Prime Minister Anthony Albanese can stop the logging of Australia’s native forests, just as PM Malcolm Fraser stopped whaling in 1978.
This week hundreds of thousands of people watched the video of a huge log on its way from the Florentine valley to an undisclosed mill or export woodchip port in Tasmania. The commentary was almost universally that “this has got to stop!”.
Prominent constitutional lawyer George Williams AO, from the University of NSW, says that: “the Federal Parliament has an array of powers at its disposal that could be used to this effect. These include:
- prohibiting the export of wood and other products from native forests1
- imposing taxes upon logging operations that makes them unviable2
- prohibiting logging operations by foreign and trading corporation3
- implementing the terms of biodiversity and other international conventions directed at environmental protection.4
It is common for the Commonwealth to use a mix of these and other powers to achieve a desired object to ensure maximum enforceability and coverage. This could be achieved here to provide protection for Australia’s native forests.
In the event of inconsistency between such a federal law and a state law that permits logging, the federal law would prevail under the terms of section 109 of the Constitution.”
Western Australia and Victoria end native forest logging
The Western Australian and Victorian state governments have committed to stopping native forest logging by the end of this year, though campaigners will believe it when they see it. For example, the WA Labor government is looking to exempt aluminium giant Alcoa’s plans to strip mine up to 15,000 ha of the South West forests for bauxite.
Despite its election commitment to establish a Great Koala National Park in NSW, the Minns Labor government has done nothing so far but accelerate logging in the planned park area. Peaceful campaigners are facing arrest near Bellingen and Taree as logging expands in both the state’s northern and southern forests. The entreaties of Aboriginal people wanting their forests saved have fallen on deaf ears in Macquarie Street.
The last Liberal state government, in Tasmania, is backing native forest logging to the hilt, supported by its Labor opposition and taxpayer subsidies, but opposed by the Greens. The single-loader log which caused this week’s uproar is only one of many being trucked to the sawmills or export woodchip facilities, bound for Taiwan or China, despite multiple arrests of peaceful protesters as the public campaign to stop the carnage rapidly picks up momentum.
I was in the Florentine’s forest of giants on Tuesday until the police arrived and would have been arrested there except for the need to be at the rally for forests outside the Labor national convention in Brisbane this Saturday morning.
The onslaught of the bulldozers and chainsaws is heart-rending. Before the police showed up, but not before a barrage of homophobic abuse from the head logger, I walked a little deeper into the still-standing forest with the Wilderness Society’s Alice Hardinge. It is studded with giant Eucalyptus regnans trees of more than two metres in diameter, some more than four metres, one 87 metres tall (nearly a Matildas’ football field turned on end). These are set to be flattened and—as most of the forest ends up as waste—mostly incinerated.
Alice took me to a long thin band of limestone karst separating the still-standing back of this forest from its largely-destroyed front. It is a fabulous place of giant ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) encrusted with a myriad of tiny ferns and lichens. The big ferns are many centuries old. Licences will be issued to cut them up to be sold to the public and, experience shows, most will be taken away to die. The ancient intact fernery will never recover and, I expect, this tragic event will unfold in the coming week.
Nor will the birdlife recover. A pair of pink robins flitted about at the edge of the cut forest. The standing trees were alive with honey-eaters, thrushes, thorn-bills and scrub-wrens. It is impossible to imagine the comparative ecological desert of the industrial ‘regrowth’ tree substitute which will replace these giant trees, ferneries and the birds and animals which have thrived here for so long.
Besides there being two million hectares of plantation forests in Australia, enough to meet our wood needs, and the fact that New Zealand’s Labour government ended native forest logging in 2002, the studied excuses of the logging lobby, which so far has Albanese’s ear, abound. Forestry Tasmania’s publicist Suzette Weeding told journalists that the giant tree filmed on the log truck had to be cut down because ‘it was dangerous’.
The public wants to save native forests
The wonder is that Anthony Albanese is so off-side with his own Labor supporters in this issue. A new Australia Institute poll shows that three quarters of Labor voters (75%) want an end to such logging in the remaining states of NSW and Tasmania. In fact, a majority of supporters of all parties want the forests saved.
Besides, as Professor David Lindenmeyer at ANU has pointed out, ending native forest logging would be the quickest and cheapest way for Albanese to meet his target of 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. It would also be a giant step forward for Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek’s task of saving Australia’s creatures from extinction.
Maybe what Labor hasn’t heard loudly enough yet is the crowd roaring. That is changing rapidly, witness the 6,000 people who turned out around the nation last weekend in support of saving the forests. That turn-out will be augmented by this Saturday’s rally to end native forest logging outside Labor’s Brisbane conference.
Prime Minister Albanese may have been stirred by some hundreds of loggers applauding him at dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament House earlier this year, but he would be unwise to wait until more of the twenty million Australians who want urgent action to save the forests get going! This issue will change votes at the next federal election.
1 Using the federal power in section 51(i) of the Constitution over ‘trade and commerce with other countries’
2 Using the federal power in section 51(ii) of the Constitution over ‘taxation’
3 Using the federal power in section 51(ii) of the Constitution over ‘foreign corporations, and trading or financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth’
4 Using the federal power in section 51(xxix) of the Constitution over ‘external affairs’
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Luciana Lawe Davies Media Adviser