Categories: Environment

28 Jul 2012, Comments (3)

Grans Lock On

Author: Helen
Two 60+ year old women sitting under a huge piece of machinery, locked on to defend logging coupes near Toolangi. Photo from RegnansTree FB group

Photo from Regnans Tree Facebook group

VicForests has been clearfelling coupes near Toolangi (Mt St Leonard) in the Central Highlands of Victoria. This cool temperate rainforest is part of the tiny remnant which remains to us in this, the most cleared State in Australia. It’s the habitat of the increasingly rare Leadbeater’s Possum, our State emblem – evidently the Victorian Government would like to join Tasmania in having an extinct species as a faunal emblem.

These forests survived the 2009 Black Saturday fires. The residents of Toolangi and Castella fear for what will happen when they are surrounded by spindly young commercial regrowth instead of wet forest.

A group of grandmothers has locked onto machinery in truly terrible winter weather. Their spirit and determination absolutely blows me away.

Toolangi resident Bernie Mace says the works are destroying the environment and it will take specialised equipment to remove the women.
“Well they’ve used some pretty elaborate apparatus which is going to require police search and rescue to remove them from this equipment,” he said.
“Well the desperation is just palpable, no matter what we do the trees just keep coming down.
“It’s a very serious matter as far as the community is concerned.”
VicForest us urging the protesters to undertake “more constructive dialogue.”

“Constructive dialogue”? Like when My Environment took them to court and won, so now they’re seeking to move the goalposts (i.e. water down the Flora and Fauna Guarantee act) to prevent that happening? Like when they obfuscate and mangle the language to try to convince others that what they’re doing is “sustainable” and “harvesting” and not at all damaging to the environment we’re all supposed to protect for future generations? Right.

Googling the womens’ courageous action today, the reponse from our mainstream media appears to be…crickets chirping. They did report this, which throws their bravery into even sharper relief.

You can make a donation to the campaign here, if you have any dollars to spare.
Crossposted at Hoyden About Town

Picture of a Mayan temple with words 2012 DOOMSDAY
There’s a hilarious discussion over on Facebook between my niece, former officeholder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, and her friends.


Friend 1: I’ve used my $160 from the gubbament to construct a rudimentary shelter from the carbon. That’s what it’s for, right?

friend 2: Am I to understand this Carbon Tax will tax me a vital organ per month?

I’ve already had the smarmy letter from our electricity purveyor:

The variation follows a review of Neighbourhood energy’s costs and mainly reflects the impact of the Australian Government’s Carbon Pricing mechanism and Neighbourhood energy’s increased operating expenses.

Of course the red mist is supposed to descend after “Carbon Pricing mechanism”, obscuring “increased operating expenses” AKA “Spending on infrastructure we got away with not providing when the SEC was carved up and privatised and which now is going tits up on a massive scale.

This is my prediction. Thousands upon thousands of businesses will take the opportunity to jack their prices up and blame the carbon tax. The increase will be out of all proportion to any real cost increase the carbon tax has caused. Then the Herald Sun and various other mouthpieces will come out to say “see, we told you so!”

23 Aug 2011, Comments (5)

Reflex Activism

Author: Helen

I don’t know about you, but as an activist out in the world, I really suck.

I do a little fundraising for my kids’ public school, because I think public education is one of the most important things I could support just now. I go to the odd demo. I would like to be helping the fight for our irreplaceable old-growth forests, too. But caught up in work, family obligations, and yes, cowardice – I know what the roads up there are like, and if I needed the old Mitsu-bashi pulled out of the mud, sure enough (in my overactive imagination) I’d be sure to find the only RACV bloke in the district would be fanatically pro-logging!

Meanwhile, in Gunbarrel Coupe on Sylvia Creek in Toolangi, people much braver than my pathetic self are locking onto machinery and going to jail to save this forest. Not all the action is on the coupe, either – the citizens of Toolangi are being subjected to spying and harassment from unidentified “suits”.

