By Melanie Sjoberg
ADELAIDE — Parliament House steps were surrounded by chanting crowds on February 26 as up to 6000 people gathered to protest against the woodchipping of old-growth forests. The numbers, greatly exceeding the predictions of organisers, reflected a deep-felt concern that action must be taken.
Tiddas, who were in town to perform at WOMAD, received rousing enthusiasm for their music and commitment to protecting the environment. Archie Roach, who was unable to attend the rally, sent a message of support.
Speakers made the point that the woodchipping issue is about social and environmental justice. Carla Gorton, one of the rally organisers, pointed out that it wasn't a question of jobs or the environment — both were at stake.
Tim Doyle, from the Mawson Institute at Adelaide University, called for an end to the "informal alliance between the environment movement and the Australian Labor Party". He referred to the statements by Bob Hawke in relation to the Franklin Dam in 1983 in which Hawke described the damming as an "economic abomination and ecological absurdity". This, said Doyle, is precisely how we should describe the woodchipping of old-growth forests.
Doyle was also scathing about the role of the peak environmental bodies. He said that they have forgotten the grassroots. "Too many resources have been spent on lobbying", he claimed, calling on environment groups to open more local offices, not close them down. He argued that the best hope for saving the forests are "the people next to you". "We'll be here long after Labor is thrown out", he concluded.
Jo de Silva, SA project officer on the Native Plantation Study, declared that the good news was that the forests industry knew it was about to collapse. She said that economists are predicting that there are only two to five years left because global plantations are ready for harvesting.
Ben Carslake, representing the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Engineering Union, sent his apologies. Stephen Spence from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance spoke from the trade union angle. He argued for "green jobs" and said that "jobs that woodchip old-growth forests are not worth having".
Spence, who is a member of the ALP, condemned the role of the ALP government. He said that the ALP position does not represent the rank and file. He called for the building of stronger links between progressive trade unions, the Democratic Socialist Party, Resistance, the Greens, Democrats and environmental groups.
The rally marched through the city to Rymill Park, where further speakers and an open mike encouraged other activists to speak out.