Unionists blockade Tarkine road

Issue 

By Rohan Gaiswinkler

Unionists from unions covering the community, health and education sectors participated in a blockade of the Heemskirk Link Road on March 24, calling upon the government to stop the environmentally destructive development.

The state Liberal government has pressed ahead with the road despite widespread protest, ongoing blockades and its own planning regulations. Government claims that the road is needed for tourism are suspect considering that:

  • without a $40 million upgrade only 4 wheel drive vehicles can use the road;

  • the road provides direct access from the recently completed Hampshire Woodchip Mill to the Tarkine forests;

  • the government plans to chip large areas of the Tarkine forests, and this and the road itself undermine the tourist value of the area.

The unionists wanted to draw attention to the desperate need for funds in the education, community and health areas and to show that these areas were of much greater priority than a 4WD track which has cost $5 million so far. I participated as a member of the Health and Community Services Union.

After a planning meeting on the Thursday, we drove up on Friday, March 24, to a camping ground near the town of Hampshire. About 20 unionists from HACSU, the Community and Public Sector Union and the Australian Education Union came from around the state. Arriving late in the evening, we discussed with green supporters who were assisting our blockade.

At 3am came the wake-up call. We gathered our stuff together and, accompanied by the ABC 7.30 Report crew, drove through the mining town of Savage River and on to Heemskirk Link Road turn-off. The very early start was essential because the road workers are contracted to work 16 hours a day in order to push the road through as fast as possible.

We proceeded on foot along the road for several hundred metres under the cover of darkness. After finding a strategic point near a small bridge, we set up the blockade at about 5am.

The light of day grew, and the beauty of our surroundings was revealed. Also revealed was the ugly mess of muddy clay and eroded earth that is the Heemskirk Link Road.

Finally, at 1Oam the police arrived. After some discussion they left, and returned at about 11am with reinforcements. We were asked to leave and told we would be arrested if we did not. Then one by one we were again asked if we intended to leave, and those who refused — 10 of us — were arrested immediately.

Those arrested were driven out to the Link Road turn-off in police 4WDs and "processed", which included being photographed and having a lot of personal details recorded. We were then put in a paddy wagon and driven for two hours to Burnie, placed in the police lock-up for a while and then driven to court. We were requested to appear before the Burnie Court of Petty Sessions on May 2, and released on bail with the condition that we not return to the area of the Link Road.

All up the action went well with no open hostility from road workers or the police (there has been trouble at other blockades). However, 7.30 Report and Green Left Weekly were the only media to turn up. While the 7.30 Report coverage was fair, it was disappointing that they did not take many of the points we were trying to make. For example:

  • The $40 million that it would cost to upgrade the road is the same amount that has been slashed from the state Department of Community and Health Services in the last five years (while $50 million has been cut from the Education Budget).

  • It takes $5 million to build the road (to date), employing a handful of people, while 2000 jobs have been lost in health and 800 in public sector teaching since 1990.

It was very positive that unionists were visibly on the side of the environment instead of the usual media portrayal of workers as anti-environment.

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