Can't sort the wood from the trees in Tasmania. Photo: Louie Douvis
Epic fail. There's no better way to describe the collapse of the talks meant to end Australia's longest-running forest conflict.
Few come out of this clean. Not loggers with their heads in the sand, and hands out for cash. Not green groups who terrify the job-hungry. And not governments who stand back and plead innocence.
Ever since July, a final agreement to resolve the generation-long Tasmanian forest wars has been within reach.
It looked as if big swathes of high conservation value native forests would be protected, and the surviving industry would continue on a sure footing.
It would have been a triumph for a 28 month-long peace process that had already seen legendary Labor negotiator Bill Kelty kick things into gear and Prime Minister Julia Gillard hammer out a $276 million interim restructuring package
But the closer industry and environment groups came to agreement, the harder it became. At the weekend they faced off, and environment groups declared the process collapsed. Some talks are still trickling along, raising faint hope of salvage.
Meanwhile, the state's biggest surviving native forest processor, Ta Ann Tasmania, is left to consider its options against an escalated environmental campaign in its export markets. Australia's longest ever tree-sit runs on, with a saddened Miranda Gibson protecting a patch of tall Styx Valley old growth forest for an incredible 320th day on Tuesday.
And the spotlight turns to state and federal Labor governments.
While there was strength in these talks, the governments' decision to stand back and offer facilitating support and buy-out packages looked good.
Taxpayer hand-outs like the $45 million to pay-out Tasmanian logging contractors could skate by unchallenged, even if it was their third big offering since 2007.
But Environment Minister Tony Burke always kept open a possibility of failure, that the two sides would be unable to reconcile the conservation agenda with the minimum volume required for industry.
Burke observed: "you kept seeing some momentum as they get closer, but as they got really close, that momentum slowed right down".
Seeing this, the government imposed a deadline of Saturday for an "Intersection" on native forest sawlog volumes, and forest protection. That's where the talks failed.
The alarm for Tasmania's native forest industry was sounded by Australian National University researcher Dr Jacki Schirmer in 2010, when she found that one-third of its workers had lost their jobs in two years.
The burdens of the high Australian dollar, global market shifts to certified plantation timber, and environmental campaigns were largely to blame. Things have only worsened since.
If the warring sides can't reach a lasting solution to renew the industry and protect the surviving high conservation value native forests, then the government must.