Northcote byelection: Greens tap into groundswell of support for forest protection
The issue of forest protections could help the Greens gain another seat from Labor in a Victorian byelection this weekend.
Thirty environment groups have joined forces to wedge Labor on the issue, which polling shows motivates significant votes in the seat of Northcote.
Saturday’s byelection was caused by the death of Labor’s Fiona Richardson after a recurrence of breast cancer in August this year.
It is one of five inner-city seats where Labor voters are increasingly abandoning them for the Greens. Two of those seats – Melbourne and Prahran – fell to the Greens in 2014, with just four percentage points keeping Labor ahead of the Greens in the primary vote in Northcote.
Polling suggests Labor is likely to retain Northcote this weekend, with a further reduced margin. But that polling also shows voters in Northcote care a lot about forest protection – an issue the Greens could benefit from, especially with heightened campaigning from conservation and research groups.
More than 30 such groups, with GetUp now adding its name to the list, have come outon Wednesday renewing their call for the urgent creation of the mooted Great Forest national park.
The proposed Great Forest national park would cover vast areas of the central highlands region of Victoria, and include some of the tallest, most carbon-dense trees in the world. The area is home to the endangered Leadbeater’s possum, with scientists warning the species and ecosystem as a whole will soon collapse due to logging practices and bushfire trends.
A long and concerted push by environmentalists, including Sir David Attenborough and Jane Goodall, to create a new national park north of Melbourne has failed to sway Labor to adopt the policy.
However, the local Labor candidate, Clare Burns, said she supported the concept and would advocate for it. “As I said at the candidates forum last week, I already have a proven record of delivering for the electorate of Northcote – be it planning issues, much-needed funding for local schools, or a new location for the SES,” she said.
“When it comes to the Great Forest national park, I will use those same methods of advocacy that I have for other local projects to advocate for the forest that’s on our doorstep.
“The Great Forest national park is vital for our water catchment, vital for combating climate change and vital for sustainable jobs which is why I will advocate for the creation of the Great Forest national park, within government, where change can actually be made.”
Amelia Young, Victorian campaigns manager for the Wilderness Society, said that since 2014, when environmental groups first called on the state government to create the Great Forest national park, the need for it has become even greater and its potential benefits further demonstrated.
“The Leadbeater’s possum has been upgraded to critically endangered, the mountain ash forest ecosystem itself has been internationally listed as critically endangered. And now we know that the proposed park will create more than 760 safe and sustainable jobs.”
In October the groups conducted a ReachTel survey of 835 residents in Northcote that found more than one in five voters thought protecting forests from logging was the most important out of five issues polled – rating it above the traditional Labor issues of job creation, housing and education.
Labor is focusing on renters’ rights and cost of housing in the byelection – both of which were not rated as important as the protection of native forests.
More than one in 10 of those voters planning to choose Labor also rated the protection of native forests as the most important issue when deciding who to vote for in the upcoming byelection.
Just over 18% of voters who said they were undecided also rated protecting native forests as the top issue they would consider when deciding who to vote for.
Friends of the Earth forest campaigner Ed Hill said: “Labor’s two major byelection issues rate poorly as important issues to Northcote voters, with renters’ rights the most important issue for just 14% of the electorate and housing costs the most important issue for just 15%.”
“It’s in the best interests of all byelection candidates to support the great forest national park and champion protection of our native forests and wildlife , issues clearly favoured by this electorate,” said Hill.
Logging of native forests has been a major issue in Victoria for years. Most recently, the state-
owned commercial logging company VicForests was prevented from logging old-growth forest in East Gippsland by a court injunction sought by conservation groups. The groups argued the area could not be legally logged, since the government has failed to mark 60% of those forest types as “special protection zones” as they are legally required to do.
Last week the Victorian Greens said they would introduce legislation to the Victorian parliament to create a Great Forest national park and end native forest logging in the Central Highlands of Victoria.
Lidia Thorpe, the Greens’ candidate for Northcote, said: “We’re very lucky in Victoria. We have some of the most beautiful old-growth and native forests in the world, just a stone’s throw from Melbourne.
“Voters in Northcote tell me they don’t want the Labor government to keep destroying these precious forests just to make a quick buck. They want these places protected for generations to come, and if I’m elected that’s exactly what I’ll fight for.”
Greens Northcote candidate Lidia Thorpe, pictured with federal leader Richard Di Natale, says she will fight for old-growth forests.