Cousins promises all-out campaign to end native logging

Tracey Ferrier |

Activist Geoff Cousins wants NSW’s state-owned Forestry Corporation to stop logging koala habitat.
Activist Geoff Cousins wants NSW’s state-owned Forestry Corporation to stop logging koala habitat.

Businessman and activist Geoff Cousins is promising a cashed-up public campaign to end logging in native forests in NSW.

Mr Cousins said he was mobilising a small army to challenge the state government’s decision to continue to log state forests that are home to koalas while it promises a new refuge for the endangered species.

The former advertising man and environmental campaigner who helped kill off the Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania chuckles at the apparent ease of the campaign ahead.

“Often political concepts are quite difficult to explain to people but that one’s dead easy,” he told AAP.

“And that’s the great problem for the NSW government.

“They have this stated policy of having the Great Koala National Park while allowing the Forestry Corporation to assault human beings and simultaneously deprive the koala of its habitat and food source.”

Bob Brown and Geoff Cousins
Businessman Geoff Cousins (right) teamed up with Bob Brown to fight the Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Cousins recalled an ad he wrote after leaving advertising for high-profile corporate roles including a stint as the CEO of Optus. 

It was 2007, during the pulp mill campaign, and Malcolm Turnbull was the environment minister.

“It was a very powerful one that asked if he was the minister for the environment or the minister against it,” he said.

“We only ever ran that advertisement once, in the Wentworth Courier, but it was on the front page of every newspaper in Australia.”

Asked if the anecdote was a veiled threat to the NSW government, Mr Cousins replied: “Oh I don’t like veiled threats – I like them open.”

Mr Cousins said NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe and Agriculture Minister Tara Moriarty could expect lots of his attention in coming months.

He also plans to target Treasurer Daniel Mookhey over taxpayer support for the state-owned corporation whose native forest hardwood division loses money.

Mr Cousins, who wants Forestry Corporation chair Stefanie Loader removed, said he was appalled by recent court matters involving veteran forest defender and wildlife refuge owner Mark Graham.

In January, two workers from Forestry Corporation contractor Greensill Bros were found guilty of assaulting Mr Graham and conservationist Andre Johnston on a public road near a logging site in the Wild Cattle Creek State Forest.

Mr Graham has told AAP the incident was filmed by a Forestry Corporation employee who was overseeing the logging operation but did not intervene. 

Mr Graham said he was investigated and charged before police abandoned those charges.

A tree, marked with H for habitat, in the Tallaganda State Forest
The NSW government continues to log state forests that are habitat for endangered species. (Andrew Kaineder/AAP PHOTOS)

In February, a different Forestry Corporation employee was charged with assaulting Mr Graham on the edge of his wildlife refuge, which borders the Clouds Creek State Forest where a long-running logging protest continues. 

That matter remains before the courts.

A former president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Mr Cousins said he had been talking to all major environment groups about his campaign.

“They have over a million supporters and members put together … so if you get them all together and you energise them, you can achieve quite a lot,” he said.

He said his coalition would extend beyond the “usual suspects” to include parties that could exploit a range of pressure points for the government.

Agriculture Minister Tara Moriarty said she had requested more information about the matters involving Mr Graham and Forestry Corporation staff and contractors.

“The NSW government has stated that we will ensure a sustainable industry that aligns with the government’s key environmental, economic and community priorities,” she said.

In a statement to AAP, Ms Loader said her primary concerns were the safety of staff, contractors and the public; and an environmentally sustainable operation.

“I take the allegations regarding assault very seriously and Forestry Corporation is actively reviewing a range of matters and will co-operate fully with any police investigations,” she said.

The Black Summer fires had sparked additional voluntary environmental safeguards, Ms Loader said, including protecting additional feed tree clumps from harvesting.

The environment minister declined to comment.