WA media, government attempt a greenwash

May 12, 1999


WA media, government attempt a greenwash

By Justin Harman

PERTH — Western Australia's old-growth forests will remain open to logging and $41 million of public money will go to WA's big timber companies under the regional forest agreement (RFA) signed by WA's Liberal government on May 4. The 20-year, legally binding RFA has outraged environmental activists and many others who want an immediate halt to all old-growth logging.

The establishment media and government have made a major effort to paint the RFA as an environmental victory and a huge concession to green groups. The government's assertion that 67% of old-growth forests will be protected by the RFA has been widely quoted by the media. The RFA's creation and expansion of some national parks have also been used to portray the RFA as a "green" agreement.

Environment groups have been quick to point out that while some new reserves have been created, many existing reserves have been opened to logging. WA Greens MLA Giz Watson commented that the timber industry has been given the green light to cut down the best forests while conservationists have been handed "a lemon of reserves of low-grade trees".

The agreement totally ignores public demands for an end to all old-growth logging, which were expressed in the thousands-strong marches against logging earlier this year and in all opinion polls on the issue.

The government's figure of 67% of old-growth forests being protected — the WA Forest Alliance (WAFA) says it is actually 58% — is totally inadequate when you consider that only 10% of the original old-growth forests remain.

More than $10 million of taxpayers' money was spent on the development of the RFA over three years. Only government and timber industry representatives had input into the process.

Peter Robertson, the convener of WAFA, told Green left Weekly last month that WAFA "pulled out of the RFA at the commencement of the process when [the government] established the steering committee, filled it with industry bureaucrats and excluded any representatives of the conservation or any other sector of the community. Other than a couple of small conservation groups in the south-west, no other conservation organisations have been involved in the RFA."

More than $300,000 will now be spent on advertisements to convince the public that the RFA is environmentally sensitive.

The government has attempted to further manipulate public opinion by presenting itself as fighting for timber workers' rights. With media in tow, environment minister Cheryl Edwardes travelled to the town of Nannup immediately after the signing of the RFA to tell timber workers, "Your futures are safe".

This security is supposed to be guaranteed by the $41 million promised in the RFA for timber companies to "restructure". However, workers will gain very little from this cash, which was intended to buy support for the RFA from the timber bosses.

Even with company profits secured by their guaranteed access to old-growth forests, the government and the Australian Workers Union admit that 50 to 150 workers will soon be stood down by the industry.

It is not yet clear whether the government will succeed in turning the enormous tide of public opinion that opposes the RFA. A concerted campaign against the RFA has been promised by WAFA, with other activists proclaiming an "environmental war".

With more than half of the remaining old-growth forests and millions of public dollars at stake, it is crucial that this campaign succeed.

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