21 August 2011:

While we were winding up from the activities and most participants had left, a group of 4WD vehicles stopped 100m up the road and stayed blocking the road with 3 vehicles abreast with engines running and lots of shouting. It wasn’t clear whether their presence was intentional or coincidental but we sent out an alert and several friendly vehicles soon arrived, for which much thanks!. As the first few cars drew up the 4WDs left and then things became really bizarre!

22 August 2011:

At least two separate suspiciously acting individuals wearing suits and driving new SUV’s have been observed on 19.08.2011 loitering near mail boxes of Toolangi residents and looking through some documents. DSE vehicles have been observed parked discretely within eye shot of the suited individuals.
This coincides with mail irregularities reported by some residents. My phone bill with the listing of all calls made has not arrived this month (first time ever). Another person’s financial statement has been opened, evidently resealed and returned to the letter box during the night.

There is something we deskbound townies can do, besides publicise the brave Sylvia Creek protesters (or bring them food, water and supplies, if you live nearby). Remember recent events in Tasmania? A very important reason for the fall of Gunns as the bullyboy of the Tasmanian wilderness was the refusal of Japanese buyers to buy products which were sourced from old-growth woodchips. Activists did the hard yards there too, but the Japanese consumer helped bring the forestry industry to the negotiating table.

As Pia Perversi-Burchall of the Wilderness Society explains, “Toolangi’s forests are part of Australian Paper’s (makers of Reflex paper) concession zone. This means logs taken from the area are being made into Reflex paper, which is then sold by Officeworks.”

A ream of Reflex paper sitting on a stump in a clearfelled coupe.

Attribution unknown

I’d add that Reflex has now lost its Forest Stewardship Council certification because it continues to use woodchips from native forests.

So, there is something we can do, here in the big city.

You can go to this web page and click on “Sign the Pledge” (for organisations) to boycott Reflex paper, or “Sign the Petition” (for individuals) to petition Officeworks to cease stocking Reflex paper.

Take the Ethical Paper pledge!

Having done that, you should also go here, to let Officeworks know you’ve signed the petition or pledge, and why. Don’t let your action go unnoticed.

You can do all this before your cup of coffee goes cold. Just a little thing, but a whole lot of little things are better than nothing in this crazy world.

23 Jul 2011, Comments (3)

Trashing treasure

Author: Helen

VicForests, a failing and embattled organisation, is clearfelling a new coupe of cool temperate rainforest on Sylvia Creek Road, Toolangi. Toolangi is about 60 km or so north of Melbourne. Toolangi and its neighbours Narbethong and Murrundindi were badly affected by the Black Saturday fires, but this is part of the forest area which survived.

When I was a teenager my father and I used to go walking at Murrundindi, Toolangi, Mount St Leonard and the surrounding Mountain Ash country and I fell in love with that environment with its prehistoric flora and distinctive earthy, cool scent. It was once home, and inspiration, to the poet C J Dennis.

I commented on a post of Legal Eagle’s which mentioned McMansions in passing, with the rider: “(S)ome love to rail against environmentally unsound McMansions (how dare the lower class have a spacious and comfortable house, bigger than middle-class people!)”. I called bullshit. Legal Eagle replied “Explain yourself!” And I thought it was worth a post.

I’m calling bullshit on the popular story that criticising McMansions is equivalent to sneering at the working class, and denying them the good things in life. In this narrative, the people championing the McMansion are the true socialists and stand with the working man and woman in their quest for a truly equal society. This is in no way peculiar to Legal Eagle – I’ve seen it all over the media.

It’s one of the endless riffs on the “elites” narrative. According to this variation, the heroic workers are approaching, under neoliberal capitalism, the egalitarian nirvana which they always sought, and the only truly authentic expression of this is a mock-Tuscan mansion of 215 or so square metres, built to the boundary on a treeless (except for pencil pines) quarter-acre block on a nodule-shaped development far from public transport, shops and services, a hotbox in summer and freezing in winter, costing squillions to heat, cool and furnish. But wait! Who’s this, crouching behind one of the two Yucca plants out the front? Oh, no! It’s those horrible “elites” again, throwing cold water on this wonderful social apotheosis, claiming that McMansions are really a bit crap. It’s because they just don’t want the heroic working class to have nice things!

