Miranda Gibson is today sitting on a small platform 60 metres high in a Eucalyptus regnans beneath Mt Mueller in central Tasmania. She is intelligent, loves the forest and their wildlife and is, very obviously, committed to saving it. She has been on the platform for more than four weeks and intends to stay until the tree is cut down or the Gillard government in Canberra and Giddings government in Hobart keep their word that this tree, its wildlife and the mountainside forest in which it sits are protected.
Just over the ridge from Miranda is the Styx River and its Valley of the Giants, named after the Eucalyptus regnans (kings and queens of the eucalypts), which tower up to 100 metres high - that is, as high as a soccer field turned on its end.
You can join Miranda's blog and see her on Skype at www.observertree.org
In 2010, Tasmania's logging industry was facing bankruptcy. It publicly sought out the environment movement for talks aimed at a mutually beneficial outcome: money to help loggers exit the industry and protection of contentious forest like the Valley of the Giants and nearby Weld and Florentine valleys where recent peaceful protests had caused local contention, arrests and court cases.
An agreement was struck. While not involved in any of the negotiations, I had urged federal ministers to help out. On 7 August 2011 Prime Minister Gillard flew to Hobart to join Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings in signing an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) which would deliver $277 million of tax payers' money to the loggers and regional Tasmania in return for 'immediate' protection of 430,000 hectares (less than half) of Tasmania's state forest areas.
The money is flowing - up to $70 million dollars so far, including multimillion dollar cheques to Forestry Tasmania, the state's public forests manager which has a history of indebtedness (selling a public resource it got for free), and Gunns Ltd, once the state's major logger. The agreement guarantees Malaysian logging juggernaut Ta Ann 265,000 cubic metres of wood (more than Gunns got) each year until at least 2027. An announcement on which logging contracts will get payouts (of amounts up to $3 million) to get out of the industry is due any day.
However, in the HCV forests agreed for 'immediate' protection, logging, not least to meet Ta Ann's demands, has continued apace. This includes clearfelling and firebombing of forests which the International Conservation Union considers worthy of World Heritage status. These forests contain many endangered species including Tasmanian devils, the giant Tasmanian wedgetailed eagle, and the world's largest freshwater crayfish.
Forests in which, in 1792, the great French botanist Labillardiere wrote: "The air was extremely calm; and about midnight I awaked, when, solitary in the midst of these silent woods, the majesty of which was half disclosed to me by the feeble gleam of the stars, I felt myself penetrated with a sentiment of admiration of the grandeur of nature, which it is beyond my power to express", are being wrecked for Ta Ann.
I am not just a backer of brave Miranda Gibson. I think Tasmania's glory days are ahead of us. The combination of our fantastic food and wine industries with high quality manufacturing of fabrics, garments and furniture (yes, sustainably using specially allocated native forests) with the rapidly growing global demand for ecologically sound tourism give Tasmania huge prospects. And, as with Malcolm Fraser's decision to stop whaling in 1978, Julia Gillard has a lot to gain if she stops logging the world's tallest flowering forests in Tasmania - and Victoria - now. With those signatures on 7th August, the authority of Prime Minister and Premier was required to put the rogue Forestry Tasmania out of HCV forests. But the rogue has continued, initiating the logging of 10 square kilometres and on Friday the federal minister for the environment signed up to logging of another 10 square kilometres or so this summer. This is at a very great cost to the public purse. It will extend new logging roads into pristine rainforest and tall eucalypt area in an obvious prelude to longer term destruction. I have repeatedly raised this issue with federal ministers including the Prime minister. In November she countered my concern by writing to me with this reassurance: - 'In accordance with the IGA, 430,000 hectares of native forest ... has been placed in informal reserves by the Tasmanian Government.
But when we met at The Lodge on 9 December it became clear that extensive logging had been authorised in these same reserves. I told the Prime Minister that while I would be available to discuss any matter, I would not be at the regular meetings - weekly when parliament is sitting - until her government's commitments to protect the 430,000 hectares of forests were honoured.
I take the biosphere seriously. We depend upon it for everything, including life. It is being destroyed at the greatest rate in human history. Some commentators think that requiring ministers to keep publicly signed agreements - let alone to work to reverse the accelerating erosion of the Earth, its forests, biodiversity and sustainability - is less important than keeping tea drinking arrangements. I don't.
My relationship with Julia Gillard is a good one and I have found her, with this exception, someone who does what she says she will do. It is not difficult for the Prime Minister to ensure Forestry Tasmania does what most Australians want it to do - get out of the HCV forests and let Miranda Gibson have her next cup of tea with her friends down on the ground. She has invited the Prime Minister to join her.
(Also published today in the Sydney Morning Herald)