Forestry’s Warhorse Rides Back into Fray After Tassie Election

Eric Abetz wins Franklin seat with a new minority Rockliff-led government starting to take shape.

Sun 24 Mar 24


Forest industry warhorse and former senator Eric Abetz has made a political comeback, winning the controversial southern electorate of Franklin for the Tasmanian Liberals in Saturday’s state poll.

Premier Jeremy Rockliff’s decision to hold an early election paid off – but as Wood Central revealed today, it is not without collateral damage. The Liberals now have the most seats in the newly expanded lower house but will fall short of the 18 needed to govern in the majority.

The cost of living, health, and housing were the big issues during the campaign. But Tasmanian senator Jonathon Duniam says voters consider issues on a case-by-case basis.

“I don’t think this is a vote against the Liberal brand,” he said, “Tasmanians have a strong view on certain issues.”

Senator Duniam said the proposed $700 million AFL stadium was one of the issues that likely led voters to the Jacqui Lambie Network and the Greens.

A new $715m Tasmanian AFL Stadium, that was locked in following confirmation that Tasmania will join the AFL and federal funding was committed is now in doubt after the Tasmanian Premier pulled funding earlier this month. The new stadium will be located at Macquarie Point near the heart of Hobart. The latest proposal, approved in October 2024, is a fully-roofed 23,000-seat stadium. (Photo Credit: Mac Point)
The new $715m Tasmanian AFL Stadium is now in doubt after a huge swing in support for minor parties on Saturday. The new stadium is proposed to be located at Macquarie Point near the heart of Hobart. (Photo Credit: Mac Point)

Future collaboration with the Lambie Network could become an issue after the party’s leader decried the Tasmanian Liberals’ tactics and criticism against her party as “disgraceful”.

Eric Abetz returns to resume a political career that has spanned several significant roles, including Minister for Forests, Fisheries, and Conservation in the Howard Government from 2006 to 2007.

In nearly three decades in the Senate, he served in both the Howard and Abbott ministries, often as an attack dog on Labor, before being sent to the backbench by moderate Malcolm Turnbull.

His federal career ended in the 2022 election when he was demoted to a virtually unwinnable position on the Liberal ticket.

Senator Duniam, now Shadow Minister for the Environment, Fisheries and Forestry, won the coveted top spot, with Senator Wendy Askew selected second. 

He considers Eric Abetz a long-time mentor, and political analyst Richard Herr says the Senate result in 2022 was “an interesting indication that the Liberal Paty is actually looking for generational change.”

Mr Abetz has long championed the Tasmanian timber industry, its workers and communities and has been a staunch defender of plantation forests.

1230px Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Ministry leaving the swearing in ceremony cropped
Eric Abetz, far right, was a major powerbroker in the Tony Abbott Liberal Coalition government, which swept to power in 2013. (Photo Credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Cropped by User:Andrew Dalby)

As Minister for Forests a month before the federal election in 2007, he gave the opening address to a national conference on the theme ‘Plantation Eucalypts for High-value Timber’, emphasising that long-rotation hardwood plantations are commercially viable with policy and investment structures.

“But returns must be equivalent to or better than those from pulp or agriculture if we are to increase investment in high-value eucalypt plantations,” he said.

“The government should commit to a clear strategy for the forest industry to move from reliance on native forests to plantation-grown timber and develop the associated skilled workforce and processing infrastructure.

“Although it is forecast that timber supply from hardwood plantations will grow four-fold to almost 14 million cubic metres in 2010, very little of this will be used in high-value, solid-wood products. On current projections, by 2040, Australia’s hardwood plantations will supply only about half of the volume of sawlogs currently harvested from native forests.”

He said growing long-rotation plantation eucalypts for sawlogs was not new in Australia or the world.

“This is successful in South America, South Africa, Spain, and Portugal, and I hope it will expand in Australia due to new plantation taxation arrangements?”

Jacqui Lambie's party could win as many as four crucial seats as the Rockliff Liberal Government and Rebecca White Labor Opposition leaked voters to the right and left. (Photo Credit: Richard Milnes / Alamy Stock Photo)
After Saturday, Jacqui Lambie’s party could win as many as four crucial seats as the Rockliff Liberal Government and Rebecca White Labor Opposition leaked voters to the right and left. (Photo Credit: Richard Milnes / Alamy Stock Photo)

Mr Abetz was federal Forestry Minister when King Island in the Bass Straight became the first in Tasmania to ban plantations on high-quality rural land, fearing tree farms would wipe out the major dairy and beef industries.

In defence of the industry, Mr Abetz said plantations created new jobs and revitalised rural communities despite farmers’ claims to the contrary.

He said he respected the King Island Council’s decision at the time but urged it to remain flexible about future plantations.

“At the end of the day, Australia must decide. We have locked up our old growth and native forests. We either import timber, which then comes from places like Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, or the Amazon, or we grow our own.”

Mr Abetz said that growing our trees sustainably and environmentally was the best option. Eric Abetz’s win in the Franklin electorate came as conservationists marked 42 years since the Franklin Dam blockade. More than 1400 people were arrested for trying to stop work on the hydroelectric dam project in the state’s southwest. 

At the time, it was the biggest environmental protest in Australia’s history. Between 20,000 and 25,000 people protested in Hobart “to save the Franklin.” The commonwealth intervened, and a 1983 High Court Ruling backed the Hawke government’s decision to kill the project.


  • Jim Bowden

    Jim Bowden, senior editor and co-publisher of Wood Central. Jim brings 50-plus years’ experience in agriculture and timber journalism. Since he founded Australian Timberman in 1977, he has been devoted to the forest industry – with a passion.


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