Here’s the article which provoked Eagle’s reaction. It’s written by someone who knows his stuff. But I see the counter-narrative everywhere. During the last election, I saw a letter by a concerned citizen in our local newspaper complaining that the Greens bad-mouthed mcMansions and by association, ordinary Australians. I recognised the name on the letter as a Labor apparatchik (not local), so I know it’s spin.

Unfortunately for this story, its main premise is a fiction – McMansion owners are more likely to be up and coming IT workers and professionals or semiprofessionals as classic battlers. But let’s put that aside for a minute and consider the idea on its internal consistency alone.

What it comes down to is: we’re criticising a mode of planning and building, and being told we’re not allowed to claim one way of building is objectively better than another, in case we offend the lower/middle class (that is, most of us). Imagine if progressives had been the source of this idea. Political correctness! the media would cry. Po-mo relativism! Emotional!! (In Australia, the most devastating criticism possible.) Yes, built environments have political and cultural significance, but I am willing to go out on a limb and say that people who are fighting for the godgiven right of the Aussie Battlers to buy McMansions are speaking more from financial or political self interest than any warm concern for the battlers themselves.

I’m womanning the barricades, Comrades, for the right to say that McMansions are badly built and badly sited on badly planned developments. I’m not ashamed to say that building houses which regularly feature his and hers walk-in robes, home theatres and “powder rooms” as standard, but describing wall and ceiling insulation and smoke detectors as “luxury inclusion(s)” is doing it wrong. Furthermore, I’ll say these houses are poorly sited with regard to sunlight, lack eaves for shade, have thin walls, have little or no garden space, are built quickly and cheaply, will deteriorate rapidly and need expensive repairs in a relatively short time. I won’t be bullied into praising these white elephants by creative use of the Roveian/Howardian discourse of “elites”.

Now I know you’re going to say: “Yes, Helen, you can state your preference for one kind of dwelling over another, but saying that people shouldn’t want McMansions is telling other people what they ought to want, so, still elitist.” Which would be absolutely true, but don’t forget that there is an entire industry – advertising and marketing – whose job it is to tell people what they ought to want. Buyers aren’t just Choosing their Choice in a vaccuum. The building and development corporations (and the big box retailers who serve them, and the credit companies behind it all) are going to a lot of effort to appeal to aspiration, to snob value, to illusions of community and stability. Buyers adjust their “dreams” to fit whatever display model takes their fancy, while in reality the cookie-cutter homogeneity and cheapness of construction suits the developers and builders first and foremost. In other words, I think people are being told what they ought to want by the developers and the rest of the building/retail food chain, and unlike the McMansion opponents, they aren’t being called on it.

It doesn’t end there. The Big Box retailers love the bigger houses because they need to be furnished, and the pressure is on to furnish them a certain way, not just bring all your stuff from the rental house. There are more rooms, and you can’t just put a squeaky little sound system in that home theatre. Then, of course, there are the credit providers raking in their interest after that 24-month-interest-free period.

I have no doubt that if they had the will, the corporations and their advertisers could use the same lush, descriptive advertising to convince the punters they’d be happier and more comfortable (and richer!) in a smaller but better constructed and environmentally intelligent house. Swap the home theatre and his’n’hers walk-in robes for thicker walls, insulation and better basic construction. Use the Australian vernacular instead of the European, with overhanging eaves and shady verandahs on the western side. Use the space gained on the block to orient the houses for the climate. Have solar hot water and other money-saving goodies as standard, instead of “European tiles”, marble benchtops and such. Those can always come later with the money saved on power and other bills.

You don’t think they could sell this alternative vision? Of course they could. They’re the ones setting the agenda.

I dislike these houses because they are an embodiment of how individual buyers, society as a whole, and the environment on which we depend, are poorly served. I don’t dislike them because I don’t want ordinary people to have nice things. It’s because I would like them to have something so much better!

Update: The Melbourne Urbanist, Don Arthur on Club Troppo.

Update 2: Looks like a lot of people are changing their minds about house size.

