Otway Ranges Environment Network



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Environment Minister Garbutt breaks an agreement to prevent Otway forest conflict.


During the 2000/2001 logging season the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE), with endorsement from Environment Minister Garbutt, made an agreement with conservationists and the Otway Ranges Environment Network (OREN) to defer the clearfell logging of highly contentious coupes in the Otway State Forest. In return OREN would not endorse protest action by individuals that stopped contractors from logging forest. As a result of this agreement contentious coupes were not logged and OREN received information about where logging was occuring and how many logs had been extracted from Forstry Victoria as agreed. But this only lasted until the end of the 2000/2001 logging season.

In March 2000 OREN was advised that the DNRE (Forestry Victoria) needed to log a contentious coupe at Ciancio creek. OREN advised the government that the forest at Ciancio creek was highly contentious due to the presence of Cool Temperate Rainforest of national significance.

The government ignored this advice and went ahead with logging on Wednesday the 4th of April. On the following Friday, conservationists set up a direct action blockade and prevented any further logging for the following two weeks.

During the protests, Environment Minister Garbutt denied any agreement had been struck between conservationists and the government to avoid logging contentious coups in the Otways. Despite the denying the existence of the agreement, Environment Minister Garbutt was forced by conservationists to suspend logging and then eventually call off the logging by using the excuse that it was too wet to log anyway.

When asked questions in Parliament on the 3rd May about an agreement to avoid logging contentious coups, Garbutt denied any agreement and mislead parliament.

Clearfell logging at Caincio creek has now been deferred to the 2002/2003 logging season.

Background to why an agreement was needed

The agreement to avoid logging contentious forest areas in the 2000/2001 logging season had its genesis during the 1999/2000 logging season when conservationists and local residents mounted a large and successful direct action forest campaign against clearfell logging of Otway State Forest.

This was an important Summer as the Government was in the process of finalising the Regional Forest Agreement for the Otways under the leadership of Environment Minister Sherryl Garbutt.

During the 1999/2000 summer campaign conservationist using various tree climbing blockade strategies, prevent clearfell logging in many areas. These coupes included:

1. Riley's Ridge (Continuous Camp from 31 October 1999 - April 2000)
2. Day of total logging shut down 10 December 1999. (Six protest camps at once)
3. Lardners Creek (14 - 17 December)
4. Number Nine Road (February 2000)
5. Mud Road (February March 2000
6. Gail Clearing, Cumberland river, February 2000
7. Curtis Track, Cumberland river (March 2000)
8. Middle Spur, April 2000
9. Callahans Creek, April 2000

In many places (highlighted above) Forestry Victoria and the logging contractors simply could not continue logging due to the overwhelming presence of conservationists supported by community groups along the Great Ocean Road.

These protests and the disruption to forest logging created tension between logging contractors and conservationists. Many logging contractors put up with the disruption and frustration. However some contractors lashed out and attacked conservationists. The following are highlights of the major violent incidents that occurred in 1999/2000 logging season.

  • January 16th 2000 - Tourists and local residents who had attended an open day at Riley's Ridge protest camp were trapped by pine trees felled across Riley's ridge road. Trees were felled by pro-logging supporters. Police and DNRE were called in to clear the road.

  • February 17th 2000 - Loggers attack conservationists at Riley's Ridge Camp. Several conservationists were assaulted and car windows smashed in orgy of violence. Logging contractor Peter Tachael was subsequently charge by police for incident and convicted in Geelong magistrate court on 21st June 2001 after pleading not guilty to charges. Tachael was ordered to pay a $2000 fine and $1600 damages to conservationists.

  • March 26th 2000 - The power supply to Apollo Bay was cut off in act of terrorism against the Apollo Bay community. Two electricity polls that supply the town with power were cut down with a chain saw during the Apollo Bay Music Festival, a major event with 50,000 visitors staying in town. Graffiti was sprayed on the power poles "OREN war". Police investigations failed to find those responsible.

  • April 2nd 2000 - Conservationists successfully halted all logging at Middle Spur. Logging contractors who wanted their logging equipment back were refused by conservationists. After a few days of protest action, logging contractors organised a possie of supporters to forcibly remove logging equipment. Several conservationists were assaulted and sent to hospital. Police laid no charges.

(Media Articles supporting above events can be provided)

Environment minister Garbutt Intervenes to stop violence

The Middle Spur incident in April 2000 was the last straw for the State Government. On the 7th April 2000, a letter authorised by Minister Garbutt was sent to the Wilderness Society acknowledging the violence at Middle Spur and calling on conservation and other stakeholder groups to meet in order to find some sort of resolution.

The Wilderness Society declined to meet but OREN and other local conservationists took up the offer to discuss issues. The conservationists were joined by

  • Ministerial Advisers,
  • Police,
  • Victorian Association of Forest Industries,
  • Forestry Division of the CFMEU Union,
  • Forestry Victoira DNRE (Peter Rutherford),
  • logging bosses
  • and sawmill owners.

