The implications for native forests around Australia of Tasmania's controversial new forest law are alarming forest campaign groups around the nation.
They fear that the loggers, state governments and those environment groups party to the forest agreement will now attempt to use this as a model for the rest of the country with dreadful impacts on Australia's forests.
The constraints on advocacy and peaceful protest are also of great concern, as an extraordinary precedent has been set under which the environment will be punished if groups dare to strongly advocate genuine forest protection and transition from native forest logging, especially to markets and consumers. Already the Prime Minister has demonstrated in her call to silence environmental critics that an era of victimisation and vilification has begun.
Forest campaigners around the nation have condemned the new Tasmanian forest law, including Environment East Gippsland, Gippsland Environment Group, South East Region Conservation Alliance (SERCA), Rainforest Information Centre, Forestmedia, Friends of Leadbeater's Possum, Chipstop, and NativesRule.org.
Steve Meacher, a Victorian campaigner of many years working to save the endangered Leadbeater's Possum stated, "Clearly there remain significant problems with the Tasmanian agreement and mainland environment groups will not consider themselves bound by it nor by any future agreement which takes a similar approach. The deal is imposing conditions that are not within the powers of the parties."
Environment East Gippsland's Jill Redwood stated, "Tasmania is ushering in an era of entrenched industrial logging in native forests and attempting to gag environmental forest campaigns, both of which are unacceptable", she said. "The Tasmanian agreement has been flagged as a blueprintfor the rest of Australia's forests and we will vehemently resist this."
South East Region Conservation Alliance spokesperson Harriett Swift stated, "Holding the forests hostage to a bunch of obnoxious provisions, including ‘durability' requirements to silence voices telling environmental truths to buyers and to halt forest protests, is an attack on civil liberties. Already the PM has called for dissenters to be silenced, and a campaign of denigrating such groups and the individuals who represent them is underway."
"If the new law was genuinely aimed at balancing conservation outcomes and a sustainable industry, public scrutiny and comment about what it contains would be no threat to it." Harriett Swift said.
"We expected nothing less than an adequate reserve system and an accountable industry. This agreement delivers neither," Harriett Swift said.
Major problems with Tasmania's forest agreement include:
· World Heritage nominated forests are still being logged and this will continue until mid-June, after which associated ongoing operations such as log removals will still continue in relation to those areas.
· The Wilderness Society, Australian Conservation Foundation and Environment Tasmania are actively promoting Tasmanian forest products, including wood sourced from destroying World Heritage value forests;
· No new reserves were created by the legislation. Only 90,000 hectares (of World Heritage forests) are to be protected in the next 18 months (and some logged meanwhile);
· All other promised protection will most likely never eventuate, but the loggers get their millions in funding, and ‘green' groups assistance to sell the products immediately;
· Reserves that might be created can be opened for logging;
· If the Liberals win at national and state elections, then they will scuttle the conservation arrangements which arenot due to start until October 2014 at the earliest;
· The agreement included a requirement that Forestry Tasmania be awarded Forest Stewardship Council certification - which is highlyunlikely given their destructive methods of logging;
· Excisions? of valuable forests planned to be logged even though they are inside the areas slated for future protection;
· Native forest logging is entrenched and greenwashed, a major departure from national conservation groups' policy for a rapid transition of logging away from native forests into existing plantations.