Peter Pepper

“Anarchists” is how Peter Pepper describes members of Huon Valley Environment Centre (HVEC). It’s not surprising that Pepper, as a long-time servant of Forest Tasmania, has a low opinion of the centre, but it is surprising that he sees its activists as something they clearly are not.

It was at the February meeting of Huon Valley Council that Pepper made his anarchists remark. It came during debate on issues council might raise at the LGAT (Local Government Association of Tasmania) annual meeting in July. Pepper thought the centre’s activities in native forests should be one of them.

I don’t recall the expression “eco-terrorists” being used during the debate and, because of the inadequacy of council minutes in recording the views of councillors, we’ll probably never know if it was. No doubt HVEC members may be eco-terrorists in the eyes of those on the other side of the running sore that is the forestry industry controversy — but for Pepper to describe them as anarchists is just plain wrong.

I’ve worked through the definitions, from “anarch” to “anarchy”, in The Oxford Dictionary of English and The Macquarie Dictionary, and can’t find anything that would justify the tag “anarchist” to describe either the HVEC or its members.

They have been consistent in their philosophy; highly motivated; co-operatively cohesive; thoroughly organised in every action they have taken; thrifty in their expenditure; and collectively single-minded (not an arrangement that any true anarchist would countenance).

And, of course, they have been amazingly resourceful, inventive and successful in the face of the always erratic, often mindless, condemnation and hatred that radiates from their adversaries, whose main players are the Labor State Government, the Liberal Opposition, Forestry Tasmania and the Forests Industries Association.

When have any of these pro-forests-destruction groups been successful in this industry? Their individual and joint endeavours have caused huge damage to the environment; driven what could be a successful industry into the ground; jointly done their best to prevent Tasmania from building a viable and sustainable economy; and, recently, shown their utter contempt for the ground rules upon which the IGA was negotiated.

One way or another, all have refused to acknowledge that the forestry industry, because of the way it has been operated these past 30 years, is in near terminal decline; they have refused to consider practical reform of the industry; they cannot see past clearfelling as the way to go; they can never resist holding out their hands for yet another financial injection from Canberra; and they seem to have no appreciation of the fact that their industry is hugely destructive of the habitat of the flora and fauna of our laughably depicted “clean green” state and its so-called “pristine waters”.

Tasmania’s natural environment has been under savage assault since the first day a European settler waded ashore; and especially since a handful of influential people latched on to a way of making fast bucks via monstrous clearfelling practices (in the process eliminating workers willy-nilly as new mechanisation methods have come along). And their money has come in large part from Japan, a nation that makes it almost impossible for any of its citizens to cut down even one of their trees.

Peter Pepper, as an FT employee and a councillor, is probably in the best position of all Huon Valley councillors to begin a process of peacemaking — and economic recovery — in the valley. His return to council last year, I believe, raised its IQ enormously. By now he and fellow councillors should be putting this intellect bonus to a better purpose than wrongly branding imagined enemies as anarchists.

For glaring anarchy, Pepper might look to the organisation that employs him: a government-owned enterprise that, quite reasonably, is seen by many as conveying the impression of operating above the law or getting around it. Forestry Tasmania, as well as having failed in its quest for sustainable profits, is a 21st-century example of full-on state-approved anarchy. In the meantime, HVEC activists have shown true grit and courage in defending a valuable and beautiful asset.

With the IGA on forests settled and behind us, there would still be plenty of money to be made, and jobs created, through our timber resources.

What we’re short of is the quality of grey matter (in the right places of influence) that is capable of working out how this can be done in a sustainable and non-environmentally destructive manner. For this to happen, there must be a firm and universal focus on achieving community harmony for the good of the state as a whole, not just sectional interests. Without these ingredients, Tasmania will muddle on as a failed state, forever a parasite on the Commonwealth. — Bob Hawkins