By Monique Choy
SYDNEY — On March 10, more than 2500 timber workers and their families converged on state Parliament supporting the Timber Industry (Interim Protection) Bill, which was supposedly designed to protect jobs in the timber industry. The protesters achieved their goal: the bill was passed, making it inevitable there will be further struggles over the state's forests similar to last year's Chaelundi dispute.
The new law reduces the power of groups trying to protect the forest and wildlife, yet the government has not shown that any logging jobs were at risk under the previous set-up. Forests minister Gary West said the bill was necessary to protect 6000 jobs supposedly under threat due to the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act, passed last year with the support of the opposition Labor Party and independent MPs.
Rodney Knight, spokesperson for the Wilderness Society, says the alleged threat to jobs was "a total lie". He says the government and the Forestry Commission have admitted that the fauna protection bill did not disrupt the timber industry.
The new bill is complex, but in effect it will allow the NSW Forestry Commission to continue logging in 15 areas without having to complete an Environmental Impact Statement. While these areas are logged, the commission will prepare environmental impact statements for other areas.
The bill also removes the power of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to issue 40-day stop-work orders. This considerably reduces the power of the NPWS to protect endangered wildlife under immediate threat from the logging. Despite claims that the stop-work powers threatened jobs, they were used only once, in a matter affecting a 56-hectare patch of forest.
Rodney Knight says the new law is "a deliberate attempt to legalise logging in areas where it would otherwise be illegal". In June 1990, Premier Nick Greiner illegally approved logging in 120,000 hectares of forest by allowing the Forestry Commission to proceed without any EIS. Gary West knew of this but took no action to uphold the law. Knight says the new bill rewards the government for breaking the law.
The new bill could even speed the complete collapse of the NSW forestry industry, as Knight points out native forests will run out early next century at present rates of exploitation. To avert this prospect, he says the government should be moving timber production to a plantation forest base.
This would save the timber industry and protect native forests, and would be possible through a series of regional economic plans, which would make it possible to set timetables for change. As things stand, the timber industry will simply be subsidised from the public purse through its years of decline. Knight estimates that NSW now has only 2
55D>% of the forest area that existed in 1788. He says the environmental movement can offer a working solution for protection of these areas as well as jobs, but the government isn't listening. "They haven't cottoned on to the real issues, which are that forests do need protecting, and they haven't cottoned on to the fact that there is an alternative."
Knight says the Wilderness Society and other activists are ready to resume protest action in the forests, and the government has placed too much emphasis on environmental impact statements. He says these alone won't necessarily stop logging in areas that need protection, or even in areas that could qualify for wilderness protection. Without the NPWS stop-work provisions, immediate legal action to save endangered wildlife is no longer possible.