Feature from Markets for Change
On August 24th, grassroots environmental group The Last Stand struck at furniture retailer Harvey Norman in a series of well-planned direct actions across four states. The actions included a range of strategies; banner drops, sabotage, stickering inside the showrooms and ‘locking on’ at the distributors’ premises.
A spokesperson for The Last Stand, Ula Majewski said, ‘Today, we have taken action to highlight the chain of forest decimation that starts on the forest floor and ends in the showrooms of Harvey Norman stores’.
The Last Stand’s day of action is part of a larger campaign, dubbed ‘No, Harvey, No’, organised by an alliance of groups and individuals including Still Wild, Still Threatened, Get Up, The Last Stand and Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, to stop the manufacture and sale of native timber products by Harvey Norman.
The catalyst for the campaign was the release of a report by NGO Markets for Change entitled ‘Retailing the Forests; Confronting the Australian Involvement in Native Forest Destruction’. The report is the result of a long undercover investigation into the role that Australian retailers play in the continuation of destructive forestry practices, and calls for a market-focussed transition from native to plantation timber for all consumer goods.
The report’s findings are alarming, showing that 65% of Australian native woodlands have been clear-felled or ‘modified’ since white settlement. MFC warn that the removal of old forests that act as natural carbon banks has severe ramifications for global warming. Too, clear-felling is driving species extinctions up, earning Australia the dubious moniker of ‘World Leader in recent mammal extinctions’.
MCF and other groups are looking to business and consumers to lead change because Federal and state governments have failed to reform current legislation. The Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act of 1999 is inadequate due to a significant exemption. Section 38 of the act states that ‘this legislation does not apply to a forestry operation that is undertaken in accordance with a Regional Forestry Agreement’, allowing saw-millers to log 76% of native forests.
The RFAs are the biggest bone of contention between environmental activists and the federal government. Conservation and climate groups across Australia have condemned Julia Gillard for leaving Regional Forestry Agreements in place after a recent review of the EPBC Act. Mike Kelly MP has since assured the Forest and Climate Forum that the government would review RFAs in 2012.
Meanwhile, the government are still channelling tax revenue into large subsidies for the ailing, native forest industry. A report leaked to MCF during their investigation showed that the Victorian State government provided a financial boost of up to $16.6 million to the industry in 2010.
Indeed, the native timber industry believes itself to be in crisis. Greg L’Estrange, Managing Director of Gunns Ltd. said, “Logging native forests is faced with declining and uncertain markets at a time when the broader Australian market is strongly opposed to wood-chipping.”
Another blow has been dealt by manufacturers, who increasingly demand wood products that have received full certification by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Gerry Harvey, Chairman of Harvey Norman is feeling the heat too. In an interview with ABC News in July, Harvey stated that the ’No, Harvey, No’ campaign is “unfair” as the company is an easy target as market leader. He then made a blundering protestation of innocence, “I’m an environmentalist too. But every now and then something will slip through and I’ll be caught using timber from old forests, but it could well be timber that the government told the saw millers [...] they can take it.”
His message to activists involved in the campaign was that he wished he could sue them.
Despite legal threats, the campaign continues to grow and now includes other Australian retailers such as Freedom and Domayne. Markets for Change believe that retailers will give in to consumer pressure before governments do and urge supporters to ‘maintain the rage’ until a complete transition from native to plantation sources is made.