30 May 2011, Comments (5)

Easter Road Trip, Part 2

Author: Helen

The Grand Ridge Road only took two days, so there was still plenty of Easter/Anzac long weekend to check out the tourist attractions of East Gippy. Near Thorpdale, you can see this sign:

Road sign - "Site of World's Tallest Tree"

Road sign - "Site of World's Tallest Tree"


30 May 2011, Comments (7)

Easter Road Trip, part 1

Author: Helen

In the Easter break I did something I’d wanted to do for quite a while – go for a road trip along this road, which follows the top of the Strzlecki ranges in East Gippsland. Just myself, while the family fended for themselves at home (Mr Bucket works on weekends, of course, and the kids are allergic to country air.)

Looking north from the Grand Ridge Road, somewhere between Tarra Bulga NP and Gunyah

Looking north from the Grand Ridge Road, somewhere between Tarra Bulga NP and Gunyah


23 Mar 2011, Comments (6)

Take a good look

Author: Helen

If the Liberals should win the next federal election, these are the nongs who will be “governing” you.

More here and here.

Aust Opposition leader Tony Abbott standing with Lib MPs Bronwyn Bishop and Sophie Mirabella in front of a placard painted with flames and "JuLIAR Bob Browns BITCH"

To quote James Bradley of City of Tongues on Twitter, “The level of casual misogyny directed at the PM is truly appalling, and says a lot about those who endorse it.”

The stealthy return of cattle to the Victorian alpine national parks by the Victorian Liberal government is a payback to the National Party for their help in winning the last election. In an attempt at arse-covering, they’re touting it as a “scientific experiment”. As Robert Merkel and others have pointed out, they’re obviously taking this audacious action from the “Scientific Whaling” playbook. Simply, they’re breaking the law.

There is a well-defined legal process for such projects, developments or activities in a place of national significance, under section 68 of the Environment Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation (EPBC) Act. In early January, before they sent the cattle in, the DSE was supposed to notify the Federal environment minister, Tony Burke. After that, the Minister is required to publish the notice on the internet and invite public comment. After “consultations with the public and relevant ministers”, the Minister is required to decide whether the activity is a Controlled Action under the EPBC Act.

The impacts must then be assessed (and there are already reams of information on the damaging impact of hooved grazing animals on the Alpine environment, such as the 2005 Alpine Grazing Taskforce report and the 2006 CSIRO study into the Alpine ecology, grazing and fire.) Following assessment, the Minister then may determine whether or not to allow the Controlled Action under the EPBC Act.

It is an offence to carry out activities which may be Controlled Actions without the consent of the Federal Minister for the Environment.

According to news reports on January 12, the (Victorian) DSE claimed to have sent a letter to the Minister, but this letter appeared to have mysteriously disappeared en route.

The Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment has written to Mr Burke’s office advising it of the trial and has offered a full briefing, but it has received no reply.
But the federal Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities has not received the letter.
”Under national environment law, the onus to refer an activity falls on the person carrying out the activity,” a spokesman said.

The cattle are already in the park, so they were in breach of the law already by mid January. I haven’t seen any calls for public comment by Tony Burke for assessment of a Controlled Action under the EPBC act – anyone else seen it? At any rate, the legal process has hardly got to square one.

It’s wrong. And don’t fall for the argument that as a city dweller, you have no right to oppose it. For one thing, this is a Heritage area which belongs to all Australians, not just a handful of families. For another, it’s your taxes at work.

The $5.50 per head fee paid by the graziers when the practice was stopped in 2005 (calves born while up in the high country travelled free) represented a massive subsidy by the taxpayer to a privileged few families, since the tiny fee went nowhere near to covering the damage caused by the cattle. If the Baillieu government is hell bent on allowing these people to do their damage, will the new agistment fee be set at a more realistic level?

Also, when Alpine grazing was ended by the Bracks government, an ex gratia payment was made by the Victorian government to the tune of $100 per head of cattle for the three years after that, up to $100,000 per license holder. (H/T Wilful.) So we were still paying for them.

Now that Alpine grazing has been brought back, will they be required to pay back that money?

