Sunday, February 18, 2007

Protesters defy police, walk into Weld Valley

February 18, 2007: Weld Valley protesters ignore police caution - About 50 protesters have entered a Forestry Tasmania exclusion zone in the Weld Valley, south-west of Hobart. The protesters are trying to stop the logging of two coupes of temperate rainforest, next to a World Heritage Area. In the past week, behind locked gates, wilderness forests in The Lower Weld Valley have been attacked, and their world heritage qualities devalued at an alarming rate. This Sunday people are bearing witness to the beauty and the sad loss of these threatened ancient forests.

Huon Valley Environment Centre Spokesperson Jenny Weber says: "Forestry Tasmania’s unprecedented eleventh hour attempt to put an injunction on the Huon Valley Environment Centre is merely a distraction from their accelerated detruction of wilderness forest. Heavy machinery and chainsaws have been working on overdrive to rapidly devalue this precious landscape..."
Meanwhile Forestry Tasmania has failed in a court bid to stop the protest action. Today, police about inside the Weld "exclusion zone," formally cautioned the protesters, saying they would be charged with trespass if they continued walking into the forest. However, the caution was ignored by all but a couple of the protesters.

Jenny Weber says all that separates the Weld Valley logging coupes from neighbouring World Heritage forest is a line on a map. She says 95 per cent of the trees cut down by Forestry Tasmania will be woodchipped and the practice must stop.

Earlier, a conservationist who protested in the Weld Valley has escaped a conviction for locking himself in a forestry vehicle. Thirty-five-year-old Adam Burling of Lucaston was arrested in the Valley late last year. In the Hobart Magistrates Court, Burling pleaded guilty to trespassing while campaigning against logging in the Weld Valley.

The court heard he sat in the driver's seat of a forestry vehicle and refused to leave. When police used the electronic key to unlock the car, Burling continued to lock it again, but police eventually pulled him out of the car. Defence lawyer Cassandra Gregg said Burling was a former Huon Valley councillor, part-time employee of Greens Senator Bob Brown and a dedicated forest campaigner. The magistrate told Burling actions like his did not tend to further the cause. Burling was not convicted on condition of six months' good behaviour.

Previously, Forestry Tasmania failed dismally in an unprecendented 11th-hour legal attempt to stop a protest march going ahead in the Weld Valley. Three of the protest organisers were served with writs from Forestry Tasmania at their Huonville homes. Forestry Tasmania was seeking an injunction to stop the Huon Valley Environment Centre and six of its members from emailing, texting, handing out pamphlets or posting information on the internet about the "walk-in" rally into the out-of-bounds Weld Valley. It would also have prevented the centre from allowing protesters to sleep at its Huonville headquarters or at any of its named office-bearers' homes.

"It was a shock to get that delivered to your doorstep," said HVEC treasurer and spokeswoman Jenny Weber. "I felt scared and overwhelmed that Forestry Tasmania was prepared to go so far as to engage individuals trying to stop logging in the Weld in court proceedings."

In an embarrassing bungle, Forestry Tasmania was forced to withdraw its application for an immediate injunction. The backdown came after nearly two hours of legal debate, after Tasmania's Chief Justice Peter Underwood ruled the key evidence on which Forestry Tasmania was basing its injunction claim was inadmissible. Justice Underwood also ordered Forestry Tasmania to pay all legal costs of the Huon Valley Environment Centre and its co-defendants, estimated to be between $7000 and $10,000.

Weld Valley protester and president of the Huon Valley Environment Centre, Adam Burling, said he had no doubt the latest legal action was an attempt by Forestry Tasmania to demonstrate a new hardline approach toward protesters.

"We believe there are enough existing laws, such as the exclusion-zones powers at Forestry Tasmania's fingertips. Why do they need to crackdown even more?" Mr Burling asked. But Forestry Tasmania's Huon Valley district manager, Steve Davis, said trespassing protesters had become increasingly reckless in their attempts to impede logging, compromising safety at the site and risking injury to workers.

Forestry Tasmania was supported in its legal action by the Tasmanian Forest Contractors Association. Most of the evidence backing its case presented by Forestry Tasmania was obtained from websites associated with recent protest actions in the Weld Valley near Geeveston, which Justice Underwood ruled could not be accepted by the court as fact since the authorship of internet material was uncertain and unprovable.

Justice Underwood also ruled inadmissible parts of the sworn statement made by Mr Davis and presented to the court, stating that he expected protesters tomorrow to lock themselves to logging machinery, to conduct tree-sits and to "otherwise interfere with forest operations". The judge ruled these were Mr Davis' beliefs and not facts, and as such could not be accepted as evidence by the court.

A victorious Mr Burling, also one of the individuals named in the injunction, described the case's dismissal as a triumph for democracy and free speech. He said the attempted injunction was part of the new "heavy-handed" tactics being employed by Forestry Tasmania and the Lennon Government in the ongoing dispute about the logging of Tasmania's native forests. Forestry Tasmania withdrew not just its injunction application, but an associated longer-term writ based on a conspiracy charge against the named Weld Valley defendants.

"This is a desperate act from the State Labor Government to silence its critics of the unpopular forest industry and to do the biding of Gunns ltd," said Mr Burling. "Forestry Tasmania should be taking note of the Federal court's December decision in the Wielangta case and cease their illegal logging operations, not trying to start new legal case against community groups."

Weld Valley Campaign's Online Home

Mercury Conservationist avoids trespassing conviction
Weld Valley Campaign's Online Home
Forestry Tasmania launches legal attack against community walk

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is really sad that they are chopping down some of the biggest hardwood trees in the world and chipping them... TO MAKE PAPER!!!

Its good that protest is mounting though... checkout this rainforest activism slideshow