By Tom Flanagan
SYDNEY — One hundred people held a two-hour rally outside NSW parliament on October 29 to demand protection for the remaining old-growth forests in north-east New South Wales.
Organised by the NSW Forest Alliance, the rally aimed to focus public pressure on the Carr Labor government, which is currently preparing legislation relating to national parks and resources for the timber industry.
According to the newsletter Northern Forest Flyer dated October 20, negotiations on the issue between conservationists and the timber industry broke down in mid-October when timber industry representatives refused to apply nationally agreed criteria to the question of what would constitute a "comprehensive, adequate and representative" forest reserve system.
It is feared that the state government will propose reservation of far less than the 1 million hectares that its own agencies identified as necessary to begin to fulfil the national reserve criteria.
North-east NSW currently has the worst forest reserve system in Australia. While the forests of the region encompass one of Australia's primary centres of biodiversity, their future is threatened by unsustainable levels of logging.
Conservationists have identified priority areas for immediate reservation that encompass 860,00 hectares, with another 280,000 hectares to be incorporated over the next decade.
The phased reservation process allows for fulfilment of existing wood supply agreements that expire in 2007.
The current agreements require an unsustainable level of logging. After 2007 substantial reductions in timber volumes will be necessary if the timber industry is to be put on a sustainable footing.
The North East Forest Alliance and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW have put forward a "Public Interest Plan for Forest Protection and Ecologically Sustainable Forest Use in North-East NSW".
The plan proposes industry restructuring to re-employ displaced workers elsewhere in the timber industry. These areas include reafforestation and plantations, reserve management and natural resource planning, forest repair and rehabilitation, tourism and education, forest foods and other products, and regulation and enforcement.
A forest management strategy that meets the needs of the community is demonstrably possible. If the Carr government puts the short-term and short-sighted profits of the timber industry ahead of community interest, an escalation of public protest actions will be the only option.
Dailan Pugh, speaking at the rally, pointed out that the biggest threat to the future of the timber industry is not the conservation movement but the timber industry itself. Logging is proceeding at a pace that undermines its own future.
The question is whether the public interest will be put ahead of private profit before or after the last of our old-growth forests are obliterated.