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sydney alternative media - non-profit community independent trustworthy
Tuesday, 1 May 2007
Famous author Flanagan dishes the dirt in the UK on Lib-Lab logging atrocity in Tasmania
Mood:  irritated
Topic: corporates


Paradise lost - with napalm

To Australia's shame, loggers are being allowed to destroy Tasmania's extraordinary primeval forest

Richard Flanagan
Wednesday April 21, 2004
The Guardian

I am writing this in our autumn, once Tasmania's most beautiful season. But the china-blue skies are now nicotine scummed, as smoke from the burning of old-growth forest floats over Hobart, an inescapable reminder that the destruction of ancient woodland - like no other in the world - is accelerating.

In Tasmania, an island the size of Ireland whose primeval forests astonished 19th-century Europeans, an incomprehensible ecological tragedy is being played out.

Recent calls from Britain to boycott Tasmanian goods and tourism are not going to end logging. But in an Australian election year, with the forests emerging as a major issue, they form part of a chorus of international condemnation that shows Australians that the forests are not just a natural resource, but are globally significant wild lands.

Rainforest is being clearfelled and then burnt with napalm. The world's tallest hardwood trees, eucalyptus regnans, are being reduced to mud and ash. And the monocultural plantations that replace the old growths soak up so much groundwater that rivers are drying up.

Compound 1080, a lethal poison, is laid to kill off native animals that might graze plantation seedlings. In the resulting slaughter, wallabies, kangaroos, possums, and protected species such as wombats, bettongs and potoroos, die in slow agony.

The survival of extraordinary creatures such as the giant Tasmanian freshwater crayfish - the largest in the world - is in doubt because of logging. Scientists warn that numerous insect species still unrecorded are disappearing in the conflagration. Local people are finding their water contaminated with atrazine, a potent weedkiller.

Logging is an industry driven solely by greed. It prospers with government support and subsidies, and it is accelerating its rate of destruction, so that Tasmania is now the largest hardwood chip exporter in the world. And Gunns, the largest logging company in Australia with a monopoly in Tasmania, is making record profits selling these forests as woodchips, which are in turn made into paper and cardboard.

But the woodchippers are destroying not only Tasmania's natural heritage, but also its parliament, its polity, its media and its society. The close relationship which leading Tasmanian politicians enjoy with Gunns, goes beyond sizeable donations to both major parties; it has given rise to a political culture of bullying, cronyism and threats, a culture that allowed the state's electoral system, under a 1997 Liberal-Labour deal, to be altered to minimise Green representation.

Because of the forest battle, a subtle fear has entered Tasmanian public life; it stifles dissent and is conducive to the abuse of power. To question or to comment is to invite the possibility of ostracism and unemployment.

The reality, relentlessly denied with lies, is that logging old growth brings neither wealth nor jobs to impoverished rural communities. Most wealth made out of woodchips flows out of the state; less than 15% of Gunns' profits stay in Tasmania, which remains the poorest Australian state. Contrary to the government's claim that 10,000 jobs depend on old-growth logging, John Gay, Gunns' managing director, recently admitted that only 480 jobs were at stake.

However, the giving away of such an extraordinary resource does threaten Tasmania's broader economic prospects. Key industries in which job growth is concentrated, such as tourism and fine foods and wines, trade as much on the island's pristine image as they do on the products they sell, and there is growing concern at the damage being done to Tasmania's name by images of smouldering forest.

Since woodchipping began 32 years ago, Tasmanians have watched as one extraordinary place after another has been sacrificed. Beautiful places, holy places, lost not only to them, but for ever. They overwhelmingly want the practice of old-growth logging ended - Wilderness Society polls show that 69% of Tasmanians are opposed to the practice.

But with both major political parties in Tasmania as one in their rigid support of Gunns and old-growth logging, Tasmanians cannot stop this coalition of greed and power from within their island. Change can only be brought about by the Australian government, and it will only act when the issue becomes one of inescapable national shame.

Of course it can be argued that the destruction of one more unique piece of our natural world, while regrettable, is small change next to the horror of Madrid, or the tragedy of Iraq. But in the lineaments of the struggle in a distant island, it is possible to see a larger battle, the same battle the world over - that between truth and power.

Günter Grass, writing of Tasmania's forests, has described their destruction as an aspect of the same attitude that led to Nazi book-burnings. Could it be that, when all our skies appear to be darkening, the great forests of Tasmania are a symbol of hope for us all?

· Richard Flanagan's most recent novel is Gould's Book of Fish



Posted by editor at 6:54 PM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 1 May 2007 7:43 PM NZT

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