By Bob Brown, ABC
The Swift Parrot is flying towards extinction. Yet the forest ‘peace deal’ signed between loggers and theWilderness Society, Australian Conservation Foundationand Environment Tasmania (I am a founding member of the first and a life member of the second) threatens unprecedented penalties for forest campaigners who try to stop swift parrot nesting sites being logged.
Written into the Tasmanian Forests Agreement 2012 (pdf)(the ‘peace deal’) is a ‘durability’ clause aimed to stop future protests against logging in native forests. This month, the Legislative Council (upper house) expanded it so that either house of parliament can block the national park proclamations and other forest reservations in the agreement if there is any “substantial” forest protest against ongoing logging between now and October next year.
Amongst immediate and agreed logging plans are those to flatten three areas (called coupes) of swift parrot nesting habitat in Bruny Island’s forests.
The migratory ‘swiftie’ is the fastest parrot on Earth. While the ferry takes all night to cross Bass Strait, this bird takes three hours. It spends the winter months feeding in woodlands dispersed from Sydney (where it was first scientifically described in 1797) to Adelaide. The swift parrot flies to the southeast coastline of Tasmania for the summer breeding season. It nests in hollows which, to form, require trees more than 100 years old, and it feeds on eucalypt blossom nectar and native cherries. Its once great flocks are down to 1,000 breeding pairs and the numbers are falling and so it is on the internationally recognised list of rare and endangered species.
Since industrialised logging arrived in Tasmania, with the export woodchip industry setting up in the heart of swift parrot habitat at Triabunna on the east coast in 1971, thousands of hectares of that habitat have been logged.
Now, despite the ‘peace deal’, and freshly charged with ‘compensation’, the loggers want more. Beginning on Bruny Island.
But while loggers have the incentive, environmentalists have the disincentive. If locals organise a ‘substantial protest’ (one which impedes logging) over these three coupes, it will license the Legislative Council to vote down national park status for other high conservation value forests across Tasmania — from the Tarkine in the island’s northwest to the Blue Tier in the northeast and Wellington Range behind Hobart’s Mt Wellington.
As an extra penalty, the minimum amount of sawlogs to be cut from native forests under the agreement could be trebled.
This is greenmail.
What next? A law to remove the minimum wage if a ‘substantial’ protest occurs on any building site? A ban on ‘substantial’ animal rights protests which, if broken, will lead to duck shooting re-opening across Australia?
The three environment groups also agreed to provisions that block national park protection for high conservation value forests unless, and until, Forestry Tasmania gets the green accreditation (Forest Stewardship Council) it has been denied for years.
Evan Rowley, CEO of Forestry Tasmania through those awful years before the global financial crisis when more than 90 log trucks a day roared down Hobart’s main streets, looked like the Cheshire cat on ABC TV this month when he confirmed that the three environment groups will join his coming sales trip to Tokyo.
Three years ago Tasmania’s woodchip industry collapsed. All three export mills closed. This led the logging companies to make a public plea to environmentalists to come to the table and help work out a rescue deal.
It was expected that, in return for helping them get monetary ‘compensation’ to get out, the loggers would back the protection of Tasmania’s high conservation value forests. The loggers were on the ropes.
As leader of the Australian Greens, I approached the relevant ministers in the Gillard government, including the Prime Minister, to facilitate progress. While I was cut out of further negotiations, more than $300 million was slated to flow from Canberra to Tasmania, the bulk of it to loggers or logging areas to buy out timber rights, reskill workers or help set up new work opportunities.
At the end of 2012, after three years of negotiations, the Tasmanian Forest Agreement was signed by the environment groups and the loggers. It specified that 504,000 hectares of the ancient forests would be protected, the bulk of it in national parks or other reserves ‘as soon as feasible’. That is, this year.
The Gillard Government nominated 124,000 hectares of these forests, including the world’s tallest flowering forests, for World Heritage listing in February. It is expected that listing will be validated by the World Heritage Committee in June.
However, at state level, the logging industry played good cop-bad cop and its radical wing lobbied parliament to dishonour the agreement. They were backed by the Liberals. The Legislative Council duly amended the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Bill to put protection of the remaining forests off until at least October 2014. The bad cop plan is to await a Liberals win in the September federal election and, more particularly, in the state election next March. The Liberals are committed to ensuring that “not one stick” of the forests will be protected. As one independent but Liberal-aligned member of the upper house put it, any new forest reserves will be “put to the sword!”
While the amended bill kills off the guarantee of immediate national parks, Tasmania’s media, in particular the ABC, has persisted in calling it the ‘peace deal’ as if nothing has changed. Perhaps that is because the environment groups did not call on the state government to insist that the upper house remove its amendments. Instead they entreatied the five Tasmanian Greens in the lower house to support the amended deal. Four of the five did and the bill is now law.
National Greens leader, Christine Milne, with three decades of experience in Tasmania’s environmental battles, opposed the amendments. She wanted the Legislative Council taken on. In this, she was backed by her fellow Greens senator from Launceston, Peter Whish-Wilson.
So fraught is the environmental dividend, compared with that promised by the signed agreement of 2012, that a surer outcome would have come from leaving the logging industry to the wolves of the market place. The millions of dollars now flowing from Canberra would be better supporting the job-rich tourism industry (15,000 jobs and expanding) rather than the jobs-sparse logging industry (2,000 jobs and contracting).
The Tarkine wilderness contains Australia’s largest temperate rainforest. CNN in the US recently gave it the accolade of the world’s most desirable remote, wild place to visit. The Tarkine’s rainforest was protected from logging by the Howard government. However, in January 2013, the Federal Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke, binned the recommendation of his own Australian Heritage Council (headed up by Carmen Lawrence) to protect the same 450,000 hectares of Tarkine from mining. This came in the wake of a protest against the Tarkine’s protection by 1,500 pro-mining folk in Burnie. They were addressed by Labor Premier Lara Giddings, the NSW Labor right’s Paul Howes and an array of pro-Liberal luminaries. Burke then ticked off on the first open cut mine, one kilometre long, inside the Tarkine Protected Area, near its scenic west coast. Spurred on by such success, further pro-mining protests are planned for mining in the rainforest.
So it is that in modern Tasmania you can expect environmental destruction if you protest for mining, and you can expect environmental destruction if you protest against logging. And the top environment groups are heading with the loggers to Japan.
Bob Brown is the former Greens Party leader and Former Australian Senator.