The Guardian March 1, 2000


Thugs' forest assault

An atmosphere of fear and hatred whipped up for years by logging 
companies exploded into an act of thuggery on the night of February 21 in 
Victoria's East Gippsland forest. Around midnight up to 50 loggers entered 
a protest camp in the Goolengook forest and violently assaulted 
conservationists.

The camp was set up three years ago as part of a campaign to have the 
Goolengook forest included in the Errinundra National Park.

Following the assault an ambulance was called to the scene where a man was 
assessed for head injuries and two others treated for cuts and bruises.

The attack followed a historic call by Aboriginal leaders for an immediate 
end to old growth logging. When they informed loggers that the operations 
contravene customary law on Bidawal and Krauatungalung land they were met 
with violence.

"Violence of this kind has been used to suppress and control this land and 
our people for the last 200 years", said Krauatungalung elder, Robbie 
Thorpe. "Such a violent backlash shows just how threatening our assertion 
of sovereignty is to some in the timber industry. We will not be 
intimidated."

Anti-environmentalist propaganda carried out for decades by the big logging 
and woodchip companies has been successfully used to convince timber 
workers that conservationists are the cause of job losses in the industry.

Instead of investing in the development of plantation timber the companies 
have lobbied for, and been given the right to, continue cutting down old 
growth, native forests, thereby failing to provide any form of long-term 
job security for timber workers and at the same time creating an 
environmental disaster.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) have called on the Victorian Premier, Steve 
Bracks, to act immediately to ensure a response to the rapidly escalating 
violence in Victoria's forests.

FOE warned that the attack on a handful of environmentalists was not only 
cowardly, but threatens to send Victoria into a situation where violence 
becomes a legitimate tool to silence community concerns about the 
destruction of native forests, or indeed, any other issue.

It also occurs at a time of other violent attacks on environmentalists and 
appears to be part of a strategic campaign of violent intimidation.

"The environment movement has endured years of violent acts against 
individuals. Now this is escalating into a broad-based campaign of terror. 
Government inaction would be tacit approval for the continuation of these 
attacks", said FOE's National Liaison Officer, Cam Walker.

FOE says constructive dialogue between trade unions and environmentalists 
is also essential to deal with conflict in the forests.

Agreements regarding blockading protocols are a necessary part of moving 
the debate on forests forward. Dialogue through forums such as the trade 
union-green alliance, Earthworker, will allow the creation of agreements on 
areas of commonality.

The current situation benefits neither workers nor environmentalists, in 
the short or long term. By joining together, unions and greens can 
successfully defeat this type of vigilante action.

"The right to peaceful protest is a hard won and vital part of Australian 
democracy" said Mr Walker. "There can be no place for middle-of-the-night 
thuggery."

He said urgent action is required. "There is the real danger that someone 
will be killed if this cycle of vigilante violence is allowed to continue."

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