Spinning the Garrett Parrot: NSW Government and News Ltd exaggerate job losses

The NSW and Victoria National Parks Associations say claims of large job losses in the NSW logging industry are unfounded. The NSW Government and News Ltd have been running hard against Federal Government environment minister Peter Garrett for his stop work decision in Murray wetlands, the home of the threatened green leek parrot, with a thousand jobs at risk.  NSW NPA cites Forests NSW documents which show there are 120 direct jobs in the River Red Gum logging industry. “[NSW Primary Industry] Minister Macdonald has exaggerated the issue by an order of magnitude” say the NPA.

News Limited have also used the parrot to undermine the federal government’s claims about saving Australian jobs. They had ludicrous headlines such as “parrot endangers jobs”. The Sydney Daily Telegraph editorial called the government’s position “sheer lunacy”. It said concerns about the impact of logging are well documented and a “dramatic stopwork” would put a thousand people out of work.

Besides exaggerating the numbers, News Ltd is also ignoring the logging is illegal. The NPA says the NSW government agency Forests NSW is flouting the law. “This is an extraordinary case of the NSW Government itself being caught red-handed, illegally logging our internationally significant Red Gum wetlands,” said NPA spokesperson Georgina Woods. She applauded Garrett for “preventing illegal logging of internationally significant River Red Gum wetlands in south-western NSW”.

Peter Garrett has been cautious in response. He spoke about the potential for logging to impact on wetlands of international importance. He said the issue was a matter for the Commonwealth and the NSW government. Garrett expects these discussions to conclude by the end of the month and logging would still able to go ahead in a large part of the forest. “It was an important question of balance” he said. “Protecting habitat and internationally listed wetlands, with the need to protect jobs in the region.”

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said the government’s delaying action was “overkill”. Local Liberal member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, brought the matter up in Question Time yesterday. Ley said loggers have been told a stop work order exists ready to be activated by the end of the month. She asked Garrett to reverse the decision as the parrot was not endangered but 1000 jobs in her electorate were.

Garrett replied his department had not issued a stop work order for the NSW Central Murray State Forests area. He said he had spoken to the NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald and asked him to hurry up the matter. Garrett reminded Ley there was national environment legislation (The EPBC Act introduced by the Howard Government) affecting logging and Australia is subject to international agreements for the protection of biodiversity.

The wetlands are extremely important from a biodiversity perspective. The NSW Central Murray State Forests and the Ramsar wetlands in Victoria (Barmah and Gunbower forests) form the largest complex of tree-dominated floodplain wetlands in southern Australia. Inside the forests lives the green leek parrot, more commonly known as the “superb parrot” (polytelis swainsonlii). Although not officially endangered, it is considered a threatened species with just a few thousand birds in the wild. They face dangers from landclearing, loss of hollows, and lack of regeneration of woodland habitat. It also faces competition from the introduced common myna bird.

The area is the subject of a Victorian government “action statement”. Though parrot nest trees with hollows are typically large and old (and low commercial timber value), adjacent trees are often subject to logging. There is no similar plan in NSW. The cross-border area is home to the Yorta Yorta people who don’t recognise the difference between the states. Yorta Yorta Nation spokesperson, Neville Atkinson, said he hoped the Red Gum forests would be protected on both sides of the river. “We want to see the whole area managed to protect its environmental values and our heritage,” he said. “We want to ensure that the knowledge of our people, acquired over untold generations, is applied in any future management of the area.

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