Defending Tassie forests

July 16, 2010
Melanie Barnes. The crisis in the forest industry has provided an opening to end the decades-long fight about how forests are us

I’m a climate change activist and have lived in Hobart for five years. During that time, I’ve been involved in the campaign against the Gunns’ pulp mill, through the group Students Against the Pulp mill. More recently I’ve been a member of Climate Action Hobart.

I’m running as a candidate for the Socialist Alliance for the seat of Denison in the August 21 federal election.

The “forest issue” is often what people think of when Tasmanian politics is mentioned, and for good reason. Who can forget the images of then Coalition prime minister John Howard being cheered by 2000 logging workers in the 2004 election after he announced old-growth logging would continue indefinitely?

The then Labor leader Mark Latham said: “No policy issue or set of relationships better demonstrates the ethical decline and political corruption of the Australian Labor movement than Tasmanian forestry.”

He was referring to the Labor Party in Tasmania and the forestry sector of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, which had completely aligned themselves with the unsustainable forestry industry — and in particular with the main destroyer of Tasmanian forests, Gunns Limited.

What is often not told is what happened to those workers cheering Howard. With the onset of the global economic crisis and the demand for woodchips plummeting, many lost their jobs. Gunns was more than happy to use workers to defend profits, but ruthlessly shed those same workers when it suited.

The forestry industry is now in deep financial trouble. There is talk from the government about “reforming” or “restructuring” the industry. In May, the state Labor government gave a $3.6 million “assistance package” to forest contractors to continue business as usual.

These corporate bailouts do nothing to restructure the industry for the long term, or to help workers to leave the industry and retrain to find sustainable jobs.

The crisis in the forest industry has provided an opening to end the decades-long fight about how forests are used in Tasmania.

Community pressure led to the government calling talks between environmentalists and the industry, but these talks have been going on between closed doors, without community input.

There is a fear that negotiations could include trading government support for a plantation-based pulp mill in return for an end to logging in high conservation value forests.

The conservation groups chosen to take part in these talks cannot make decisions for the rest of Tasmanians; negotiation should be public, so that everyone can be part of decisions about the future of the forest industry.

Protection of forests in Tasmania is a national issue because forests are needed to reverse the damage of climate change. A study by the Australian National University into the carbon storage of Australian forests found that eucalypt forests of Victoria and Tasmania could contain more than 1200 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

A sustainable forestry industry would have to include:

• an end to logging in high conservation value forests, which destroys ecosystems and carbon banks needed to deal with climate change;

• a ban on wood-fired power stations that use wood from native forests;

• no pulp mill, not even one using plantation trees; and

• a sustainable plantation industry that doesn’t use chemical spraying or monoculture.

Forests are natural resources that should be used in the public interest. Tasmania’s forests should be put under the democratic control of all Tasmanians. When it comes to our environment, the interests of people and the planet should be put ahead of profit.

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