How to win the woodchip battle


How to win the woodchip battle

There's no doubt that the extent of the outrage over the government's woodchip licence decision will force the ALP to come up with a range of "compromises" aimed at the green movement in the lead-up to the next state and federal elections.

The government has been warned — in no uncertain terms — by environmental groups, the environment peak bodies and minor parties, that it can expect to be punished at the ballot box.

The Democrats are proposing a Senate Public Administration Committee to investigate the decision-making process in the issuing of the woodchip licences. They have also established a fighting fund to mount legal challenges to the 11 licences.

Some local Green parties have even warned that they are considering directing their preferences to the Liberals ahead of Labor. This tactic may achieve the desired effect of scaring Labor, but it ignores the fact that the Coalition is equally, if not more, in favour of woodchipping native forests.

As an immediate tactic in the woodchipping campaign, the focus on elections is sure to exert considerable pressure on a government which has so many marginal seats to worry about. But as a long-term strategy for winning the war and not just the battles against woodchipping in native forests, lobbying political parties in government — parties which represent and ensure the interests of big business — will not be effective in protecting Australia's old growth forests, guaranteeing jobs for timber workers and moving the forestry industry in a sustainable direction.

Those environmentalists and minor parties whose primary campaign focus is to punish Labor play into the trap. The economic, environmental and social costs of woodchipping old growth forests will continue well past the elections. Therefore, any campaign, if it is to be successful, has to adopt a longer-term and more radical approach.

What's needed is the bringing together of masses of people in sustained, high profile and public campaign activities. Channelling mass anger into parliamentary inquiries, legal challenges and the polling booths, or prioritising consultations with timber industry officials rather than with timber workers, sends a message that the "experts" have it all in hand. Negotiations between "experts" behind closed doors (whether the doors on solicitors' suites or parliament house or the offices of the executives of the peak bodies) have never, in themselves, achieved significant victories against the status quo. There is no reason why this campaign will be any different.

If it is to be successful, the environment movement has to actively solicit allies in this campaign — in particular from the organised labour movement. There is enormous potential to do this, as the December Newspoll survey revealed: more than 80% said they opposed trees from native forests being felled and exported as woodchips. (Of those polled, 83% were blue collar and 76% white collar workers.) Only by organising and mobilising this widespread sentiment can the environment movement hope to be sufficiently strong to counter the immense power of the multinational timber corporations that we are fighting in this campaign.

If the environment movement is to win, as it did over the Franklin Dam, where large mobilisations in cities across the country played a pivotal role in forcing Labor to back down, it will have to strengthen its independence from both Labor and the Liberals so that a broader, more inclusive, grassroots mass movement can develop.