Monday, February 12, 2007

Great Southern Plantations destroying Tiwi Islands - Response

February 8, 2007: In 2005, Perth-based tax minimisation company Great Southern Plantations Ltd (GSP) took over a massive native forest clearfelling project on Melville Island north of Darwin (Melville together with Bathurst Is makes up the Tiwi Islands). GSP has been very open about its plans to expand its venture to clearfell around 80,000 hectares of native bush from the Tiwi Islands. The deplorable Great Southern Plantations project is the single largest native vegetation/native forest clearing project in the whole of northern Australia. Last year's clearing of 10,000 ha is comparable to the total annual native forest clearfelling in Tasmania. Many endangered and endemic species live in these forests and in adjacent rainflorest patches which are being degraded as a result of the clearing.

If approval is granted, this expansion would be ecologically, economically and culturally disastrous.

Following a response on Perth Indymedia to a recent Feature article on the ongoing large-scale destruction of the Tiwi Islands, The Environment Centre of the Northern Territory (ECNT) have corrected several misleading statements made by Mr Ikin of Great Southern Plantations (GSP) in relation to the ongoing destruction of Tiwi Island forest for woodchip plantations...
CORRECTIONS to Great Southern's PR manager by Environment Centre of the Northern Territory:

The Environment Centre of the Northern Territory (ECNT) would like to correct some of the statements made by Mr Ikin of Great Southern Plantations (GSP) in relation to the ongoing destruction of Tiwi Island forest for woodchip plantations:

"JOBS – Great Southern is the largest private sector employer on the Tiwi Islands, providing non-subsidised, full-time employment for 24 Islanders, with more to come this year and beyond. Current positions include 11 forestry apprentices; two forestry trainees; 10 land & marine rangers; and one Tiwi liaison officer."

FACT: GSP Ltd wrote to ECNT in November 2006 and stated that there is just ONE full time Indigenous Tiwi Islander working on the forestry project; there are TWO part time employees, and 11 apprentices - [who may or may not end up working on the forest destruction project.] This is after five years of project operation. The Land and Sea Rangers is a completely separate program run by the Tiwi Land Council, and assisted by WWF Australia and GSP. Over the years since this forestry project commenced all kinds of exaggerated claims have been made about how many jobs it would provide for the Islanders but up until very recently when adverse publicity started to grow, the employment was all but non-existent.

"THE ENVIRONMENT – Before the first tree was planted, the forestry project was subjected to a rigorous approvals process, involving both the Federal and Northern Territory governments."

FACT: the project was approved by the Commonwealth Environment Minister in 2001 after being subject to the LOWEST POSSIBLE level of environment assessment under the EPBC Act - 'Provision of Documents'.


"Current approvals allow forestry to utilise less than 5% of the land mass of the Tiwi Islands."

FACT: This is a misleading statement because, as recent scientific research has shown (Firth R et al 2006), the company is targetting the highest quality native forest growing on the best soils with the most rainfall - forest that is extremely important for native wildlife.

"Land is selected for plantation development after consideration of a number of factors, including identification of various reserves and offsets around natural features and sensitive zones, restrictions on maximum slope and soil types, protection of vegetation, communities and sites of cultural significance.

FACT: GSP's forestry project is now under investigation by the Commonwealth Deapartment of Environment due to evidence of widespread breaches of the environmental protection conditions that the project is legally obliged to comply with, e.g. buffers around rainforest patches; protection of endangered species etc.

"LEASING OF LAND – The Tiwi have engaged the Australian Valuation office to verify that correct and fair market rents are paid. Establishing a plantation project on a remote island involves significantly different considerations than in well established forestry regions within mainland southern Australia. The Tiwi Islands have very low to nil infrastructure relevant to industry and forestry in general. Great Southern is therefore required to build all roads, ports, power generation etc – all items which in other forestry regions are typically already in existence and available for use."

FACT: The Traditional Owners are being paid FAR FAR less for the use of their traditional lands for the forestry project than plantation companies like GSP pay non-Indigenous landowners in southern Australia. The Tiwi Island traditional owners are being paid $15-$17/hectare/year for the lease of their land while southern Australian land owners are paid sums in the order of $200-$300/hectare/year!

No amount of fudging about the alleged extra costs on the Tiwi Islands can account for such a massive discrepancy. Furthermore, contrary to GSP's claims, much of the infrastructure being established on the Islands for use by the forestry project is being either wholly or substantially subsidised by the Commonwealth and NT governments. This includes a recent $1.5million subsidy for the upgrade of roads.

"In summary, the project has the full support of the Tiwi Land Council and is something that Great Southern is immensely proud to be associated with."

FACT: This is simply not true. There is opposition to the project throughout the Tiwi islands community as reflected in the recent petition signed by almost 500 Islanders and table in Federal parliament calling for an inquiry into the Tiwi Land Council. The petition was initiated by a Traditional Owner who is himsel a member of the Tiwi Land Council.

Peter Robertson
Environment Centre NT

P.S. When will GSP tell the Tiwi Islanders what became of the millions of dollars worth of high quality native forest sawlogs exported to Asia over the past few years for which they, the Islanders, have received a grand total of just $75,000???


ECNT Peter Robertson's response in the Perth Indy Newswires...

Response from David Ikin, Public Relations Manager, Great Southern Plantations Limited: http://perth.indymedia....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yer, it is also crazy what they are doing to the Tasmanian rainforest - chopping down some of the biggest hardwood trees in the world to make paper!!!!! Still at least there is some rainforest activism trying to fight back eh.

When will people stop destroying the planet we live on???