By David Worth
This 2004 book looks at why two Western Australian social movement organisations on opposite sides of the logging debate continued to contest WA’s forest policy for so long. It contains insights into why the Western Australian environment movement was successful in some aspects of forest protection. You can read the whole book at the link below, the abstract is included here as an introduction.
Over the past 30 years in Western Australia (WA), there has been a heated debate about the future use of the remaining temperate old-growth forests of karri and jarrah in the south-west of the State. This debate revolved around policy proposals from two social movements: one social movement wanted to preserve as much of the remaining old-growth forests as possible, and an opposing social movement supported a continued ‘sustainable’ logging of the forests for hardwood products. This research project undertook a comparative case study analysis of Australia (TCA) on the pro-logging side and Liberals For Forests (LFF) on the anti-logging side. It drew on a macro-level European theoretical approach (New Social Movement theory) and a US organizational approach (Resource Mobilisation Theory). The study also investigated the extent to which these two social movement organisations (SMOs) had been effective in influencing the development of State forest policy. For this purpose Schumaker’s (1975) framework for judging the political effectiveness of social movements was used. The key research problem investigated in this thesis is why these two SMOs continued to debate the forest policy issue after more than 30 years of public controversy?
Interviews with a key range of stakeholders were the key research method of this study. Additionally, an investigation into important economic and social changes in the south west was undertaken using census and other data between 1971 and 2001 and this was supported by an historical analysis of the timber industry in WA’s south west. Finally, a 3-year study of the reporting of forest issues by two local and one national newspaper was completed. The 1998-2000 period was chosen for the newspaper analysis as this was when the new Regional Forest Agreement was being finalised.
This research shows that new values toward the old-growth forests developed among the WA public over the past 30 years and this has created an unbridgeable policy gap between those such as the TCA who wanted the past policies to continue and those such as the LFF who wanted to preserve the remaining native forests. ABS data confirm that the south-west region of WA changed dramatically between 1970 and 2000 as the wine and tourism industries developed and that these changes were different to those occurring in the other wine regions and non-city areas of Australia. As the population increased in this region, a key segment attracted by these new employment opportunities were middle class, well-educated people with new values toward the natural environment.
The interview and newspaper article data clearly showed that the debate in WA in the late 1990s over the proposed RFA provided a new political opportunity for the anti-logging movement to raise their concerns and to establish a renewed public debate about the appropriateness of the WA forest policies. This came at a time when the traditional policy power of the timber industry stakeholders and the government department in charge of the forests (Conservation And Land Management) had been dramatically diminished. The combination of these factors led to the election of the new ALP government and the introduction of a new, non-logging policy for WA’s old-growth native forests.