Stump truck ousts Kennett!

Victorian State Election 1999

Earlier this year, GECO decided as part of our election strategy to take a stump truck to marginal electorates across the state. The aim was to draw attention to the destruction of our forests, and while we didn't expect to be able to make forests an election issue, we were hoping to remind voters what Kennett and the Liberal party has done to Victoria's forests.

When the election was called for September 18, we had three short weeks to find a suitable stump and load it onto the back of our five ton ex-army truck. After having received a permit from the NRE, a crew of people took two days to load a huge Mountain Ash stump found in Yalmy State Forest. The stump was 3 metres in diameter and estimated to be from a 500 year old tree. This ancient habitat tree, after being felled late last year, was burnt in the logging coupe and left to rot. Mountain Ash is rare in East Gippsland, and Yalmy is at the eastern edge of its range in Australia. Yet under this government's forest "management" a rare tree, once part of a valuable and biodiverse forest, is chopped down and wasted. This is "the waste left on the forest floor" repeatedly referred to by people trying to justify woodchipping, yet this tree was the waste even the woodchippers reject! They couldn't even get their paltry 9 cents a tonne for it.

When the stump was loaded a small band of people from GECO, plus a small child, set out towards Melbourne. Our first point of call was Phillip Island, in the marginal seat won by Independent Susan Davies. We narrowly missed Leader of the Opposition Steve Bracks, who was also campaigning on Phillip Island that day.

We spent the next day with the Greens candidate for Ivanhoe, Robyn Roberts, who took the stump on a tour of her electorate. Environment Victoria's Geraldine, armed with a megaphone, plugged GECO and the forest issue from the porthole in the truck as we cruised the shopping strips of suburban Ivanhoe. She later had a letter published in the Age describing the scene.

Eltham and St Andrews were our next stops, as we spent the day with Greens candidates Jeremy Whitehead and Robyn Evans. Robyn Evans was the Greens best chance for a seat in the Upper House and she ended up with 40% of the vote. We received a warm welcome at St Andrews market and distributed lots of information about East Gippsland and other forests.

The next week was spent touring country Victoria. For two days we travelled around Geelong and the Bellerine Penninsula with Greens candidates Adrian Whitehead and Stephen Chenery. We did an action outside Barwon Water in Geelong to highlight logging in Geelong's water catchment which made it into the Geelong Advertiser. We also went to the massive woodchip chip pile at Midways export woodchip mill in Geelong, where our documentary maker Mark filmed a dozer driver on top of the pile who seemed a little excited to see us! This leg of the journey was great, especially as we got time to spend on the beach!

After Geelong, we travelled to Ballarat just in time for a timber industry rally organised by the CFMEU. This resulted in an interview with WIN TV where John Endicott from the Wombat Forest Society, using the stump as a backdrop, described the disastrous implications of the Regional Forest Agreement about to occur in the Western district of Victoria.

We then went to a small sawmill whose owner was disgruntled about the current state of forest management. He believes small sawmillers like himself are being sold out to the large companies who are woodchip driven. "The hardwood industry is dead. Tourism is the way of the future," he said.

We then went to the Gisbourne electorate, a formerly safe Liberal seat which was being contested by a green-minded Independent as well as the Greens Party. Local conservation groups had put their support behind the Independent. Possum was their mascot, and he travelled with the stump as we toured the electorate, bumping into the sitting member Health Minister Rob Knowles in the small town of Romsey. He must have smelt that change was in the air, and appeared harried as he came over to speak to us, before rushing down the street desperately trying to shake every small business owner's hand and assure them that the Liberal party hasn't forgotten rural Victoria. This minister, primed to follow in Kennett's footsteps and expected to become the next Treasurer, lost his seat the next day.

The stump was on Brunswick street in Melbourne, raising money and spreading the word, when we first heard news of the shock election result. An activist had been in the pub watching the election coverage on the news and came running down the street, shouting "Kennett's getting hammered!" Must have been the stump, we reckon, that turned Victoria's voters around....

The response from almost everyone who saw our stump was one of shock, disbelief and outrage. Some thought it had been felled 100 years ago, thinking "they don't chop down trees that big anymore, do they?" On the back, we had a sign saying "You are now passing 18 cents worth of old growth forests", and the fact that out precious forests are being sold by the Kennett government for next to nothing was the most shocking fact at all. Hundreds saw the stump up close at its many stops, and thousands saw it as it drove around Melbourne streets or while they were stuck behind it in traffic. A great advertisement for East Gippsland.

The Victorian Greens were extremely grateful for the assistance of GECO. The stump now lies at CERES in Melbourne, the centre point of a display on forests and Forest Friendly Building Timbers. GECO will have input into the information displayed with it. It remains a testament to the desecration of our last remaining old growth forests.