The panda strikes back


Dear Natasha,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on Clive Hamilton’s opinion piece entitled ‘It’s not easy, being a green panda’. We are keen to place the facts on the record.

Natural Heritage Trust press release is not evidence of support for Howard Government

The Threatened Species Network provides small grants to community groups who perform threatened species conservation work. WWF administers the grants for the Commonwealth Government.

For some years now the Minister for Environment and Heritage and WWF have announced the successful applications on National Threatened Species Day, 7 September.

The election was called one week before Threatened Species Day but the successful applicants had already been chosen and WWF saw no reason not to join with the Minister in announcing the grants, particularly as it provides WWF with an opportunity to speak on the great challenges facing Australian biodiversity conservation. WWF did the same thing during the 2001 election, and stands by both decisions.

I should also note that on 6 September 2004 WWF publicly cautioned the Minister against taking more credit than he was due under the findings of the WWF/Humane Society International-commissioned report entitled Small Steps for Nature “ A review of progress towards the National Objectives and Targets for Biological Diversity Conservation 2001-2005. Neither that conduct, nor the findings of the review, supports a finding that WWF is biased in favour of the Howard Government.

WWF Blueprint for the Forest Industry and Native Vegetation Management in Tasmania

The WWF Blueprint for the Forest Industry and Vegetation Management in Tasmania, which is available for public inspection on the WWF website, proposes:

That landclearing for any purpose (forestry, agriculture, urban development) be ended;

That improvements be made to native forest logging so that it better mimics the main form of natural forest disturbance, wildfire;

That an additional approximately 208,000 ha of forest reserves be created, together with approximately 96,000 ha of non-forest reserves (the final area to be determined by a science-based process);

That major changes be made to forest regulation, including by establishing an independent scientific committee to oversee native forest logging; and

That the impact of the changes on the timber industry be ameliorated by: shifting proposed plantation development from native forest to already cleared land; investing in downstream processing (so that more money is made from the same area of forest); improving wood recovery; and developing tourism.

The Blueprint has received acceptance in some quarters and opposition in others. That is to be expected of any proposal advanced in the highly charged atmosphere of Tasmanian forestry. However, WWF, which is active in forestry conservation issues throughout the world and has worked in Tasmania since 1979, is quite satisfied that the Blueprint has not damaged the cause of forest conservation. In fact it believes that the Blueprint focuses on the most significant biodiversity conservation issue in Tasmania “ ending landclearing. It is largely due to WWF’s efforts that the remaining Huon and King Billy Pine forests in Tasmania are reserved.

There is no evidence whatsoever that the Coalition will adopt the Blueprint as policy. However, the question of whom adopts the Blueprint as policy is not relevant to WWF “ WWF simply develops good policy and then promotes it to decision-makers.

WWF response to Taming the Panda

WWF wrote to Dr Hamilton on 10 August 2004 and identified a number of issues relevant to the claim that WWF was ‘too close’ to the Howard government including:

That WWF is the only major conservation group which has sued a Minister of the Howard government;

That WWF had supported the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act because it significantly extended and improved Commonwealth environmental law (an uncontrovertible proposition) WWF and the Queensland Conservation Council: Queensland Conservation Council Inc v Minister for the Environment and Heritage [2003] FCA 1463 (19 December 2003), and on appeal, Minister for the Environment and Heritage v Queensland Conservation Council Inc [2004] FCAFC 190 (30 July 2004) (‘the Nathan Dam’ case);

That WWF funds its advocacy work and most of its policy work entirely from private funds. The Commonwealth and state Governments fund only its conservation program work (and a small proportion of policy work). A number of other conservation organisations also obtain significant program funding from Commonwealth and state Governments including Greening Australia and Landcare; and

That WWF is strictly non-party political “ over the past 2 years it has: worked with the Carr and Howard governments to end landclearing in NSW; worked with the Beattie government, over the opposition of the Howard government, to end landclearing in Queensland; worked with the Beattie and Howard governments to increase protected areas on the Great Barrier Reef from 4.6% to 33%; and lobbied the Howard, Beattie, Carr, Rann and Bracks governments to improve the health of the Murray-Darling
WWF also identified a number of methodological flaws in Dr Hamilton’s analysis of WWF media releases (the ‘public statements’ referred to in his article in including:

That the media releases had been edited without explaining why or how they were edited;

That the WWF media releases are ‘compared’ to those of other organisations. However, there is no consistency in the choice of other organisation. This suggests that the other organisation has been selected in order to highlight differences between the views of WWF and the other organisation; and

That in some cases there is no real difference between the views expressed by WWF and the other organisation.

In addition, not all WWF media releases had been subject to analysis (i.e. Dr Hamilton selected the media releases he wished to use).

Ironically, WWF was the subject of a similar report by the Institute for Public Affairs in 2003. Having been attacked by think tanks of both Right and Left, WWF’s reputation as an independent organisation would seem assured.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any queries.

Yours sincerely

Deirdre Moor
Acting Chief Executive Officer

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.