New Governments Same Old Stuff
Prior to their election into Government the state ALP's policy platform on forests looked promising. It included among other things; an inquiry into royalties paid by the industry for the forests we lose, reinstating the Heritage Rivers Act, and repealing the Forest Operation Zone legislation which excluded the public from certain logging areas. Perhaps because the election was a shock result and the policies merely sounded good from opposition, it now seems that the reality is altogether different.
An inquiry into royalties, with a goal of making the industry "pay it's way", is underway. At the same time subsidies to the industry have increased in the form of the new woodchip train. The State ALP Government has opened up the Bairnsdale to Geelong 'woodchip train' which decreases the transport costs of the industry by a third, making it even cheaper to ship off our forests to the overseas pulp market. At the same time the passenger rail which was cut by the Kennett government is yet to be reinstated.
It is likely that making the industry pay its way would see a dramatic reduction in the woodchip industry. The industry is currently paying as little as 9 cents a tonne for woodchip logs and this is the bulk of what is taken (80-90% of logs removed from East Gippsland’s forest end up as pulp). The subsidies received by the industry far outweigh the little which is given back in royalties.
The Heritage Rivers Act requirements continue to be ignored and overridden by far less scientifically based prescriptions in the forest management plan and the code of forest practices. This sees a lot of rainforest which surrounds heritage rivers as buffer zones logged to within 100 metres instead of 200 metres.
The forest operation zone (FOZ) legislation was repealed by the new ALP Government. However to replace this, the Government reinterpreted the Occupational Health and Safety Legislation, enabling the exclusion of the public from logging areas. Effectively this has the same result as FOZ, making people liable for hefty fines just for being in publicly owned forests. It is also designed to minimise independent scrutiny in logging zones. While both pieces of legislation have been promoted on safety grounds we remain cynical of the attempts to protect public safety by forest managers (Department of Natural Resources and Environment). As many readers would recall the Department conducted a high intensity regeneration burn when members of the public were present in one such forest operation during 1998, despite the fact that some people present had NRE issued FOZ permits to be there.
We may have a new government but the industry lobby and the high level bureaucrats advising the government on forest policy are still the same and out in the forest the carnage has not abated one iota. Michelle
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