Forest protest adds to pressure on Labor



HOBART — Thousands of people amassed outside the ALP state conference on August 11, calling for an end to logging in old-growth forests. Tasmania currently accounts for more than two-thirds of Australia's total woodchip exports.

It was the largest Tasmanian rally in over a decade — placing significant pressure on the state Labor government to stop the logging.

Kim Beazley refused to address the rally, dismissing its significance. Deputy premier and forestry minister Paul Lennon tried to deny that trees taller than the Wrest Point Casino tower were being logged and woodchipped. It has since been publicly confirmed that the claim, made by Greens Senator Bob Brown, was correct.

The speakers platform at the rally reflected the widespread support from different sectors of the community for an end to woodchipping.

Michael Vaughan spoke as a representative of the newly formed Doctors for the Forests. The recent formation of this group has been condemned by some foresters, who claim the doctors are stepping outside of their area of professional expertise.

Members of the group, however, argue that doctors have a professional responsibility to take up the forest debate. Clearfelling old-growth forests and replacing them with monoculture plantations destroys biodiversity, reducing the chance of developing new drugs and arguably leading to greater illness. Destroying forests also increases psychological illness.

They also argue that every section of the community has a right to contribute to debates about social issues. Vaughan promised at the rally to bring a "moderate, rational and informed voice" to the debate.

Felicity Harris from Don College emphasised the widespread support for saving forests: "We have the doctors, we have the lawyers, we have the surfers and the tree-hugging hippies and now we have the youth."

Bob Brown called for the ALP to change its policy on forests, implying if it did, more people should then vote Labor.

Five days after the rally, the draft Tasmania Together (a government initiated community consultation process) woodchipping benchmarks were leaked. These include recommendations to end clear-felling of high-conservation, old-growth forests by 2003 and to end all clear felling by 2010. Premier Jim Bacon is on the public record saying his government would not break existing contracts to meet Tasmania Together recommendations.

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