Tas forests, pulp mill: Another Rudd betrayal

July 27, 2007

Federal ALP leader Kevin Rudd took a further step to the right on July 23 when he announced full support for logging old-growth forests in Tasmania. Rudd also announced his support for Gunns Ltd's $2 billion pulp mill project proposed for the Tamar Valley, north of Launceston, in the federal electorate of Bass.

Responding to Rudd's announcement, The Wilderness Society (TWS) said Rudd had betrayed the people of Bass. "Most people in the Bass electorate, which Mr Rudd hopes to win in the forthcoming general election, are opposed to the pulp mill going ahead", TWS spokesperson Geoff Law said. "People are alarmed that the impact the pulp mill will have on the air, ocean, forests, climate and local industries that rely on Tasmania's clean green reputation."

While visiting Tasmania on July 23, Rudd announced that he would scrap the policy introduced by previous federal Labor leader Mark Latham days before the 2004 federal election. Latham's policy included a moratorium on logging of native forests in Tasmania and an $800 million fund to restructure the timber industry along sustainable lines.

Instead, Rudd has pledged support for the Regional Forest Agreement adopted in 1997 between the Tasmanian and federal governments, as well as the 2005 supplementary Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement (TCFA).

"[PM John] Howard is locked in behind that [the TCFA], I'm locking in behind that, I can't be any clearer than that", Rudd said.

Rudd's announced forests policy violates the ALP policy platform adopted at the ALP national conference in April. The platform calls for "further protection of Tasmanian high-conservation-value, old-growth, rainforests and other ecosystems".

In a July 26 interview with Green Left Weekly, Law said: "Rudd has condemned 320,000 hectares of pristine forests in Tasmania that his policy should have protected. He will effectively be driving the bulldozers into the valleys of the Florentine, the Weld, the Tarkine, the Great Western Tiers and into the mountains of the north-east highlands."

Weld Valley forest campaigner Will Mooney told GLW that "those of us that are campaigning for protection of the Weld feel shafted by this announcement and think that it demonstrates a failure of leadership. It's back to square one for us, we'll be heading back into the forests and fighting harder than ever to stop the logging of these precious areas."

There has been huge public controversy in Tasmania over the approval processes for Gunns' pulp mill project, with Tasmanian Labor Premier Paul Lennon allowing Gunns to pull out of the legally mandated assessment process conducted by the Resource Planning and Development Commission (RPDC).

The Lennon government has brought in new laws allowing a much more limited environmental impact assessment of the project to be carried out by a private consultant with links to the industry.

Law told GLW: "Rudd is not quibbling with either the state government or federal government assessment processes, even though the state government process is a farce, and the federal government process is under challenge in the Federal Court by The Wilderness Society."

"Rudd has thumbed his nose at the people of Bass, a seat Labor wants to win back at the next federal election", Law added. "Opposition to the proposed pulp mill in areas such as Bass, which are most affected, far outweighs support."

The protests against the pulp mill project have grown in size since it was withdrawn from the RPDC assessment process in March. Thus, while 3000 people marched in Launceston against the project last September 16, up to 11,000 participated in an anti-mill march in Launceston on June 16.

A TasPoll carried out at the end of April found that 46% of people in the affected municipalities opposed the mill. Only 36% supported it.

Many Tasmanians are concerned that without an independent assessment process, the pulp mill project will get the go-ahead regardless of its devastating environmental, economic and social consequences.

According to the Gunns Ltd's draft integrated impact statement, the pulp mill will use native forests for 80% of wood inputs. It will also burn half a million tonnes of wood every year in its power generator.

It is possible that the pulp mill will almost double Gunns' total wood chipping in Tasmania. "Woodchip exports have been declining because the Japanese customers now prefer plantations and what Gunns want to do is fill that gap with the pulp mill, to pulp the native forests, and Rudd has climbed on board that juggernaut", Law told GLW.

This latest policy announcement by Rudd exposes the "greenwashing" character of Labor's environmental policies — while talking up its "green" credentials and concerns, the ALP leadership is committed to basically the same environmentally destructive policies as the Coalition parties. Forest policy is a key example.

Forestry practices and land clearing have been named by the Australian Greenhouse Office as the biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Tasmania. Rudd criticises Howard for a "do-nothing" approach to combatting global warming, yet Rudd ignores the role that native forests play in reducing the build up of CO2 in the atmosphere.

"Locking up carbon by protecting forests is the quickest, simplest and cheapest way that politicians can reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, yet Rudd is putting taxpayer funds into destroying forests", Law noted in a July 23 TWS media release.

Similarly, in a July 24 media release on Rudd's policy, Greens leader Senator Bob Brown stated that Rudd's promise of "$8 million to protect the forest industry from climate change, fostered by an industry which logs and burns forests and puts massive tonnages of greenhouse gases in to the atmosphere each year, is illogical and perverse.

"Rudd has not allocated a cent to protecting the organic farmers, the grape growers, the wine makers, tourism operators or the fishing industries from the impacts of climate change caused by the burning of forests — or the impact of pollution from the proposed pulp mill in the Tamar Valley."

Many environment groups have accused the ALP of caving in to pressure from the forestry division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and allowing it to dictate ALP policy.

The forestry division of the CFMEU certainly has a shameful record, under the guise of preserving or creating "jobs", of joining with the timber industry employers in lobbying for the government permission to destroy native forests.

Cooperation between the bosses and the union's officials however appears to run much deeper than this. Tasmanian CFMEU forestry division secretary Scott McLean, for example, has acknowledged the union accepted money from the timber industry to help fund a court case in Victoria concerning a stand-off in 1999 between timber workers and protesters that took place in the Otways forests, south-east of Melbourne.

The ABC reported on July 26 that "the court case has cost the union almost $2.5 million, and one CFMEU official has told the ABC's AM program that [CFMEU forestry division national secretary Michael] O'Connor has boasted that Gunns contributed $600,000 to the Otways case".

O'Connor says that is a lie, but he has confirmed that the CFMEU forestry division accepted funds from the National Association of Forestry Industries. "We certainly have no problems about receiving assistance from anybody, whether they be small contractors, community organisations or employers who wish to show some support for people who they believe have been targeted by conservation groups", he told the ABC.

Rudd's policy betrayal reflects his desire to prove to big business Labor's profits-first policy agenda than pandering to the forestry union's concerns. Of course, it's convenient for Rudd that the two coincide — he knows that on forestry policy he won't come in for any union-bashing demagogy from Howard or the corporate mass media.

While both Labor and Howard use "job certainty" as justification for their pro-logging company forestry policies, jobs in native forest logging are doomed to run out as the forests disappear. More jobs would be created in a sustainable forest industry as promoted by environment groups such as TWS and political parties such the Greens and the Socialist Alliance.

Law told GLW that a truly pro-environment policy "would protect those 320,000 hectares of high conservation forest, reduce the scale and severity of logging elsewhere and focus on adding value to the timber products extracted at a sustainable level from our plantations and genuine re-growth forests".

The Greens have released a "forest transition strategy" that outlines plans for a switch to more sustainable practices. Matthew Holloway, the Socialist Alliance candidate for Franklin, agreed with most of the Greens' strategy but also called for Gunns and other forestry companies to be "nationalised so that decisions about our precious natural heritage can be made in the interests of the environment and our children's future, instead of in the interests of corporate profits".

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