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NSW minister calls for respect from protesters as foresters and families targeted

Minister for Agriculture Tara Moriarty MLC with Forestry Corporation of NSW Senior Ecologist Chris Slade in Bagawa State Forest.

Aggressive, violent and unhygienic attacks have been directed at forestry workers and their families amid rising tensions over the industry’s future. Source: The Maitland Mercury, AAP

Environmental and financial concerns, a promised koala sanctuary and the fallout from interstate logging bans have made NSW’s state forests a new battleground for workers and those against the industry.

Claims of workers receiving 200 harassing phone calls a day, having faeces thrown at them and their wives threatened with rape were aired in parliament this week, prompting Agriculture Minister Tara Moriarty to call for more respect from protesters.

“Everyone deserves to go to work and be able to come home safely,” she told AAP.

“People who move onto forest land need to be safe from injury and also not put others at risk.

‘”I respect the right of people to protest but we also have to respect each other and not put people’s and worker’s lives at risk of injury or worse.”

While protests were generally portrayed as peaceful, NSW Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MP Mark Banasiak said there was a need to create timber safety zones to protect workers.

He said he had learned of many instances of threatening behaviour towards workers.

“One wife of a worker was threatened with rape … others have had insinuations of harm being made against their children along the lines of, ‘I know where your kids get off the school bus in the afternoon’,” Mr Banasiak told parliament.

“Human faeces have been thrown at workers and protesters have threatened to urinate on them.”

He introduced a bill that would create a specific offence for unauthorised entries to timber safety zones, similar to those enacted in Victoria last year.

Behind the scenes, the state opposition is set to consider supporting the proposed law or introducing its own version.

The Nature Conservation Council has urged caution over further erosion of the democratic right to protest, pointing to its central role in the right of women to vote, ending conscription and protecting many places of environmental significance.

“These rights have been gradually eroded over recent years and our laws now heavily favour logging contractors destroying our remaining forests rather than citizens exercising their democratic right to peaceful protest,” chief executive Jacqui Mumford told AAP.

She also warned unsubstantiated claims against protesters had “a long history of being used to justify the erosion” of protest rights.

Tensions rose this week after protesters disrupted the resumption of logging in Newry State Forest near Coffs Harbour

A coalition of environmental groups wants a moratorium on the timber industry between Coffs Harbour and Kempsey, where Labor plans to establish a promised Great Koala National Park.

The park would protect about 20% of the state’s threatened koala population.

Continued logging in areas vital for the sanctuary was deplorable, Greens MP Sue Higginson said.

“Newry State Forest is the front line of injustice, destruction, extinction and political failure,” she said.

Indigenous man Wilkarr Kurikuta on Wednesday locked himself to industrial logging machinery in a further effort to protect sacred sites in the forest.

Forestry Corporation NSW said it engaged and worked closely with local Aboriginal communities.

The clashes come after Victoria in May said it would end native timber harvesting by 2024, four years earlier than planned, claiming the sector had become unviable due to ongoing legal action.

VicForests’ last annual report recorded a loss of $54.2 million.

Western Australia is also phasing out native logging.