The meetings were facilitated by two representatives from the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria.

OREN had much difficulty in getting consensus from those involved in blockading to attend the first meeting. Many activists harboured a great distrust of the government and did not want OREN to go and speak on their behalf. Others activists were prepared to let OREN have a chance at the negotiating table. In the end there was never any real consensus. OREN and some local residents decided to take up the Government invitation to explore opportunities of avoiding further conflict.

About a dozen meetings were held between 12 April and late September. During these meetings it was agreed by all parties that critical to avoiding further violence/conflict in the Otways during the 2000/2001 logging season, an attempt must be made to avoid logging contentious forest areas. In return OREN and other local conservationists would not support or endorse direct action that stopped logging contractors cutting down trees.

After a great debate over how much forest Forestry Victoria needed to cut down to meet sawlog licence commitments, a memorandum of understanding was drawn up between all stake holders. The memorandum was a 'meeting of the minds' in regards to avoiding conflict for 2000/2001.

After an agreement was reached, the Department Chief of Staff, Rosemary Barker sent a letter to OREN advising that further meetings were temporarily postponed. Another meeting was never organised and formal dialogue stopped at this point. In her letter Rosemary Barker thanked OREN for "the effort that you have made to ensure the success of the difficult process with which you have been engaged". This comment implies that an agreement had been reached between all parties.

A part of the agreement written into the Memorandum of Understanding was for Forestry Victoria to regularly inform OREN where logging was occurring and the volumes of timber extracted. When logging recommenced in early November 2000, the DNRE began to regularly send faxes containing this information. OREN had never received faxes with this information before from the department. In the following four months the DNRE informed OREN by fax six times. None of the coups listed on these faxes (and logged) during this time were contentious. No protest blockades occurred. See NRE press release

Forest Agreement Broken by Department

In early March 2001 the Peter Keppel, Manager for Forestry Victoria West sent correspondence to OREN informing that a contentious coup would need to be logged at Ciancio creek. In the letter Keppel acknowledged the existence of contentious coups and the agreement not to log them.

"As reiterated during the mediation meetings held during 2000, the Department indicated it would not harvest contentious coups (as detailed at the meetings) if licence requirements could be met from the remaining coupes. The Department has not harvested any contentious coupes to date during the 2000/2001 harvesting season."

The Department started logging at Ciancio Creek on the 4th April and was stopped by local residents and conservationists on the 6th April for two weeks. During this time Environment Minister Garbutt publicly denied her Department had an agreement with conservationists to avoid logging contentious coups.

On the 18th April Garbutt released a press release announcing a suspension of logging and made a public offer to conservationists to nominate a non-contentious coupe so Ciancio Creek could be spared. The press release states "Ms Garbutt asked the protestors to identify practical alternative sources of mountain ash timber in the Otways that could be harvested without provoking further protest action". OREN and the activists refused Garbutt's offer as there was already an agreement and list of non-contentious coups. Conservationists were not prepared to compromise a second time and did not have faith that any second deal would be kept.

In late April Garbutt made a public statement that logging at Ciancio creek is suspended due to wet weather after five days of heavy rain. This was an excuse as the coupe dried out again very quickly and could have been logged.

Garbutt in Parliament 3rd May 2001

On the 3rd of May Minister Garbutt was challenged in Parliament by the Member for Polwarth, Terry Mulder on the issue of contentious coups in the Otways. Garbutt mislead parliament twice.

1. Garbutt denied any agreement with conservationists. Garbutt said from Hansard "I have said publicly all along that there was no agreement not to log in those so-called contentious coupes or no-go zones. What happened was that last year a mediation group was pulled together and a memorandum of understanding was proposed by the Otway Ranges Environment Network -- the protest group -- but was rejected by me, the department, industry and the union.". This statement contradicts the actions and correspondence from her own department and Chief of Staff. The Memorandum of Understanding clearly states that all members of the mediation group were a party to the agreement.

2. Mulder also questioned Garbutt regarding the 18th of April press release. Mulder stated (from Hansard) 'If there were any doubt as to the inability of the minister to control a sustainable yield of timber in the Otways, one has only to take on board the following quote from the Colac Herald of 20 April: Ms Garbutt has asked the protesters to name an alternative area where the department could log mountain ash without provoking further protests. Who is running the show: the minister, the department, or the protesters?'

Garbutt's response was :

'-- So there was no agreement in any shape or form. The honourable member for Polwarth also talked about additions to the contentious coupes. Protest groups have now added to their list of contentious coupes, which I also reject. So there is clearly no agreement between me and any protest groups about what will or will not be logged.' (Hansard)

OREN never sent a revised list of contentious coups to Garbutt or the Department during the Ciancio creek dispute. This was the second time Garbutt has withdrawn an offer to conservationists to avoid logging contentious coups.


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