19 Jul 2013

No 'Peace' For Tasmania's Forests

By Alex McInnis

Last week Alex McInnis and other activists locked on to machinery at the Ta Ann veneer mill in Tasmania. This is why they elected for direct action in response to Tasmania's forest 'peace deal'

Last Friday I was part of a group of students and activists who conducted a “walk-on” and “lock-on” at Ta Ann’s veneer mill in Smithton, Tasmania. A friend and I locked-on to machinery, while 40 others walked into the building, forcing the mill to halt operations for several hours. We targeted Ta Ann because of their ongoing use of timber from native, old growth forests, and their insistent marketing of the timber as eco-friendly.

On a personal level I participated in the action because of my concern for environmental and social justice. But there have been few effective political solutions to protect people and the environment from the demands of corporations. In the past few years direct action has been the best hope for people to protect the places they love – from farming communities locking out CSG companies, to the traditional owners at James Price Point saving the Kimberley.

I know news moves fast, and the action itself is old news now. But Tasmania is one of those places that seems permanent, “untouchable” – up there with the Great Barrier Reef, the Kimberley, the Daintree. I remember the shock I felt when I heard that the Great Barrier Reef is being dredged for the passage of coal ships. In my mind it was sacred and no government would dare risk its destruction.

I’ve noticed the same sense of shock when I speak to friends about Tasmania. Most of us on the mainland hear snippets in the media about forest “peace deals”, which have resulted in the TAS Forest Agreement. It’s easy to think the fabled old growth forests must be safe now, that surely the logging of native forest is outdated and illegal. The reactions of politicians and peak environment groups to our protest has proven to me that the forests are not safe - they are being held ransom.

The TAS Forest Agreement is an incredibly complicated document – I won’t pretend to understand it in full – but I understand enough to know it’s designed to bring “peace” through stifling protest, rather than fixing the cause of protest.

Every time I try to explain the “peace deal” to friends and family back here on the mainland I feel them zoning out. So I’ve come up with an analogy that I think is fittingly gruesome and divisive. Maybe it’s easier to understand the injustice of the deal if we bring it a little closer to home, so lets say we’re in the business of fingers, rather than forests.

There’s been a decades long battle between the finger-chopping industry and those who want to protect fingers. The Finger Agreement proposes to protect some of your fingers, and will finalise these decisions down the track, provided you stop fighting for your fingers. In the meantime they continue to chop fingers, including from proposed finger reserves. Any attempt by you to stop the finger chopping could constitute a failure of “durability”, and will spark threats that the deal is off, and all proposed finger reserves scrapped.

Some of those involved in the Finger Agreement are in a particularly tricky position. They have been trying to protect their fingers for years, and have stuck with the peace deal process in the hope that their fingers can be saved, only to find that theirs are not part of the proposed reserves. Any protest activity by them to protect their own fingers puts all fingers at risk, and may be labelled as selfish.

If your fingers, or your favourite bushwalking spot, or vital, ancient ecosystems were being destroyed, while politicians and industry members watched on, making sure you didn’t react, by threatening to save none of it if you did, would you sit by hoping that something was left by the time they were through? Would you actively support those companies processing the resource, and in Ta Ann’s case, selling it as “eco-friendly” and sustainable? Would you label the efforts of others to halt the destruction as “uncalled for” and “unnecessary”?

Or would you realise that the political process has been a sham? I have seen that despite the meetings and talk of peace, it is peoples’ ability to protest that has been limited, not the logging of native forests - and it is still up to communities on the ground to protect the places they love.

We locked on to Ta Ann’s veneer mill because stifling the voices of those on the ground is not the way to save our forests. We locked on because the Tasmanian government continues to pour taxpayer money into a dead-end industry, rather than create jobs that are sustainable for people and our environments. We locked on in solidarity with the people of Sarawak, who suffer under Ta Ann.

We locked on because the TAS Forest Agreement has made no guarantees for the protection of Tasmania’s forests, and that is important knowledge for anyone who had begun to assume the forests were in safe hands.

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Posted Friday, July 19, 2013 - 13:45

The EPA in WA has recently given approval for a massive expansion of logging. 95% of the original Jarrah forests have been destroyed and significant amounts that remain are poor regrowth riddled with dieback spread by forest industry machinery. Now they plan to expand exploitation and add to it the much less commercially valued Marri tree. So we are probably going to see more conflict in WA forests soon.

