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Election 2004: Coalition urged to reveal its position on forests.

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Monday 4 October 2004

Election 2004: Coalition urged to reveal its position on forests


MARK COLVIN: Now it's up to the Federal Government to reveal its position on what's become the number one environmental challenge for the main political parties, as they compete for the green vote. 


Greens Senator Bob Brown, who invited Mark Latham to see some of Australia's tallest and oldest trees earlier this year, says Mr Latham's taken the lead and the onus is now on the Government to match Labor or do better. 


The environmental lobby has welcomed Mr Latham's commitment to protect the high conservation value forests, but is seeking clarification from Labor that in the interim more forests aren't cut down. 


Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The man who persuaded Mark Latham to go to Tasmania to see the big old trees for himself, back in March, Greens leader Bob Brown, is a happy man today. 


BOB BROWN: It's a breakthrough for Tasmania's forests, no doubt about that, a one-year moratorium on these forests is a badly, badly needed oxygen of sanity in a sea of destruction. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Senator Brown, who's been campaigning for decades to save Tasmania's forests, would have preferred an immediate end to the logging of 240,000 hectares of high conservation value old growth forests, but accepts Labor's plan for an independent scientific assessment, with no expansion of logging operations in the meantime. He still regards that a significant move.  


BOB BROWN: We're in a State where there's 500 log trucks a day going to the woodchip mills. It gives a reprieve to some of the most magnificent forests on the face of the planet and their wildlife while a scientific assessment takes place with a view to their permanent protection. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Bob Brown is heaving a big sigh of relief. So when he took Mark Latham to see the iconic Styx Valley forests, did he think back then that he'd convinced the Labor leader to protect them? 


BOB BROWN: Um, I held my breath, and I'm glad I did (laughs). But the biggest mover here is absolutely the power of public opinion right across this country. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Greens leader says the challenge for John Howard is to come up with something as good or better. 


BOB BROWN: Labor's taken the lead here. Mark Latham's taken the lead. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you think there's an advantage in going first? 






BOB BROWN: Because the people recognise there needed to be a breakthrough here. The Greens had gone a fortnight ago, but of the big parties Labor has showed its cards first. That takes some gumption but you know, the Coalition's been working on this for quite some time, so we want to see their package now, and more importantly the Australian people will want to see their package. 


Because what's going to happen to Tasmania's forests and protecting Tasmania's forests, these packages are going to resonate all the way to the ballot box on Saturday. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Competing against the Greens for Senate votes are the Democrats. Leader Andrew Bartlett's taken a swipe at his rivals for "rewarding Labor with a massive truckload of preferences" before knowing what Labor planned to do on forests. He says anything that's likely to lead to greater protection of high value forests has to be welcomed. 


ANDREW BARTLETT: But this whole announcement demonstrates the complete charade that the Green Party has perpetrated in relation to forests and preferences. Labor has been able to get away with releasing a policy that on the eve of an election that looks good on paper in parts, but in many ways will have to be taken on trust, and we'll have to wait until after the election to see how many areas will be protected and indeed whether or not all the funding will be provided. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Like Bob Brown, conservation groups are patting Mark Latham on the back for his commitment to protect Tasmania's forests, backed up with a significant restructuring package, but all are concerned they won't know for some time how much of the forests will eventually be locked up and what happens to them in the interim. 


Alec Marr from the Wilderness Society. 


ALEC MARR: We're seeking clarification as to whether there's a moratorium on these high conservation value areas while this assessment takes place. 


We would much prefer that there was no process involved because we believe that the conservation values of these areas are well established and we can't really see the point. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: So you don't really want to see another study? 


ALEC MARR: No, we don't want to see another study, we want these areas in national parks and world heritage areas and so unfortunately this package has the potential to deliver a good conservation outcome but because it's tied up in a process, we're really not going to know what the outcome will be for another 12 months. 


MARK COLVIN: Alec Marr from the Wilderness Society ending Alexandra Kirk's report.