You or I would be sent to the wall if we attempted to do something like this, but for the macho men of the Liberal and Country parties, the law is for the little people. We saw the damage that favours for “Labor mates” did to Victorian governance under Bracks and Brumby. Stand by for government by Liberal / Country Party mates. Plus ca change.

OK. I know some of you readers work for the Labor government or are Party members and are people I like and respect. So, this may cause pain to a few of you, and I apologise for that in advance. If you’re a “labor insider”, you might like to stop reading now. Alternatively, you might gain some pointers as to why you’re losing so many votes to the Greens.

I’ve never been a swinging voter. From the time I was old enough to vote I was a rusted-on Labor voter. Rusted on. Here are just a few of the reasons I won’t be voting for them in the next State election and why I haven’t been able to do so for some time.

Because they won’t commit to a properly funded and resourced public education system and instead, they tinker around the edges instead of fixing the structural problems that our public system faces. This seems to be because they aren’t in their own system’s corner. Instead, they allocate an extra 40% of funding to private and Church schools – a huge slap in the face to the parents who are sending their kids to public schools. And while developers and real estate agents and “consultants” buy new BMWs, they treat our teachers like shit.

Because they have set city against country people by building a pipeline from the already overstressed Murray Darling Basin to Melbourne, which many city people don’t want and which is an environmental disaster from start to finish. Because they are building a huge white elephant in the form of a desalination plant which will be run at least in part on fossil fuels such as coal and gas. Because when the rains came recently, instead of keeping water restrictions, they eased them and then published a photo of John Brumby happily washing a car. Way to make country people hate us.

Because they have signed a memorandum of agreement allowing their police force to pass confidential details of protesters to the consortium building the desalination plant.

Because their “planning” minister, Justin Madden, gives a tick to any project which the consortiums and developers want, over the objections to any informed protest, destroying priceless environmental and architectural treasures as he goes. They plan for sham consultations and then add insult to injury by trying to paper over this by starting a “department of respect”, headed by…? Justin Madden!

Because they are so much in bed with the Roads lobby that they can’t see beyond the construction for roads, roads and more roads, especially freeways. Oh, god are they in love with freeways. As well as the social and environmental damage caused by poorly planned developments there’s the opportunity cost of all the money that isn’t spent on public transport.

Because, speaking of public transport, they spent $775-850 million on the MYKI project, which still isn’t working properly. Rolling stock and infrastructure, meanwhile, is run down and neglected and many Melbourne suburbs limp along with only unreliable and infrequent buses. Those of us lucky enough to live near public transport are still packed in like sardines and subject to train cancellations and random system malfunctions. Meanwhile, our taxes are pissed up against a wall with nearly $50 million spent on a car race.

Because all these bloated projects are carried out through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) which represent an orgy of profit for developers and unions with sufficient muscle to extract a fair share of that profit. Because they accept donations from the people who profit. Because this is a symptom of how your “party of the workers” has adopted neoliberal, corporatist, managerialist values. As the title of the linked article says, they’ve become a Labor party in name only. Because these are steps down the disastrous road of privatising our most basic needs, like tap water.

Because they encourage urban sprawl, ignoring boundaries set out by wiser governments and destroying the Green Wedges, urban boundaries and city parklands that made Melbourne livable.

Because they broke their 2006 election promise to protect the last remaining significant stands of old-growth forest in Victoria, gazetting acres of low-value vegetation for “protection” while continuing to chainsaw Victoria’s old-growth forest, like the cool temperate forest of Brown Mountain. They mouth platitudes about “sustainable” forestry while leaving areas a smoking ruin which a Supreme Court judge, Jack Forrest (heh) compared to the battlefield of the Somme.

Clearfelling at Brown Mountain

Because although they got rid of Stephen Newnham, they have kept their dirt unit under the new guy, Nick Reece, doing stupid stuff like this. “Super Attack”? How old are their staffers, twelve?

Because “don’t criticise Labor because the Liberals might get in, and they’re worse,” doesn’t really inspire me, and that’s pretty much the best their supporters can come up with.

Now I’ve run out of time, but not out of reasons.

See you at the polling booth tomorrow.