Thursday, May 26, 2022

Timber Act lawfare loophole must be closed: Forest and Wood Communities Australia

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Forest and Wood Communities Australia (FWCA), Media Release, 19 January 2022
Related questions from Australian Rural & Regional News to FWCA are below the original media release.

Kinglake Friends of the Forest and Environment East Gippsland provided responses to Australian Rural & Regional News.

Wig and gavel

Forest & Wood Communities Australia is calling on the Andrews Government to close the loophole in the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 (Vic) which has enabled activist vigilantes to devastate the livelihoods of regional Victorians.

Unlike the Environment Protection Act 2017 (Vic)(Section 347), the Timber Act fails to specify just who has the authority to take legal proceedings for even the most minor breaches.

“It’s a loophole which was exploited in the Supreme Court at the end of last year as part of a well-orchestrated attack on timber communities by self-interested activist groups,” said FWCA managing director, Justin Law.

“It has crippled timber supply when we need it most and is putting hundreds of Victorians out of work as contractor crews are stood down and mills close.”

Mr Law said it was an embarrassment for the Andrews Government which expressly promised timber supply until the 2030 end date for native timber harvesting.

“It was bad enough that Victoria’s Labor/Greens fell out of step with global thinking on sustainable forestry by announcing the end of native timber harvesting,” he said.

“But by leaving open the back door and giving power to vigilante anti-forestry activists, they are failing to keep their promise of ensuring supply until 2030 unhindered by vexatious litigation.

“It is an appalling double standard that could be simply fixed by introducing the clause from the Environment Protection Act into the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004.

“Or is it part of the plan to get activists to do their dirty work?”

The Supreme Court action levelled at Victoria’s timber supply agency VicForests late last year is seeing timber production grinding to a halt.

“The premise for this latest round of vexatious litigation is to protect the ‘critically endangered’ Greater Glider,” Mr Law said.

“Yet the Greater Glider is apparently so prevalent, particularly in forest regenerated after being previously harvested, that the activists are arguing that no timber production can occur without impacting their habitat.

“Is it only us which sees the outrageous lie in all of this?”

Mr Law said the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change has recognised timber production as an important climate change mitigation tool.

“It is only the Australian Labor/Greens which seems unable to see the benefits of sustainable forestry and is more interested in appeasing inner-city, Greens-voting activists,” he said.

“It is a global embarrassment and we’re now seeing Bunnings importing timber which has no environmental certification at all.

“When will the Premier see reason on forestry or at the very least stop lying to timber communities about their future.”

FWCA answered these further questions from ARR.News

Which case/s are you referring to here?

FWCA:

There are two concurrent cases before the Victorian Supreme Court:

At the Directions Hearing on Dec 22, Justice Richards agreed to injunct 25 coupes which were about to go into harvest. The injunctions are temporary halts on production until a full judgement is delivered (we suspect not until May).

These particular coupes were targeted by the activist organisations because they are high quality and would have produced high yields. It is purely designed to cause the most amount of disruption, as was the timing of the case (just before the Christmas break). It effectively halts all timber production in Victoria. VicForests doesn’t have time to bring other coupes into production as they need to go through a full assessment process which can take months.

Besides the timber shortages which will be felt throughout the timber sector and ultimately the customer, the result is that VicForests is unable to provide enough work for contractor crews who are now questioning their future as they will be without work for up to six months.

Is it lost on otherwise intelligent people that the activists are basing their case on the ‘critically endangered’ Greater Glider being so prevalent that they say it is present in every planned production area of the forest? These are all areas previously harvested so exactly what negative impact does timber harvesting have on these species? And these areas are a tiny fraction of the whole forest estate, so has anyone bothered to find out how prevalent are these Gliders in the 94% of forests not available to timber production or does that not suit the anti-forestry agenda?

The cost of the court actions to the taxpayer is enormous. Besides the direct costs of defending legal action (VicForests is defending 10 court proceedings), there is compensation paid to contractor crews and lost production revenue. We understand that this runs into 10s of millions of dollars. It is therefore galling that we see activists saying in the media that VicForests is not profitable when it is their actions which directly impact VicForests profitability.

Forest & Wood Communities Australia is concerned because the affects are felt throughout Victoria’s timber towns – particularly the families of forest workers and the communities in which they live. The uncertainty is causing great stress and it is for reasons we can only imagine are politicly and ideologically motivated.

What is FWCA’s response to Forestry Australia’s call for a shared vision for Australia’s forests and Forestry Australia’s call for new approaches to address Victoria’s escalating forest wars?

FWCA:

In response to Forestry Australia’s viewpoints, we support forest management which sees the health of the forest restored and the threat of catastrophic fires reduced. We support the views of Forestry Australia’s 1000 forest and fire scientists and experts who seem to be ignored by some sectors of the media in favour of sensationalist studies and spurious science which corrupts public opinion about Australia’s world-class forestry practice. Political decisions are then made which ignore sound science and condemn our forests to becoming unmanaged firebombs while our members lose their family incomes and timber communities slowly die.

Among our members are skilled foresters who should be valued as the true conservationists as they are internationally.

Forestry Australia appears to be in step with enlightened countries which see the value in reducing fuel loads and maintaining healthy timber stocks to ensure our forests function as they should, while timber supply is a by-product of a greater vision for our forests. The Traditional Owners understood that the forests needed to be managed and that they were also a resource which provided for their communities. It seems that only in Australia that this simple truth is ignored in favour of short-sighted political expediency.

See the recent article from California where the concept of whole of forest management has been successfully adopted and activism recognised for what it is: ‘Self-serving garbage’: Wildfire experts escalate fight over saving California forests (Ryan Sabalow and Dale Kasler, The Sacramento Bee Oct 25, 2021).

On the issue of the conflict between activists and industry, Forestry Australia’s stance is what we would expect from a neutral agency – FA does not represent the interests of the timber industry or the people who work within it.

As for the conflict itself, as it is playing out in Victoria, it’s a blitzkrieg with a handful of sympathetic journalists at the ABC and Fairfax stridently supporting anti-forestry rhetoric designed to put enormous downward pressure on the forest agency. The attacks seem extremely well orchestrated and well-funded with media outrage campaigns appearing to be timed to coincide with court action. The election coming up this year may be some indication of the motivation. If the Government loses office, the Opposition has vowed to overturn the decision to halt native forestry in Victoria.

At the end of the day, FWCA wants security for our members to know that they have a future in forestry. But that will be impossible until the stigma surrounding forestry gives way to a sensible, science-based understanding of the full forest cycle and the benefits of timber production.

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