Greens vilify anyone at odds with them

The Australian
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Alan Oxley

Greens vilify anyone at odds with them

ON Tuesday, a story on ABC1's 7.30 revealed the harsh line the Greens party is drawing in the sand. Unless groups that claim to advance environmental interests support its positions, they are vilified. Perhaps recent attacks on the Greens from both sides of politics rattled the leadership?

The 7.30 story quoted Christine Milne declaring that Planet Ark could not endorse a marketing program run by a government-financed Forest Wood Products Research and Development Corporation that demonstrated timber products were sustainable.

She railed that Planet Ark was endorsing the Australian Forestry Standard, which sets standards to enable timber businesses to demonstrate their practices are sustainable. She described the standard as "dodgy", said it had no credibility and no one respected it. The only acceptable standard was that set by the Forest Stewardship Council, a body set up by WWF. 7.30 gave her the last word: "It will be the beginning of the end for Planet Ark unless they change direction."

7.30 did not examine her complaint. Yet the website of the program endorsed by Planet Ark shows the forestry industry body endorses both forestry schemes.

It also showed the AFS scheme certified 8.5 million hectares of Australian forest. The FSC scheme preferred by the Greens certified only 0.75 million hectares. And worldwide, the global scheme whose standards AFS follows, the Program for the Evaluation of Forest Certification, certifies twice the amount of forest as FSC.

The Australian forestry standard that Planet Ark promotes is world's best practice. It was created under the rules of Standards Australia, the national standard-setting body, which follows the standards of the International Standards Organisation.

The Forest Stewardship Council system, which Milne prefers, cannot meet Standards Australia's principles. The key reason is that the FSC is run by WWF and its green associates. Greenpeace is a member. They can change the standard at will. The rules of Standards Australia do not permit that. Any change to its standards requires consensus among all parties.

When Milne says AFS is "not credible" and "not respected", she simply means the Greens disapprove. But why would they oppose approaches that create jobs and foster sustainability?

The answer is simple: ideology. The Greens oppose any logging in native forests. They like the FSC standard because it effectively rules it out. That is WWF policy worldwide. But consider the situation in Australia. Vast tracts of forest are already set aside for conservation. This was decreed nearly 20 years ago under the national forest agreements negotiated by the Keating government.

Furthermore, Australian law requires that when native forest is logged, the forestry has to enable regrowth, creating a fresh forest environment so it can be relogged in the future. This is world's best practice, the perfect balance of protection of biodiversity and sustainable harvesting of forest products. It is also the most effective and cheapest way to sequester carbon.

The Greens don't want forests sustainably managed: they want them locked up, regardless of the consequences. Not only does this reduce employment - Tasmania is now feeling the crunch from closing down much of its forest industry - it can foster forest die-back and allow massive build-up of fuel stocks that create such hot fires they can destroy the forests, such as we saw in Victoria two years ago.

So Planet Ark gets attacked. In my opinion, the denunciation by the Greens of those who take a different path smacks of McCarthyism. The electorate can decide if that is the approach it wants at the polls. But why is the ABC's 7.30 an uncritical vehicle for airing such views?

Alan Oxley is a principal of ITS Global, which verifies the Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification. He was a member of the Kean committee that reviewed Australia's system of standards and conformance for the Keating government.

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