Federal Court gives conservationists hope in Leadbeater’s case

The Federal Court has given hope for the protection of threatened species in a case questioning whether logging in endangered species habitat can continue to have a special exemption from Federal environment law.

The Court rejected the arguments of both VicForests and Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, choosing to accept the position of the Commonwealth.

“The Court found the Regional Forest Agreement for the Central Highlands exempts logging from Federal threatened species law – despite non-compliance with terms in the RFA that require five-yearly reviews – but importantly the Court also found that non-compliance with other terms in the RFA would remove that exemption,” said Danya Jacobs, lawyer from Environmental Justice Australia.

“The Court rejected VicForests’ argument that logging operations would be exempt from federal environment law even if there’s non-compliance with all sorts of terms in the RFA, but also disagreed with our client that non-compliance with the five-year review terms in the RFA has removed the exemption.”

“The Court found VicForests must comply with certain provisions of the RFA in order to receive the benefit of the exemption from Federal environment law,” Ms Jacobs said.

“Today’s decision in the Federal Court is a step forward for threatened species protection in our forests, though it’s not exactly the outcome Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum was hoping for,” said Steve Meacher, spokesperson for Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum.

“We will now examine the decision carefully with EJA and consider our options to progress the protection of affected threatened species,” Mr Meacher said.

Environmental Justice Australia is representing Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum in the case.

The Federal Court heard a preliminary question in the case over two days in December. Judgment was delivered on this question this afternoon.

In the preliminary question, Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum argued that certain VicForests’ logging operations are not exempt from federal environment law (the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act), because those operations are not conducted in accordance with the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) on which the exemption is based, due to non-compliance with terms in the RFA that require five-year reviews.

See also: The possums case

Tiny Victorian possum’s future still in limbo (SBS)

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