The Department of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) set up a sham called the RFA Reference Groups. These groups were to help implement those bedraggled embarrassments concocted as Regional Forest Agreements. There were three community groups set up; in the Otways, East Gippsland and the Wombat forest.
Jill Redwood (me) from EEG nominated for and was accepted onto the group for East Gippsland. The group comprised of six logging industry representatives and six non-logging community members (farmer, tourism operator, a vet, a business person, a scientist and moi).
We were told from the start by a very stern and grumpy adviser that we were there to put the RFA into force and if we thought the sun didn’t shine out of its countless holes we should bugger off. I told her it was the biggest waste of public money ever devised but I’d stick it out.
Consulting or Insulting?
In the nine months of meetings, we discussed many issues and sent recommendations to the Minister. None were ever acted on and only one ever received an acknowledgement. Everyone was starting to get frustrated and could see it was a cheap set up that allowed enviro minister Cheryl Garbutt to claim she was consulting.
In the early stages, logging company head, Garry Squires, put up a motion that Garbutt needs to get tougher with protesters. He didn’t disagree that guns could be used! Whether in jest or seriousness, it was a bit extreme. The motion failed and he stormed out.
Enter one clown
At the 8th meeting, I decided to dress as a clown, complete with dinosaur hat, face paint and big smile (thanks Helly and Buddy). I had a bright yellow sign in front of me at the meeting table saying “THE GREAT RFA CIRCUS”. After the serious time-wasting meetings of the past, this one was actually enjoyable. We even managed to get a few rather significant motions passed. The first was that the RFA Reference group has little confidence in the agreement it was supposed to implement. The second motion passed wanted a moratorium on logging Goolengook. There was predictable spitting of dummies from across the table. This, on top of the clown was too much for some. Later that week, three logging representatives resigned. That grabbed the attention of the media not because a government group had three people resign when they didn’t get their way, but because an extremist dared to dress as a clown.
That the group was starting to reflect community opinion was getting too dangerous for Garbutt. She pulled the pin the next day. Blaming the clown, rather than her unwillingness to accept recommendations from the group she appointed to advise her!
Two green reps had resigned from the Wombat group months before when their frustration levels reached the max. Why didn’t the Minister pull the pin on the groups then? Why didn’t the media clamber for that story? Was the sacking of the groups at the behest of Garry Squires ex-senior forester of the NRE? Group members are thankfully now free of this pretend process, and Garbutt is continuing her blind race to flatten forests unburdened by even the pretense of being accountable to the public.