Regional Forest Agreement - Senate Inquiry

On 1 February 1999 a Senate Inquiry was held into new legislation being passed through the Federal parliament designed to give legal force to the Regional Forest Agreements. These are agreements between the State and Federal governments that decide how our forests are to be managed for the next twenty years. The legislation if passed will override other pieces of legislation designed to protect the environment such as the Australian Heritage Commission Act and the Environment Protection Act and the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act. It will also override the Export Control Act so that there will be no export controls on woodchipping. Compensation deals for the timber industry will also be written into the legislation in the event of any future loss of resource, a huge disincentive for any future governments to protect more forest. There is also doubt that the legislation is constitutional, as it legislates for agreements that haven't been signed yet and gives an unfair commercial advantage to some states over others.

Senate Inquiry Sham

The Senate Inquiry called for submissions about the RFA legislation from the public. However, there was very little publicity beforehand and no terms of reference for the Inquiry which meant they could discount submissions if they did not address what the inquiry was about - even though they didn't bother to tell anyone! They received 300 submissions yet only gave themselves two days to hear submissions and many of the senators hadn't even read most of them. GECO, the Goongerah community and many individuals at GECO put in submissions to the inquiry.

There were five senators on the Inquiry, most of them rednecks, but Greens Senator Bob Brown was there as an observer, asking hard questions of the timber industry and being a friendly face amongst the wall of suits around the table.

Action at Parliament House

An action was held outside Parliament House on the day of the Senate Inquiry, attended by many conservationists as well as timber industry, who rocked up in jinkers and log trucks. The loggers present were from the Otways and had been blockading the greenies a few days earlier, denying them food and water and holding them hostage while shining spotlights on their camp and revving chainsaws all night. Not suprisingly, there was a bit of bad feeling and some yelling went down which was quickly picked up on by the media, who failed to realise the significance of both timber industry and conservationists protesting against the government's RFA on the steps of Parliament House. What else can you expect from mainstream media.

The police were being violent and overreacting as usual, playing territorial games with the steps. Bob Brown gave a rousing speech to the conservationists gathered, using Izzy and Mark's sound system, urging us to continue to protect the wild forests of Australia. He was heckled by the moronic CFMEU reps at the back, of course.

Hope made a daring escape from police across busy Spring St after Bob Brown negotiated with the police to have him not arrested after hanging a banner from a lamp post.

The Senate Inquiry gave the go ahead to the RFA legislation despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the submissions were against it.