Protests mount over Tarkine road


By Ben Courtice

HOBART — Protesters are mounting a determined campaign to halt the Heemskirk link road, which is being bulldozed through the Tarkine wilderness in the state's north-west.

Actions have been organised by residents' networks in the north-west and statewide by the Greens and the Wilderness Society (TWS). At the first blockade, eight people were arrested. At the second, six days later, which involved about 40 people, 12 were arrested. Three days later, protesters went into the area, but did not blockade, allowing emergency services to attend to a large bushfire started by the Forestry Department.

A picket of 70 people was organised by TWS outside the Launceston office of ALP MP Sylvia Smith. Smith was elected by 40 votes on Green preferences. The state ALP opposes the road, but also opposes federal intervention, "making themselves irrelevant", as Australian Green Party leader Bob Brown commented to Green Left Weekly.

Resistance member Jonno Ricciardello, active in the anti-woodchipping campaign, said, "If the road is going to be stopped, support for the campaign has to be built around the state and in cities across the country. We need to have actions in support of the blockaders, and we've got to draw in as many people as possible."

The Greens are lodging a court challenge to halt work on the road, on the basis that the state government did not follow proper procedures; projects costing over $1 million must be examined by a parliamentary committee. Brown hopes that the challenge is successful and will buy a month's time in which work on the road will be stopped. He is confident that the government will fight to push though the 50-kilometre road and argues, "It is [federal environment minister] Faulkner who must stop the road".

The Tarkine is the largest single tract of rainforest wilderness in Australia. The area contains a wide range of biological, wilderness, geological and landform characteristics and archaeological sites. Less than 1% of the area is adequately protected.

TWS has proposed a Tarkine Wilderness Rainforest World Heritage Area to cover about 350,000 of the 450,000 hectares.

The state Liberal government so far has spent $5 million on the road, and the costs are expected to escalate to as much as $30 million over the next few years.

The initial trail is due to be completed within weeks; however, it will take several months to upgrade it to four-wheel-drive standard. There has been no environmental impact study, no economic study and no consultation with the Aborigines who traditionally owned the land.

Work on the road was halted in December by a court challenge from the Greens on the basis that it contradicted the state's environmental planning laws. The government issued a proclamation to get around this, and work started again in early February.

According to Brown, the road will serve no particular use. The money would be much better spent on the state's health, education and prison systems, said Brown, who has just been released from Risdon Prison after being arrested at the second blockade.

Brown sees the government's push to put the road through as an attempt to force a showdown with the green movement. Others see the exercise as a way of destroying the area's potential for World Heritage listing, in order to open it up for the mining and timber industries.

The timber industry has been chipping at the Tarkine's edges for years. In 1991, protesters stopped cable logging operations. Now, North Broken Hill is in the process of building Australia's biggest woodchip mill in the area, just south of Burnie.

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