Heritage site on chopping block

By Greg Ansley

Abbott's plan to cut parts of Tasmania's forests from World Heritage listing has environmentalists up in arms.

Tony Abbott's vow to free up forests for the timber industry could renew conflict. Photo / Getty Images
Tony Abbott's vow to free up forests for the timber industry could renew conflict. Photo / Getty Images

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has launched another salvo at environmentalists, declaring that Australia has enough national parks and more forests should be open to loggers.

Logging of forests has for decades been a political battleground, heated again by proposals in Queensland to allow timber companies greater access to state parks and by the Tasmanian election on March 15.

Support from Abbott to allow more logging in national parks follows plans to cut parts of Tasmanian forest from World Heritage listing, and a series of other controversial moves ranging from the dumping of dredge spoil near the Great Barrier Reef to the axing of a swathe of climate change and renewable energy programmes.

His advocacy of increased logging came in a speech to the Forest Products Association, in which he said he would create no new parks and would set up a forest advisory council to back the timber industry.

"We have quite enough national parks," Abbott said. "We have quite enough locked-up forests already ...

we don't support, as a Government and as a Coalition, further lockouts of our forests."

Abbott's immediate agenda included the removal of 74,000ha from the 170,000ha Wilderness World Heritage area established in Tasmania under a peace deal between warring loggers and environmentalists.

The timber industry says the deal has locked it out of many of its best stands of timber, and Abbott said the area the Government wanted to remove from World Heritage listing was not pristine and had been degraded by earlier logging. Even with the 74,000ha returned to logging, half of Tasmania would remain protected forever.

"When I look out at an audience such as this ... I don't see people who are environmental bandits," Abbott told the association.

"I see people who are the ultimate conservationists.

"We will never build a strong economy by trashing our environment, but we will never help our environment by trashing the economy either.

"You understand - what, I regret to say, not everyone does - that it is possible to combine respect for the environment and respect for nature with healthy private business.

"You are an industry which has been officially frowned upon for too long."

Greens leader Christine Milne said Abbott was mounting a huge assault on the environment and that Abbott's clear message to the world was that Australia does not value its world heritage areas or its national parks.

"What he'll actually do is destroy the forest industry, not to mention Tasmania's clean, green and clever brand which is our main asset and that comes from our World Heritage area," she said.

Tasmanian Deputy Premier Bryan Green told the ABC that Abbott's stance was a step backwards for the timber industry, and a return to the logging war between activists and timber workers.

But Tasmania's high jobless rate has dulled fervour for anti-logging activism, with a recent ReachTEL poll for the Hobart Mercury showing most voters would back parties supporting a controversial pulp mill project.

- NZ Herald

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