Harsher penalties no deterrent

Ali Alishah says going to jail will not stop him returning to the frontline of the forestry wars.
Ali Alishah says going to jail will not stop him returning to the frontline of the forestry wars.

FOR A Tasmanian best known for spending the most time behind bars for anti-logging protests, Ali Alishah says protecting forests was not his primary motivation. 

``Funnily enough it wasn't really the environment that first caught my eye, it was the poor policy procedures,'' he said.

``I came at it more from a social justice background, rather than environmental focus.'' 

Mr Alishah has been arrested more than 20 times. He was one of the Triabunna 13 sued by Gunns after halting business at a wood chip mill for seven hours.

 He spent Mothers Day in 2009 in a stand off with police in the Upper Florentine Valley.  

In 2012, he was sentenced to three months jail after he breached a suspended sentence by locking himself to the undercarriage of a truck entering the proposed pulp mill site at Bell Bay. 

If the Liberal government has its way, more protesters are likely to find themselves behind bars, with first time offenders copping $2000 fines and three month mandatory sentences for subsequent crimes.

In 2011, the 29-year-old had been remanded in custody for almost six weeks. Afterwards, his lawyer said jail time had had a ``sobering effect'' on his client. 

But yesterday, Mr Alishah said it had not dampened his resolve and he would not hesitate to take similar action.  

In July last year, he led a group of university students into Ta Ann's Huon Valley timber veneer mill who chained themselves to gates and machinery.

The softly-spoken, articulate man  is hardly the typical image of a feral greenie on the frontline of Tasmania's  forestry wars. 

He was born in Tasmania after his father moved from Pakistan to complete a PhD in epidemiology at the University of Tasmania. 

He spent some of his childhood in Pakistan before returning to Tasmania in 2003. 

For the former Clarence High School student, he speaks of his actions as if they are a duty. 

``I have always felt that if you have received an education, especially one that is facilitated by a public institution, you owe the public, you owe the people.'' 

Inspired by mass demonstrations against the Iraq war and WorkChoices he said he felt a ``responsibility to engage''. 

His attention was drawn to the management of Tasmania's public forests. 

``It was obvious to me that there was a great amount of wastage. Seeing the public institutions and managers facilitating that was was really got to me. 

``I could see people hurting. For me it was a massive wholistic problem.'' 

His concern might be hard to swallow for community members that lay some of the blame for their struggling communities on Greens and protesters.

Forest Industries Association of Tasmania, of which Ta Ann Tasmania is a member, has backed the crackdown.

FIAT chief executive Terry Edwards says illegal protests are not victimless crimes.

``There are real and potential consequences for contractors, employees, companies and customers and therefore a reasonable deterrent is warranted,'' Mr Edwards said. 

The Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Bill passed the lower house late on Thursday night after the government used its numbers to cut off debate.

Opening debate on the Bill, Resources Minister Paul Harriss told Parliament the tough penalties were aimed at stopping ``disruptive and irresponsible extremist protest groups''.

Mr Harriss has defended the Bill as protecting the right to free speech but also the rights of businesses. 


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