Herald-Sun, November 18, 2006 12:00am
LABOR'S pledge of new national parks and a move to end logging in old growth forests has been welcomed by the timber industry.
Forestry union national secretary Michael O'Connor said the policy was a victory over green extremism. But environmentalists were disappointed, pointing to the failure to stop logging in water catchments.
Premier Steve Bracks yesterday promised to protect the last significant stands of old growth forest available for logging in East Gippsland. This includes the Goolengook Block, the site of much protest against logging in recent years, and will add more than 33,000ha to protected forest areas.
As well, Labor plans to create a Great Alpine National Park by adding 5000ha of state forest, currently able to be logged, to existing national parks in the high country. National parks – Cobboboonee near Portland on the southwest coast and a red gum national park in the north – would be created.
Mr Bracks guaranteed that no timber industry jobs would be lost but said logging would end in East Gippsland's old growth Goolengook forest if he was re-elected. "I think this is a balanced policy," Mr Bracks said. "This policy will not require any job losses."
Mr Bracks made the announcement in the Cobboboonee State Forest, near Portland, which will become a national park under the policy. He was joined by local Labor candidate Roy Reekie who needs only 0.8 per cent swing, or 292 people to change their mind, to snatch the seat of South West Coast from Liberal Denis Napthine.
A new 35,000ha national park will be created at Goolengook, where logging has been suspended but will now be banned.
Labor has promised a $4 million package to help workers and the industry adjust – including $250,000 for the forestry union. Environment Minister John Thwaites defended the hand-out to the union. "It's all about helping the transition in the industry from the old logging practices to the new," Mr Thwaites said.
Three national parks will be linked with a new 5000 ha reserve to create the Great Alpine National Park. Labor has also promised more protection for heritage sites at Point Nepean and 15 new park rangers.