Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Statements by Senators

Victoria: Forestry

1:04 pm

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak about the ongoing logging of native forests in my state. As I said in this chamber earlier this week, our people are not from country; we are of country. I call this place's attention to the ongoing and senseless destruction of forests in Victoria, country our people have called home for millennia, which had bushfires ripping through them less than one year ago. The colonial project in this country has had a lot of damaging and destructive impacts on our people and our country, but logging our old native forests for low-value woodchip has got to be one of the worst examples. My grandfather was a logger. He also worked in the coal industry; he died of black lung as a result. In those days they were the only jobs that blackfellas could get. But even he knew that it was only for a short time, and that he had to transition also because it was bad for country. This is not about taking people's jobs away; it's about transitioning them into jobs that will sustain them and our future.

We know that East Gippsland's communities are still hurting from last summer's bushfires. Those fires and their devastation will never be forgotten. The people who lost their lives will never be forgotten, and I want to send my love to those families and neighbours still grieving for their loved ones. I'm fortunate to have seen and known the giant sacred trees that remain in East Gippsland. I've spent a lot of time out in those beautiful parts of country. It's an ecosystem that has been there for countless centuries. After the fires that ripped through, I want these forests to recover. As much as possible they should be left to regenerate and return to their natural state. I want my grandkids and everyone's grandkids to be able to see these magnificent forests and to understand that they are the life support system of our country, the life support system of our earth.

This logging addiction that we've got in Victoria is so wrong. It is so backward and unsustainable. If the Victorian Labor government wants to keep logging then this federal government needs to step in and say no: no to letting VicForests restart logging in bushfire ravaged country, such as Bidawal, Gunnai, Monaro and Ngarigu country in East Gippsland; no to destruction of the remaining wildlife habitat and carbon stores of these forests, which also include our totems; no to continuing logging while the state government's own major event review of the bushfires is happening. Under the regional forest agreements, this logging and destruction is done on this government's watch. Those agreements are signed by both Victoria and the federal government. They are signing away our country for a quick buck. It will mostly end up as woodchips and printer paper. Shame! It might be the Victorian Premier's own logging agency doing the bulldozing but it's also on this government's head. Let us not forget that.

Thankfully, there are dedicated forest defenders on the ground in East Gippsland to keep watch on VicForests. I thank Goongerah Environment Centre and the many forest protectors across Victoria for their work in exposing the plans of VicForests to move in and log bushfire affected forests—a shout-out to Chris Taylor. Your FOIs, your legal cases, your wildlife surveys and your blockades on the ground have shone a light on what's really happening. The reports in the media this week have been scathing, and rightly so. We know that VicForests were found to be logging illegally earlier this year; the Federal Court said so. Now they are in the forests of East Gippsland doing more damage.

Allowing logging to continue in the landscapes that were burnt by the megafires of last summer is outrageous. It's greedy and it's short-sighted. The loggers claim they are cleaning up after the fires, salvaging logs that would otherwise be wasted. But this is kicking an ecosystem whilst it's down. Removing burned logs takes away hollows and habitat that the remaining wildlife need to stay safe and sheltered. The science and Indigenous knowledge are clear on this. Research shows that logging forests after bushfires increases future fire risk and can make the forest uninhabitable for wildlife for decades. We heard a report this week from WWF that confirmed that almost three billion animals were killed by last summer's bushfires. These fires burned through 70 per cent of East Gippsland's forests and 78 per cent of Victoria's remaining rainforest, and 244 endangered species lost over 50 per cent of their habitat.

The Victorian Labor government and this federal government have together announced a major event review of the bushfires. This is going to assess the impacts of the 2019 and 2020 bushfires and how those events affected the regional forest agreements in Victoria. There is no doubt we need a review. Those fires had enormous impacts on these forests. We need to know exactly what state they are in and how to protect them into the future. But the logging should stop while that review is happening. How can we say that these forests are so disturbed by fire that it constitutes a major event and then say, 'Okay, business as usual. Happy for you to go on and keep logging'? This makes no sense.

I note that the Victorian state government have indicated they would welcome traditional owner voices on the review. This major event review should have traditional owners represented properly as part of the process, not as a tick-and-flick tokenistic gesture. It has to have free, prior and informed consent. So much of this destruction is happening because consent was never sought from First Nations people. We need assurances that First Nations voices will be heard in this process. How can the Andrews government be negotiating treaty in Victoria in good faith while it continues to log our country? This push to go in and log after the fires is a desperate move from a dying industry. The writing is on the wall for the native forest logging industry. We can get what we need from sustainably grown plantation timber. The vast majority of domestic paper and pulp already does come from plantations, so why not leave these forests alone to recover from the bushfires? We need to make the transition out of native forest logging now, not in 10 years.

I worry so much about the desecration and destruction of country. I worry that my kids and my grandkids will inherit a ruined landscape where water catchments that have dried up and native animals have been sent to extinction. The Victorian Labor government and this federal Morrison government need to wake up. Only the Greens are fighting for these forests and speaking up for these life support systems. We call on our fellow parliamentarians to join us. We know that without these forests we will have no air to breathe, no clean water to drink, no wildlife and no habitat. That's not affecting you now, so that's not at the front of your mind, but it will be in the minds of your granddaughters. It is our job to make a safe future for everyone. Logging in East Gippsland and across Victoria needs to stop now. No trees, no treaty.