Forest Embassy


By Kamini Junankar and Eva Schmid

CANBERRA — More than 2000 people took part in Forest Embassy protests against the destruction of high conservation value forests and called for the end of export woodchipping. The embassy, organised by national and regional environmental groups, camped on the lawns of Parliament House between November 4 and 8.

Activities included rallies, sit-ins, workshops and discussions. Speakers included David Bellamy, Bob Brown, Christine Milne and Jackie French.

The five days of action demonstrated the breadth and strength of community feeling, and were a culmination of activities around Australia bringing together forest campaigners and people in the community angered by the federal government's failure to protect native forests.

During a protest aimed at Prime Minister Paul Keating on November 8 at the National Convention Centre, David Bellamy stated that the forest practices he had seen here were nothing short of vandalism. "Allowing Australia's forest heritage to be woodchipped will ... downgrade Australia's standing as an environmentally responsible nation. This Government is in for a rude shock ... if it can not lift its game on environmental issues." He also said that he could sense "a growing and unstoppable momentum, much like the ground swell which won the Franklin in 1983".

The Commonwealth government, in its 1990 discussion paper on sustainable development, argues that it is the role of government to resolve conflicts between economic growth and environmental protection as they arise. It says, "It is necessary to evaluate the risk to future economic prospects if business investment and growth is prevented or discouraged. In some cases it may be worthwhile paying the price of some environmental damage to ensure present and future economic benefits." This logic of short-term profits and return on investment is still determining nature's fate.

Apart from the direct gains of preserving the remaining precious ecosystems, protecting our forests would also go a long way in meeting our target of greenhouse gas reduction. Australia is one of the five worst greenhouse gas emitters in the world. A greenhouse inventory of Australia revealed that forest destruction contributed 25-30% of 1990 greenhouse gas emissions.

The wild gales during the Forest Embassy brought more than cold weather and excitement into the camp. The air was also heavy and dark with topsoil — another stark reminder of the consequences of ignoring our fragile environment.