No 'Peace' For Tasmania's Forests


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 It’s easy to think the fabled old growth forests must be safe now, that surely the logging of native forest is outdated and illegal.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.

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.