01 September, 2006

ARTICLE: Forestry row taken to the marginals

Ellen Whinnett
Sunday Herald Sun, September 1, 2006

Environment groups are planning a high-profile pre-election battle to have logging banned in vast tracts of Victorian forest.

A coalition of environment groups will launch its campaign shortly. They will focus on important marginal seats held by both the Liberal and Labor parties in an effort to have their message heard.

Areas in Gippsland are shaping up as the next forest battleground. Environmental groups are concerned about wood-chipping in old-growth forests, logging in water catchments, and the impact of the loss of habitat on 12 endangered species of birds, animals and frogs. The group wants clear-felling banned in all Victorian forests and all logging ended in areas worthy of conservation.

The move could set the scene for a repetition of the conflict in the Otways forests in the lead-up to the 2002 election. This eventually led Premier Steve Bracks to agree to phase out logging in the Otways by 2008.

Campaign spokesman Luke Chamberlain, from Environment East Gippsland, said two years had been spent mapping significant areas of forest that he said should be protected from logging. He said Victoria's state-owned forests were being turned over to woodchips, which were mainly sent for export and were no longer providing a great number of jobs. "It's a land grab to turn the old-growth forests into woodchip farms," Mr Chamberlain said.

Environment groups involved in the coalition, including the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Wilderness Society and the Central Highlands Alliance, will focus on several marginal seats in regional Victoria and suburban Melbourne. They include Labor's Ferntree Gully, Mt Waverley, Prahran, Mordialloc, Bentleigh and South Barwon, and Liberal marginals Nepean, South-West Coast and Bass.

They hope to reinforce the message that logging in catchment areas is continuing while water restrictions are being introduced in Melbourne.

Mr Chamberlain denied that the group would automatically support the Greens, saying they would endorse whichever party had the strongest environmental policy. But he said the Greens' policies were the best they had seen so far.

Independent MLA for the seat of Gippsland East, Craig Ingram, said the group was seeking to end all old-growth logging in his electorate, which would jeopardise up to 500 jobs. "Basically 85 per cent of old-growth is already reserved," Mr Ingram said.

He said banning logging in old-growth forests would affect the industry "everywhere east of Bairnsdale", and would hit saw-millers hard. The issue was important to voters in the timber towns of Cann River and Orbost and on into Bairnsdale. "It would be absolutely devastating to my community -- basically, death by a thousand cuts," Mr Ingram said. "It really has the potential to be a winner or a loser at the election, and I'd call on the major political parties to hold the line and protect the industry."

Mr Ingram said the environmental group was highly organised and had been putting serious pressure on all MPs. "They are spending as much time in Parliament House as some of the members of Parliament," Mr Ingram said."

Original article

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