By Karen Fredericks
SYDNEY — The headquarters of the NSW Forestry Commission was occupied for over four hours on November 18 by 30 activists from the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) who, from their position in the Forestry Commissioner's office, announced emergency forest measures to be implemented by a "People's Commission for Forests".
The activists hung a banner declaring the commission "Under New Management" from the roof of the glass building in the Sydney suburb of Pennant Hills. NEFA spokesperson, John Corkill, chained himself to the desk of the commissioner, Dr Hans Drielsma, and telephoned talkback radio programs and other media outlets to expose the incompetence, inaction and lack of accountability within the former Commission. A NEFA camera operator filmed the activities of the activists inside the building and a video was made available to TV news teams for use that evening.
The "People's Commission" was removed from office, mid-morning, by police officers who, at the direction of the ousted commission, broke down doors to reach the stronghold. NEFA activists offered no resistance to being removed by the police. They have been charged with various degrees of trespass. John Corkill told Green Left the activists will be defending these charges, when the case comes before the Hornsby Local Court on December 9, on the basis that they were present in the building for a lawful purpose.
In the afternoon session of Parliament NSW Minister for Conservation and Land Management Garry West said the protesters had "risked lives" and caused over $10 000 worth of damage. He claimed a staff member had been abused "physically and verbally" and that phones had been "ripped from the walls."
"There will be no more action to negotiate with the people in the North East Forest Alliance", he said."This action is the end. I've had enough and there will be no more."
NEFA's John Corkill has denied West's claims. "I think West made his comments in parliament to distract from the reasons why our protest was necessary", he told Green Left, " ... the continued breaches of a variety of NSW laws, failure to comply with the Resource Assessment Commission's recommendations to protect old growth forests, no action on Public Accounts Committee reports, failure to provide information under FOI and ongoing abuses in terms of the commission's management in the field.
"The reason why West is doing this is to try to make NEFA and Corkill the agenda. That's not the agenda. We are irrelevant, in a sense. The most important thing is to draw attention to the commission's gross criminality.
"NEFA did not damage equipment, records, data or personal effects. No-one has been charged with any such offence. Thousands of dollars of damage was caused by the police because the Forestry Commission commanded them to chop their way into the barricaded 6th level but this impact pales into insignificance compared to massive, illegal destruction of old growth forest, wilderness areas and the habitat of many endangered species.
"This morning [November 20] West has refused to repeat his allegations of violence and damage by NEFA outside parliament. He is a coward and a liar, and I, unlike West, am prepared to be legally challenged on my statements.
"In between three and five years the ancient forests of the east coast of Australia will be all but extinct. That's how significant it is, and that's how utterly puerile are notions about whether we wrecked the premises and caused a stink or not. The Commission is diverting media and politicians from justifiable concerns about their gross mismanagement.
"We've been to the parliament, we've been to the courts, we've been to the ombudsman, we've tried the Freedom of Information Act, we have been to meetings with Garry West and the commission... We've had direct actions in the forest. We've had protest actions. We've written letter after letter and had a pack of lies written back to us in response. This protest was not a stab in the dark. This has been coming for a long time and I certainly don't rule out further non-violent direct action in the future. I would be foolish if I did so, because its obviously a powerful and effective tactic." n