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."