Angst into anger

In the headquarters of the Bob Brown Foundation is a sign that reads, “We’re here to protect the forests, not our office furniture.” Brown mentions this after he was arrested resisting logging in swift parrot habitat at Snow Hill this week.

“If they think we’re going to be intimidated by legal threats, they’ve just misjudged these young people,” he says. “There’s a rising tide I haven’t seen since the 1960s. Angst is turning into anger.”

It is not clear whether Brown will be charged with trespass or if Tasmania’s new, draconian anti-protest laws will be used against his foundation. “What they want us to do is stand uselessly on the side with placards while they drive their bulldozers into the forest... They’re trying to end the debate on the environment because they know they can’t win it.”

When the police came, Brown was waiting on a tree stump. Except for his height and narrow shoulders, he is exactly like the Lorax. The officers call him Robert. They tell him he isn’t in parliament anymore. Two swift parrots fly overhead. At most there are 300 of them left in the world. As the police lead Brown out of the forest, loggers cut down the last tall nesting tree. It has no real worth to them: it will be woodchipped and sent to China.

“There’s bloody-mindedness through all of this: ‘We’re not going to have greenies tell us what to do,’ ” Brown says. “It’s unconscionable. There’s no difference to the destruction of the Amazon. In fact, some of the bigger forests in Tasmania are more carbon dense.”

If the Albanese government were serious about the environment, it would end all native logging tomorrow. There is nothing that justifies it. The industry could not survive without subsidies. It employs almost no one. It hastens the twin crises of extinction and climate change. The government is paying extraordinary sums to destroy the bush it is supposed to protect.

“A legislated crime is occurring here,” Brown says. “There are parallels between what the government is doing to the swift parrot and what they did in the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger. They don’t have a bounty out driving the swift parrot and other creatures to extinction. This time it’s a consequence, last time it was deliberate, but the outcome is the same.”

The world is in the midst of its sixth great extinction and we’re letting it happen. Australia has led the contribution to that loss. In a speech to the National Press Club just after being made Environment minister, Tanya Plibersek made the same point. “We deserve to know that Australia has lost more mammal species to extinction than any other continent,” she said. “We deserve to know that threatened communities have grown by 20 per cent in the past five years, with places literally burned into endangerment by catastrophic fires.”

Yet when Plibersek visited Tasmania last week, she met with corporate miners before she met with environmentalists. Her government continues to support native logging. The extinctions she references are happening in the coupes where Brown was arrested. The laws in place to protect logging are really a licence to kill forests and the creatures that live in them.

“It’s a very simple equation: if there’s no nests, there’s no birds,” Brown says. “Their answer is ‘We’ll lock them up. We’ll get rid of them. We’ll frighten them off the scene.’ Well, there’s no way you can do that.”

In 2002 an incoming Labour government ended native logging in New Zealand. The choice was an obvious one, backed by a petition and common sense. It would take very little for the Albanese government to do the same here, except courage. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 12, 2022 as "Angst into anger".

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