Environmentalists still cringe at the vitriol and hyperbole that marked the passing of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Bill back in 1999.

The legislation got through with Democrats support.

This week, Greens leader Bob Brown won a Federal Court challenge under its provisions to stop logging by Forestry Tasmania in the Wielangta Forest, about 40 kilometres north-east of Hobart.

Yet back in 1999, Brown said it was a disaster. He and the Wilderness Society ruthlessly attacked the Democrats for passing the bill – in the Senate and in private. Bitterness still lingers on.

“The Howard Government is set to seal its second major deal with the Democrats, with secret negotiations on the contentious Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Bill now concluded”, Brown said in a media release at the time. “It is an environmental disaster, transferring powers over the environment from Canberra to the states: it sets the nation’s environmental laws back 30 years.”

Brown pulled out all stops in the Senate: “The Democrats are now part of the environmental problem of this country for decades to come,” he said. “They now have their hands on the chainsaws. They are now in the cockpit of the bulldozers.”

Instead, the Democrats delivered Brown the legislation that has allowed him this week to claim “a milestone for Australia’s rapidly eroding environment” .

Democrats’ Environment spokesperson Andrew Bartlett was generous in his response to Brown’s win – considering the personal abuse he copped from Saint Bob during debate.

“The Democrats congratulate Senator Bob Brown for pursuing this case and for his success in highlighting the real threat posed by unsustainable logging practices,” Bartlett said. “The Court’s finding vindicates the Democrats’ decision back in 1999 to pass a new, heavily strengthened, federal environment law, known as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Were it not for the EPBC, this Court action could never have been undertaken, let alone won.”

But he couldn’t resist some gibes in his release:

It is ironic that the most vehement critic of the Democrats’ action in passing the EPBC was Bob Brown, who accused the Democrats and the environment groups who supported the EPBC of things such as:

“cementing in place the destruction of forests”;

“giving the stamp of approval for the destruction of forests”;

“signing a death warrant for the forests”; and

“the most disgusting sell-out of the Australian environment and laws to protect the Australian environment that this Senate chamber has ever seen”.

Others aren’t being so kind. Members of the environment movement are still scarred by the violence and vituperation of Brown’s attack.

They want to know if he had acted earlier, how many millions more hectares of forest might have been saved.

Peter Fray

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