Autumn 2003
Tasmanian Fire Sale

 

The following article is an extract from the transcript of a program on Channel Nine aired in February 2003.    
It is reprinted with many thanks and acknowledgements to Channel Nine, the reporter Graham Davis and the producer Nick Rushworth.   
A full transcript can be found at
http://sunday.ninemsn.com.au/sunday/cover_stories/article_1205.asp
 

Tasmanian Fire Sale

 

Reporter: Graham Davis

Producer: Nick Rushworth

 

A fire burns.A new species of green activist has joined the long-running battle to save Tasmania's majestic native trees.     Erika Ford’s favoured weapon isn’t the sit-in but her stockbroker -- using her shares in Australia’s biggest logging company to press for better forestry practices.

 

Ford’s first corporate foray was against the Jabiluka uranium mine in the Northern Territory.     Now her sights are turned on Gunns, the hugely profitable Tasmanian monopoly converting vast areas of native forests into tax-effective plantations.

 

"They’re saying on the one hand, oh yes this is something that we should be protecting that’s very special, but in practical terms they’re doing bugger all," she says.

 

Already Ford’s holding in Gunn’s has produced more than just a handsome financial dividend sparing a brace of trees as tall as lighthouses.     It is, she says, just the start.    "I love to make money, I really do," she says, "but not at any cost."

To many Tasmanians, what’s at issue in this debate isn’t new the wisdom of the state staking its future on a billion dollar industry employing just eight thousand people.

 

But what will startle many mainlanders is the scale of it all, just how much of the state’s native forests has been cleared for plantations, more than 60,000 hectares in the past five years alone, much of it old growth dating back long before white settlement.

 

The vast bulk - more than 90 percent - winds up as woodchip. Thousands of tonnes an hour are shredded into little pieces 24 hours a day, seven days a week.     Then it is shipped offshore to make paper.

 

But this is not a story about whether the forests should be logged nor about the scale of the woodchip trade.

 

Whether you’re for or against forestry in Tasmania, all of the parties have signed on to codes of practice to ensure that the state’s trees remain a renewable resource.     The nation has entrusted this precious resource to a state that allows that loggers to regulate themselves.     And what passes for regulation is essentially no regulation at all.

 

What’s happened at Reedy Marsh in recent weeks raises serious questions not just about the conduct of Gunns but about the conduct of the statutory body that’s meant to regulate forestry in Tasmania, the state’s Forest Practices Board.

 

It was a plan submitted by two Forest Practices Officers employed by Gunns to send the bulldozers in to fell native trees at Reedy Marsh and establish a plantation.     The problem is they’re rare and endangered forest communities.     Gunns had been told so by the Board’s botanist - but its two officers didn’t mention them in the application to log.

 

As local activist Andrew Ricketts puts it: "If you had self regulation on the highways and you were driving down the road at 120 kilometres per hour would you pull yourself over and stop and write yourself out a ticket?"

 

Final portion of interviews transcript (the full transcript of this interview can be found at http://news.ninemsn.com.au/sunday/cover_stories/transcript_1205.asp.) goes as follows …………..

 

GRAHAM DAVIS (Channel Nine reporter):   The call by environmentalists for a royal commission into the whole forest industry in Tasmania is long-standing.     Their concerns are, not just about the regulatory framework, but the impact on such things as water quality and native species.   Many here accuse the movement of exaggerating, but it's not just the Greens who get upset.

DON STEERS:   Regulation!  What regulation?    There isn't any.

 

GRAHAM DAVIS:   Don Steers grew up in the bush and once used to snare native wildlife for meat and skins.     When that was banned, he turned to state-sanctioned killing, laying a poison called 1080 on forestry coupes.

DON STEERS:   I'm just from an old bush family and, fair dinkum, no wonder conservationists and people get upset in this state.     They're fully justified and I don't blame them.

 

GRAHAM DAVIS:   When plantation seedlings are laid, the forestry industry protects them from browsing animals by poisoning them with carrots laced with 1080.     It was Don Steers' job to lay those carrots and then return to retrieve the dead animals.     This amateur video obtained by Sunday is not for the squeamish.     The industry insists the animals die quickly.     The evidence shows otherwise.

DON STEERS:   I can't look you honestly in the face and say that it kills every animal outright, because it doesn't.

 

GRAHAM DAVIS:   Don wasn't allowed to carry a gun, but faced with a dying animal, did what he could.

DON STEERS:   I'd have to bash it to death or I'd get me pocket knife out and it might sound harsh, and I had to cut its throat, and that's fair dinkum.     That's the God's honest truth.    It was just bloody disgusting as far as I was concerned.

 

GRAHAM DAVIS:   And what about the extent of the kill.    What sort of figures did you see?

DON STEERS:   Hundreds in some cases.    Hundreds. Hundreds of dead animals.

 

GRAHAM DAVIS:   Including some protected species, wombats and ring-tailed possums.

DON STEERS:   I love ring-tailed possum and to see them, like, there was one block I was on there would have been half a dozen plus, a whole family group obviously under this Blackwood.     There was a little grove of Blackwood trees, only about three or four, they were all dead.

 

GRAHAM DAVIS:   Again, for many people — and not just the Greens — it's the scale of what's happening in Tasmania that's at issue, not whether logging should or shouldn't take place. Only the most ardent conservationist would want to place 8000 jobs at risk.     Yet, if there are rules, they should be adhered to, even if there's no consensus on forestry, more of a balance should be struck. The chasm of perception here is obvious when you go to see logging's Mr. Big (John Gay).     What's good for the forestry business in Tasmania is always good for the rest.    How do you feel about protected species dying for your business?

JOHN GAY:   Well, there's too many of them and we need to keep them at a reasonable level.

 

GRAHAM DAVIS:   You're saying there's too many wombats and ring-tailed possums?

JOHN GAY:   Yes, most certainly.

 

GRAHAM DAVIS:   Why are they protected then?     Why are they classed as endangered?
JOHN GAY:   Well, because the numbers are getting too great and the ring-tailed possum is a very small proportion of this.    It's usually the brush possums that are poisoned, not ring-tails.

 

GRAHAM DAVIS:   Well, how can you say that, though, when you concede that this thing kills everything?

JOHN GAY:   Well, that everything that goes there to eat, but I believe it is an acceptable practice.

 

GRAHAM DAVIS:   It is acceptable practice to knock off all the wildlife in the surrounding areas, so that you can put your tree seedlings in?

JOHN GAY:   Yes.

 
 
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