How the Indigenous People describe the visit of Senator Eric Abetz
A superb photographic exhibition, ‘The Heart of Borneo’, showing the work of Matthew Newton is currently on display at Constance Ari Gallery, Goulburn St, Hobart until April 4th.
In late 2014 the photographer travelled to Sarawak, deep into the heart of Borneo to create a series of portraits of people affected by industrial logging.
One of these villages settled only five years ago. Before then, they lived a nomadic life in the jungle. Today they still rely heavily upon the disappearing forests for their food and their livelihood.
The indigenous people of Sarawak are losing their future so the developed world can have flooring.
Some of the areas are in a logging concession allocated to Ta Ann visited by Senator Eric Abetz in 2012. He is now the Australian Minister for Employment and Leader of the Government in the Senate. The people had been strongly opposing the logging in their traditional lands and told the tale of the visit and their fears for the future in these excerpts:
“During his visit he [Senator Eric Abtez] made quite a long speech. He said they support Ta Ann in Tasmania and Ta Ann is planning to build a mill in Tasmania and maybe Tasmania alone cannot supply the timber to the mill so they will get the timber from Sarawak to feed the mill. So if we are in Malaysia, or in Sarawak, there is no such thing happens as politician of Government come to campaign for the logging company, no such thing – they are behind there but they are never seen in front of the company like that.
When he arrived all the Penan in the village sat down and welcomed him. I heard some of them say ‘maybe he is coming to help us to stop Ta Ann’.
After giving his speech, asking Penan to work together and cooperate with Ta Ann, he stopped and he fly out.
He did not ask them to voice their concern with the logging, he did not give them the time to say anything about their concern about the logging, he just asked the Penan to cooperate with Ta Ann because Ta Ann need a big amount of timber to feed the mill in Tasmania”.
“There are rumours that Ta Ann Want to come in. Of course we don’t want them to destroy our forests again1 . From our experience we don’t want them.”
The role of Abetz as an advocate for this company in the face of strong opposition from the indigenous customary owners of that forest area is inexcusable. He previously claimed inaccuracy on the part of environment groups despite their release of a letter from 6 customary chiefs rejecting logging on this land signed with their thumb prints. Now we have the word of those present. They are clear that he also gave them no opportunity to state their case.
On top of that he was espousing the import of Sarawak timber into Tasmania for what we can only assume is the plywood manufacturing plant now under construction in Smithton supported by Federal government funding of $10 million.
He foreshadowed that this would be from the forest concession area he visited (Kubaan Puak Forest Management Unit), which was leased for logging by Ta Ann without the prior knowledge or consent of the indigenous people. In Europe this is defined as illegal logging and the import of such material is illegal.
Whether or not the imports eventuate, it was an extraordinary intervention.
Pic, from here: Paul Harriss’ altruistic trips to Sarawak
Add to this episode the Ta Ann sponsored trip to Sarawak by Paul Harriss MP, now Tasmania’s Minister for Forests, when he was a Member of the Legislative Council, his glowing foreword to the published history of Ta Ann, and the declaration he made in the Parliament’s pecuniary interest register of a gift of $1,000 from the company.
Curious isn’t it?
1This area was logged previously by another company.
• Pete Godfrey, in Comments: It is outrageous that our politicians are going to Sarawak to help hoodwink indigenous people, as if they don’t do enough of that here. This article should be in every newspaper in the world, so that the world can see just how corrupt Tasmania really is. To assist a company to destroy the habitat of one of the last people who live by hunting and gathering in rainforests is criminal behaviour.