The core of the problem is I believe cultural. Even Scientists don't fully understand forests or for that matter the Earth because nature for western civilisation is a curio or something to be exploited. Our traditional knowledge of nature was destroyed by periodic wars and rapid shifts in society, economy and culture. Even though recent studies make clear that defforestation releases significant carbon that is not recaptured by re growth we still exist in an era where the IPCC does not fully comprehend the science of forests. 

European civilisation destroyed nature on its home continent with little regret. Fortunately rainfall has not fallen to a level where it effects agriculture and its deep peet soils left over from the last ice age will not be exhausted. This seems to have worked a treat for Europeans and their total divorce from nature seems to have meant very little to them, though pangs of loss and neurosis do mainfest in loss of commuity and connectedness. The problem is the European societal and economic model that perpetuates the effective eradication of nature when done on a planetary scale becomes a problem. The model simply doesn't make sense anymore. Except for the distant echoes of Pagan, Goth and Celt culture nearly every cultural and intellectual framework we have is obsolete. This is one reason why that for ex Premier Bartlett, doing a deal with the Greens was doing a deal with the 'Devil' because valuing nature means subconsciously bumping into a pre Christian past. We need to re invent ourselves from the ground up and start right now. We don't need to discover our animal totems and preChristian selves though it may help, we simply need to point the arrow of our formidable technological ability in the direction of nature.

Posted Friday, July 19, 2013 - 22:04

Trees grow back, fingers don't. It's called sustainability.

Posted Sunday, July 21, 2013 - 20:33

We don't need to discover our animal totems and preChristian selves though it may help, we simply need to point the arrow of our formidable technological ability in the direction of nature. - See more at: http://newmatilda.com/2013/07/19/no-peace-tasmanias-forests#sthash.kmZq7F4L.dpuf

Provided you stay out of Old Growth, it is possible to harvest a forest and make it grow at the same time

OBVIOUSLY the Old Growth is too hard to resist and the Peace Deal just sounds like a strategy to revert to  Old Logging Methods.

Needles to say there was not much mainland press. 

Posted Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - 14:09


I actually hold the trilogy of desert religions and their religious codes responsible for the destruction of the planet.  When you look at the ancient pagan and native religions, there is respect for nature.  There are also gods that are your friends, not judgemental like the one and only omni-everything god, not infallible. 

Our scientific knowledge must now elevate us past this supernatural hangover and once again let us stand in awe  before nature, a tiny part of it.


Posted Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - 14:56

The tragedy we see now is the inevitable consequence of a deliberate government agenda to exclude from the 'peace process', those who could and would have made a positive contibution to reaching a meaningful agreement. Those allowed to sit at the table were the very ones the industry and government knew how to handle. Exclusion of key players was a deliberate tactic

The stalwarts of the industry did a comprehensive job of out-smarting the selected 'greens'.

Who seriously thought that the forest industry and the Tasmaanian Government and its highly paid spin doctors would play with a straight bat?

You can bet they knew what would take place once the 'deal' went to the upper house. It was all so tragically predictable. As was the inclusion of bans on any form of objection or protest. The enviro group, along with the Tassie Greens (Kim Booth excepted) should be hanging their heads in shame!

I have no doubt that the Green vote at the next state election will plunge - so who do you vote for?

There is no doubt that the forest industry must and will change in Tasmania. Industrial scale slash and burn clearfell logging must end. With the long predicted and inevitable demise of Gunns Limited, the industry cannot return to the modus operandi of what was a ruthless corporate monolith.

Now is the time for a revival of family sawmills selectively harvesting suitable trees.

Tasmania must have a healthy forest industry - a revival of family mills would employ far more people than Gunns and FT ever did. Forget about woodchips - we will never compete with low cost plantation grower countries like Chile. We are crazy to export unmilled high quality logs to Asia.

With the long overdue end federally-sponsored taxpayer subsidised plantations, it is now time to think through what to do with uneconomic and unviable disease-ridden plantations. Think instead about how to bring primary production land back to true agricultural use (who will pay for this?), and restore native forests destroyed to make way for the noxious weed known as e.nitens.

It is time to set about implementing viable ways of undoing all the damage done over the last few decades! Bring back sustainable, economic logging!
Support local sawmills!