Veteran environmentalist Bob Brown has been arrested again. In his own words, the former Greens leader makes his case for real protection of Tasmania’s great natural heritage.
In the Palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) language, Lapoinya means fern tree. But in the offices of Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman and Federal Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt, it is just another word for logging.
Lapoinya is a tiny rural community half an hour’s drive southwest of Burnie, on the northwest coast of Tasmania. It’s prize crop of garlic is so good that it sells in Australian supermarkets for $32.50 a kilogram, next to imported garlic fetching just $7.50.
Most of the region’s forests have long since been replaced by plantations of foreign pines. So the Lapoinya community is highly protective of the remnant native forest in its midst. The problem is that the multi-billion dollar Malaysian logging company Ta Ann, infamous for its hand in the destruction of the forests of Sarawak, took a $22 million incentive from a previous Tasmanian government to set up a mill for laminating wood product at Smithton, west of Burnie.
The natural regrowth in the Lapoinya forest is just right for Ta Ann to exploit. But when it came to a choice between Ta Ann and the local community, Hodgman and Hunt chose Ta Ann.
Two weeks ago, I walked the bridal track along a perimeter of the Lapoinya Forest with some of the local people. I heard about their desperation to save the forest and its bevy of rare and endangered wildlife, including Tasmanian devils and spotted tiger quolls (both are large carnivorous marsupials), and astacopsis gouldi. The latter is the world’s largest freshwater crayfish: it grows up to 80 centimetres in length and 6 kilograms in weight and the pristine creeks in the Lapoinya forest are a vital nursery.
Modern industrial logging – unlike the selective logging of old which allowed the native forest to recover – involves clearfelling and then firebombing, with the deliberated knowledge of all concerned, including Greg Hunt, that the native species are eliminated and replaced with a monoculture plantation set for endless and rapid future clearfelling and replacement.
Logging extrudes mud into the streams and covers the naturally-fallen timber which the crayfish eat: so they starve.
Hodgman was elected on a platform which included draconian new laws to stop people peacefully protesting against industrial logging of native forests. The maximum penalty for peacefully standing in the way of Ta Ann friendly bulldozers or chainsaws is 5 years in jail.
In Tasmania these days, there are harsher penalties for saving a tree than for endangering a child.
— Bob Brown (@BobBrownFndn) January 25, 2016
Both Premier Hodgman and his ruthless minister for forests Paul Harriss (and, of course, Greg Hunt) have failed to visit the Lapoinya Forest. They have issued the forest’s death warrant sight unseen. And while they promised their laws were aimed at radical extremists and not “mums and dads”, the first person arrested defending the Lapoinya Forest was a grandfather, and the next a young mother.
When partner Paul Thomas and I went back to Lapoinya on Sunday we sat around the table of local residents looking out over the rolling countryside to the shimmering waters of Bass Strait. After dinner, the youngsters at the gathering sang songs, including an anthem to their forest.
On Monday morning we walked back down the bridal trail through the forest and soon ran into the first Forestry Tasmania bulldozer. The trail wending through the centuries-old ferns and trees is being obliterated as a logging road of raw earth as wide as any Main Street is being made to prepare for the trucks that will take the spoils to Ta Ann’s factory.
The profits will go to Malaysia (an independent economist reckons the logging at Lapoinya will cost Tasmanian taxpayers $50,000 or more: Harriss, who denies this, has released no assessment).
I thought of the devils and quolls which will die in the operation. Greg Hunt, the nation’s chief guardian of wildlife, will be sitting on his hands as their habitat is irrevocably destroyed.
I also thought of the potential penalty of 5 years in jail. But at what stage do we human beings get out of our comfort zone for the planet’s beleaguered wildlife, which is now going extinct at the greatest rate in human history?
So, along with a 67-year-old man from nearby Boat Harbour, I was arrested and then charged at Burnie Police Station. Paul (who took some film of the logging and arrests) and another local were warned and escorted by police out of the forest: if they go there again they will be summarily arrested.
In 2016 Lapoinya is a cameo of the destruction of the living biosphere of planet Earth. It has been agreed to, with aforethought, by messers Turnbull, Hunt, Hodgman and Harris. Australian voters might think of Lapoinya when next we go to the ballot box.
Meanwhile, along with the other defenders of the forest, I am due to appear before the bench of the Burnie Court on March 15 to test the laws, endorsed by Greg Hunt, making it illegal for citizens to go to the defence of Tasmania’s unique native forests and wildlife.