Wednesday, 5 March 2014 | MYT 9:18 AM
Australian PM says too much forest 'locked up'
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaking in Sydney on February 14, 2014.
Sydney (AFP) - Prime Minister Tony Abbott was accused Wednesday of mounting "a massive assault on the environment" after he warned too much Australian forest was locked up and there were enough national parks.
In an address to a timber industry dinner, Abbott said he would establish a new forestry industry advisory council, calling it a sector that had been "frowned upon" for too long.
"For three years you were officially frowned upon here in Canberra because we had -- I regret to say -- a government that was over-influenced by the Greens," he told the gathering, referring to the previous Labor administration.
"I am so pleased that for the first time in many years, you can come into this building and not feel that you are in hostile territory."
Abbott said forest workers were not "environmental bandits" and loggers had a friend in Canberra.
He also defended the government's decision to remove World Heritage listing for 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian forest earlier this year, claiming it was not pristine.
"We don't support, as a government and as a coalition, further lockouts of our forests. We just don't support it," he told the function late Tuesday.
"We have quite enough national parks, we have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact, in an important respect, we have too much locked up forest."
Australia's timber industry contributes over Aus$22 billion (US$19.7 billion) of economic turnover each year and employs over 66,000 people, but it often meets resistance from conservationists determined to protect native forests in national parks and reserves.
The Greens have labelled Abbott the "dig it up, cut it down prime minister", with party leader Christine Milne on Wednesday saying his words sent a clear message to the world "that Australia does not value its World Heritage areas or its national parks".
"People are going to be pretty upset that Tony Abbott is mounting this massive assault on the environment," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
She said repealing the World Heritage classification on Tasmanian forests would ultimately prove destructive to the state's logging industry.
"Tony Abbott has got it so wrong. There's now a high level of recognition that we need to be protecting the last of our primary forests around the world."
The Wilderness Society called the move to delist a large tract of Tasmanian forest "environmentally reckless" and "an embarrassment to Australia".
The move to delist the forest is expected to be considered by the UNECSO World Heritage Committee when they meet in Qatar in June.