Tasmania: a death warrant against pristine forests Abbott has never seen

The Guardian, 6th March 2014

Prime Minister Abbott's rousingly-received speech to an audience of loggers at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday night had a Biblical ring to it.

Abbott referred to the Greens as "the devil", lectured that "you intelligently make the most of the good things God has given us" and laboured his key message, a steal from Genesis, that "the environment is meant for man".

His audience was the cream of the industry which has marauded the nation's forests since industrialised logging for woodchip exports to Japanese and Chinese paper mills began in 1970. Abbott said "I don't see people who are environmental bandits, I see people who are the ultimate conservationists ..... I salute you." So clear-fall logging and burning of the tallest flowering forests on the planet, with provision for the dynamiting of trees over 80 metres tall, is an ultimate good in Abbott's book of ecological wisdom.

Abbott began with a homily to his shipwright grandfather and a story about how, as a schoolboy, he paddled his timber canoe in Sydney Harbour's Lane Cove National Park. But the boy who bypassed industrial foreshores to find a local forest for his own special experience has become a Prime Minister with no worries about issuing a death warrant against distant pristine forests which he has never seen.

There is a parallel here with his easy ability to lock up lovely, warm-hearted but unfamiliar human beings in the murderous conditions of Manus Island. They are secondary to his own progress.

H G Wells observed a century ago that history is a race between education and disaster. Yet all the signs are that, in terms of Earth's environment, no amount of education and information will deter seven billion Homo Sapiens from making decisions which, like Abbott's, prescribe a more barren and forlorn planet in the years to come. Abbott is a Rhodes Scholar but intelligence can be counter-productive, if not dangerous, when it comes with a lack of empathy and compassion for other human beings and Earth's natural living environment.

Australians, amongst the best educated people in the world, voted in droves for Abbott because he was discriminatory, pugnacious and simplistic: "stop the boats", "no carbon tax", "no mining tax" and "log Tasmania's World Heritage forests" were all up-front in his winning election campaign. He made a highlight of cutting $4 billion from aid to poor people overseas, promising Australians he would use the funds to build them better highways instead: it was another winner. Abbott is an outstanding advocate for me-now materialism and he was elected without subterfuge. He is what he stands for.

A minority of people rate the environment, or the wellbeing of the world their grandchildren will inherit, higher than the wellbeing of their wallets.

However Abbott also knows that hard-hearted exploitation of people and nature has its limits in any democracy. So he covered his homily to the loggers with an excuse to small-l liberal voters based on a studied lie.

"One of the first acts of the incoming government was to begin the process to try to get out of the World Heritage listing 74,000 hectares of country in Tasmania, because that 74,000 hectares is not pristine forest. It's forest which has been logged, it's forest which has been degraded; in some cases, it's plantation timber that was actually planted to be logged."

Less than ten percent of the forests he was referring to have been logged. If that were not so, why would the loggers want them? As with California's giant redwoods World Heritage area, there are small areas of damage from industrial logging included to give integrity to the protected zone but the vast majority is stunningly intact tall eucalypt and rainforest filled with bird and animal species including some threatened with extinction.

Although one percent of Tasmanian jobs are in logging forests and 15 percent in tourism the Tasmanian Liberals, emboldened by Abbott, are promising draconian penalties for anyone who gets in the way of the chainsaws which will destroy the wild and scenic forests. There will be mandatory $10,000 fines for first offences and mandatory three month jail terms thereafter - penalties that don't apply to child molesters or white collar criminals.

Whichever way you look at it, the logging of Tasmania's World Heritage value forests is unreasonable. But reason will be no barrier to more of the sort of visionless and destructive dogma the Australian Prime Minister regaled the loggers with in Parliament House this week.

Bob Brown

Original article published in the Guardian on 6 March 2014

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