other higher cost elements. This was further ‘locked in’ by including plantation activities as a component of public service superannuation investment funds.

The plan suited the forestry industry, offering them a means to grow quickly without requiring significant investments on their part, as well as helping to neuter their old enemies in the environment movement. Various financial arrangements were agreed with the major political parties to assure their ongoing commitment to the program. In this way, individual politicians could be controlled and pressured to support the program, regardless of voter objections.

Of course, there would be ‘collateral’ damage, but it was up to governments to control or limit any such damage. The main group to be disadvantaged would be food farmers and their support industries, as the plantations would need to be established on land with deep soils and sufficient rain, most of which is currently owned as smallholding food production farms. Lesser land could be used but likely growth rates would produce little in the way of income to satisfy the needs of the forestry groups.

Concerns about losses of farm land were addressed in various ways:
Overseas trade agreements were established that allow Australia to buy food from countries with suitable crops in season
Tax and other arrangements would apply to farmers who grew trees
In addition, a range of ‘spin’ phrases and justifications were agreed:
The scheme could be represented as ‘good for mom & pop’ investors
The purchase of farmlands reframed as ‘investing in the bush’ and ‘helping farmers get the best price for their land’.
Only ‘marginal’ farmers would sell…after all, why would a profitable farmer sell?

Additional arguments were created to support the policy e.g. that other ‘impediments’ to the establishment of the carbon estate were removed. Laws were changed to encourage farmers to leave the land (e.g. Tasmania’s PAL Act, restrictions on Murray Darling irrigators and federal schemes that make it harder for pensioners to hold onto their land). At every turn, the goal was to ease the way for the forestry industry while helping rural landowners to reach the decision to sell, thereby increasing the availability of suitable land to grow trees. Using these techniques, the resulting population shifts could be characterised as due to ‘market forces’, an explanation that is believed by many despite the massive subsidies paid to the pulpwood industry (the aggregate of the subsidies exceeds the profits of the logging concerns in Tasmania).

The ability to conceal the whole plan during its implementation was a huge benefit due to the large number of people in rural Australia likely to be adversely impacted. Loggers only needed to know that their business was secure and that they were safer from environmental action. Public servants only needed to know that it was bipartisan policy and in the interests of their retirement savings. Councils only needed to know that they were expected to facilitate plantations and that state monies depended on it. The public didn’t need to know anything at all, it was business as usual.

Economic effects were positive because the costs to other industries were simply ignored, easy to do when ABARE is the main forecaster. Tourism losses could be offset by establishing large tourism centres while considerable food farming might be moved over time to where the rain is in the Northern Territory.

Of course, there would be losers, but the losses would be offset by the value of the carbon credits and the ability of Australian energy interests to continue to use the ‘natural advantages’ of Australia (coal and gas) without needing to reduce emissions.

Of course, the entire scheme meant that Australia would need to remain independent of Kyoto so that the programme could be kept under Australia’s control. If other nations could be drawn into the same scheme, then Australia would add that asset (the carbon estate) to its international trading ability.

The massive shifts in rural population incomes and population have never been publicly debated or discussed. There have been no studies published, nor any programs to help disadvantaged rural communities. The huge losses to food producers have all been hidden either by ignoring them, or by pretending that they wouldn’t occur. The recent drought has acted in the interests of these programs by facilitating more land becoming available and by enabling MIS interests to buy up invaluable rural water supplies, effectively denying them to food producers.

Today, in Tasmania, the effects of these programs are there for all to see. The rapid losses of food producing land to trees, the determination of the state government to completely ignore the impacts of ‘world scale’ forestry operations on its farms, its water supplies, its industries or its populations. The growing clamour of rural concern as a whole range of government laws and programs, from federal MIS to State PAL, threatens to depopulate rural areas…and of course the inexplicable haste to approve a ‘world scale’ pulp mill in what many believe to be a totally inappropriate location…and to deliver that approval without studying the impacts on farmers, our water supplies, our tourism industry, our rural communities or our fishing industry.

Welcome to a new vision of democracy in Australia courtesy of John Howard and Paul Lennon.