By Kirsten Lacy and Jeremy Smith
MELBOURNE — The Wilderness Society held a public meeting here on January 11 in response to the woodchip export licences granted by the federal government. Following lively discussion, the 200 people attending passed a resolution calling for an immediate end to the woodchipping of native forests.
The meeting was addressed by Fenella Barry, campaign coordinator of the Wilderness Society, Alan Gray, president of Wombat Forest Society and Bill McCashney, a retired timber worker.
Barry said that the 1300 coupes designated by Senator John Faulkner as having high conservation value are now endangered by the decision to extend woodchip licences. Plantation logging is the only sustainable alternative, she argued.
Alan Gray discussed the campaign in the Wombat State Forest against Geelong-based Midway Wood Products, a recipient of a renewed export licence. The Wombat Forest Society (mostly composed of former timber workers and millers) has been campaigning to preserve the traditional timber industry in the forest from woodchippers.
Referring to the eight workers employed by Midway to woodchip 64,000 tons of timber annually, he said, "Export woodchippers are stealing our jobs from under our noses". Gray also pointed out that more than 50% of timber workers in East Gippsland were often employed on contract and had less than two years' experience in the industry.
Questioned about union support for timber workers in the Wombat Forest, Gray replied that the Construction, Forests, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) did not support their campaign against woodchipping. He said that an organiser had visited the region to hold a mass meeting. As some members of the Wombat Forest Society were also CFMEU members, attacks on the campaign against woodchipping were not well received. When the organiser attacked the Wilderness Society for its opposition to woodchipping, he was asked by workers to leave.
Gray reported that the ALP is rapidly losing its traditional support in the region. He told the meeting that the Labor Party's members are leaving in droves over the federal government's stand on woodchipping. He argued that now is a good time to run alternative and independent candidates in federal elections, especially in marginal Labor seats.
A representative of the Victorian Greens told the meeting that they planned to run a candidate for the Senate at the next federal elections and will announce high profile candidates for seats in the House of Representatives.
The Wilderness Society is organising a city-wide rally for January 29. The rally will meet at 11am at the National Gallery on St Kilda Road and proceed to Treasury Gardens for a picnic and entertainment.