Cross Posted from ABC News
Tasmania’s Premier has accused wealthy businessmen of bankrolling fringe environmental groups whose protests are threatening the forest industry.
Five activists have been charged with trespass-related offences after a protest at Ta Ann’s timber processing site in southern Tasmania.
Police removed the protesters who had attached themselves the front gates and machinery at the Judbury mill.
The Huon Valley Environment Centre’s Jenny Weber says a total of 18 people, including mothers, were protesting against the forestry practices associated with the company.
“It’s certainly not an irresponsible act when the trespass charge is a minor charge and the children are safe with members of the family and they’re completely within their own right to be standing up in this democratic society,” she said.
The Premier, Lara Giddings, told Parliament she was absolutely appalled by the action, saying it put at risk informal talks to end Tasmania’s decades-long forest wars.
She accused rich businessmen of bankrolling the fringe environmental groups.
“What we can do is stand up to those Australians and those Tasmanians who are funding these groups, those rich businessmen and women in this country who are funding those fringe groups,” she said.
“Let me say very clearly; I am appalled by the behaviour of the Huon Environment Centre and I think it is absolutely disgraceful what they are doing right now in trying to threaten an agreement which would, in fact, provide them with more trees than they’ve ever had before.”
The Opposition leader Will Hodgman called on the Premier to drop the forest peace talks.
“Why on Earth are you still planning to give away the forests when you can’t deliver the peace?”
Ms Giddings, who turned 40 today, maintained a forest peace deal was still possible.
“The best birthday present he (Mr Hodgman) could give me is would be to actually work with us on this forestry issue.”
Forestry supporter, the Huon Resource Development Group president George Harris has also condemned the protest.
Mr Harris says the action is based on lies and is damaging Ta Ann’s reputation.
“Everybody that has a job there at the moment would be justifiably outraged at this sort of nonsense,” he said.
“The overwhelming majority of the community condemns action like this and they just do not speak for the community and it’s just so frustrating that again they would go and put jobs and businesses in jeopardy.”
Ms Weber says protesters will not back down and the Premier’s bankrolling claim is nonsense.
“If only that was the truth, she said.
“We run on a very small budget, we run on the takings from art exhibitions, we run on donations that are very small.
“The most amount of money that we’ve ever been donated is the $15,000 settlement fund that we got from Gunns out of the Gunns 20 case.
“We certainly are not funded by millionaires.”
On Monday, protesters locked themselves to a conveyor belt at the company’s Smithton mill, halting operations for six hours.
Ta Ann’s executive director Evan Rolley says the Huon Valley and Smithton mills are facing closure.
He says the veneer producer is running at a loss and will not be able to keep operating in Tasmania if there is no forest peace deal.
The company will decide within two weeks whether it will remain in the state.