The trade union that represents timber workers is being sued for false imprisonment by conservationists involved in a tense, fiveday stand-off with loggers in Victoria's south-west last January. In a writ lodged in the Supreme Court yesterday, 16 conservationists allege they were encircled and held against their will, and subjected to physical and psychological intimidation, harassment and injury by about 70 timber workers.
The campaigners, mostly members of the Otways Ranges Environment Network and the Wilderness Society, had set up camp beside a public road as part of a blockade to stop work in an area designated for clear-felling. Local timber workers then set up what the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union described as a picket line to protect workplace health and safety. The loggers refused to allow the conservationists to leave their camp unless they signed an agreement to stop blockading in the Otways.
The court action comes amid growing criticism by some conservationists about the new State Government's handling of the Commonwealth-state regional forest agreements covering western Victoria and Gippsland.
Environment Victoria, the Wilderness Society and community groups from the Wombat, Cobaw and Enfield state forests, the Otways and East Gippsland, have accused the Environment and Conservation Minister, Ms Sherryl Garbutt, of failing to reform the process as Labor policy promised.
In a letter, the groups say Ms Garbutt's statement on sustainable forest management last week, which outlines improved consultation, still leaves, the process in the hands of-bureaucrats accused of presiding over "poor-quality, conflict-ridden" agreements elsewhere. A spokeswoman for Ms Garbutt said Labor went into the election with a commitment to maintain the regional forest agreements, but to make the process more open and accountable.
She said the minister was disappointed some groups were not giving the reforms an opportunity to work before condemning them.
The Wilderness Society's campaign Coordinator, Mr Gavan McFadzean, said blockades would continue at Riley's Ridge in the Otways after protesters disrupted logging across the region last week. About 30 conservationists; also stopped logging yesterday at Starvation Creek, in the central highlands near Warburton. Mr McFadzean, who was blocked in by the timber workers in January, said violence and intimidation would not be tolerated.
He said conservationists did not stop loggers entering blockaded areas, and they were free to remove machinery and equipment. "False imprisonment is a serious offence and that is what it was," he said.
The secretary of the CFMEU forestry division, Ms Jane Calvert, who was involved in organising the loggers' blockade, declined to comment.
About 60 conservationists rallied outside Parliament House yesterday, holding aloft papier mache bottoms symbolising their belief that forests are getting the "bum end" of the deal. Environment Victoria's forests campaigner, Dr Rod Anderson, said the Government must resolve hidden industry subsidies.
Forests are getting the "bum end" of the deal, said conservationists
protesting outside Parliament House yesterday