Will WA Labor save forests and jobs?

January 31, 2001


PERTH — The campaign to save Western Australia's old-growth forests has become a major issue in the February 10 state election campaign. On January 23, the ALP released its "controversial" policy which pledges to stop old-growth logging and compensate timber workers for job losses. If elected, Labor promises to immediately end logging in 99% (340,500 hectares) of WA's remaining old-growth forests and place them in reserves.

The mainstream media heralded it as a "green gamble" and Labor has been attacked by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other employer groups.

Although Premier Richard Court's Coalition government has made some changes to its regional forest agreement (RFA), more than 80,000 hectares of old-growth jarrah, marri and wandoo forest — nearly one-quarter of WA's remaining old-growth forests — will be available for logging indefinitely under the Coalition government.

The ALP has also said that it will place an immediate moratorium on logging in the remaining 1% and review the Department of Conservation and Land Management's logging plans and timber contracts to determine whether the current contracts can be honoured without logging remaining unreserved area of old-growth forest.

Christine Sharpe, Greens MLC for the south-west, said that, despite the ALP's pledge, "5500 hectares of old-growth may [still] be logged to honour the contracts, which expire in 2003. I believe an immediate end to all old-growth logging [is] needed to end the conflict." She welcomed Labor's proposal for financial assistance to timber workers.

Democratic Socialist candidate for the seat of Fremantle, Anthony Benbow, told Green Left Weekly that while the proposed assistance for workers was a positive step, it was still inadequate. "The assistance package will include a wage subsidy of $200 per week for up to 16 weeks. This means that approximately 80% of government funding will be going into the pockets of the timber industry bosses


"The Labor Party is simply point-scoring. It is trying to regain the 'green vote' that it lost in past elections. If the ALP were serious about helping the timber communities it would commit itself to force the industry to immediately make the transition to plantations without subsidies. If the employers won't do this then their businesses should be nationalised.

"Workers who lose their jobs, even if only temporarily, should be paid their wages in full until they resume work. The native timber industry has been exploiting the old-growth forests and timber workers for far too long. It has destroyed all but a fraction of WA's original forests. The government should not be giving any funds to the industry bosses. The money should be pumped into the south west communities which have been devastated by job losses."

Contact the Democratic Socialist election campaign at 9218 9608 or email <perth@dsp.org.au>.

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