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The Age: Labor forest policy a watershed

Thursday 21 November( p11)
Labor forest policy a watershed
Melissa Fyfe

It was very early in the campaign when Labor dropped its Otways bombshell from left field. Thousands of hectares of forest would be saved from logging A national park would stretch from Angiesea to Cape Otway, the party promised.

Sounded wonderful, said the environmentally aware residents of the inner city. But there were grumblrngs. Some argued the 2008 phase-out was too long. The forest could be trashed by then, undermining the proposed national park. And what kind of time hoe was 2008 anyway? That’s yet another election away.

While these are legitimate concerns, keen observers of the never-ending and often frustrating forestry debate noted that the Otways decision - and the wind-down of logging in the Wombat State Forest - was significant in that it marked a shift in the Labor Government’s forest policy.

Associate professor Geoff Wescott, of Deakin University’s school of economy and environment, says these announcements are a distinct change. “This is a watershed in Victorian Labor’s forestry policy” he says.

The move is important because for the past three years the government has been mindful of — conservation­ists say hamstrung by — the interests of the forestry division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. Although it dropped state log­ging yields, the government has sided with loggers against protesters and spent millions trying to break up block­ades and policing the state’s forests.

After the Otways decision, the forestry union has actively campaigned against the Labor Party, which the union says has sold out workers. In a strange arrangement, the forestry union, its members and their communities are supporting the Liberal Party. 

And that’s the other significant aspect of Labor’s Otways promise. For the first time it clearly divides the major parties on forests.

A Liberal government would continue logging in the Otways as surveys have shown it to be sustainable by industry standards. The Liberal Party has also promised to “minimise” old-growth logging by giving the timber industry access to other areas of forest. It says it will legislate the Regional Forest Agreements for industry “resource security” which the Bracks Govern­ment opposes.

Both parties say they will look at whether the state s native forests are sold to loggers too cheaply.

They also promise to consider the issue of logging in water catchments. With Melbourne’s 50-year Water Smart plan recommending investi­gations into phasing out logging in the city’s water catchments, it will be difficult not to.


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