Laws criminalising peaceful protests

What do Victoria’s draconian new laws mean for forest protestors? Read more from EJA ecosystems lawyer, Natalie Hogan.

The Victorian government is introducing harsh new penalties and threats of prison time to deter concerned citizens from protesting against environmental destruction.  

The laws are part of an alarming trend towards criminalising peaceful environmental protest across Australia, with significant consequences for individuals, citizen scientists and grassroots groups.  

We believe these laws are a politically motivated crackdown on legitimate political expression. It is undemocratic and unnecessary. 

As more and more people join protests to defend our forests and climate, it’s important to know your legal rights and understand what these new laws mean.   

EJA’s quick legal guide for forest activists

This quick guide will help forest activists understand their legal rights under Victoria’s new laws. 

Download a version to read on your computer, or to scroll through on your smart phone.



Last year, the Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022 was passed in Victorian Parliament.

The Bill amends the Sustainable Forests Timber Act 2004 (Vic), which regulates forest management and timber harvesting activities in Victoria, including the enforcement of timber harvesting safety zones.  

Under the new laws, peaceful protestors could face fines of up to $21,000 or 12-months prison time if found to be interfering with logging in Victorian forests. Maximum penalties for offences have doubled and tripled in some cases.

Woman hiking among mountain ash trees and ferns at the temperate rain forest of Kallista at the Greater Melbourne region.

Authorised officers will be given the power to search people’s bags and vehicles and seize any items where they have a reasonable belief that a person has committed or is about to commit an offence against the Act.  

Definitions of prohibited items have also been broadened to include PVC and metal pipes and any other thing prescribed, which can be seized and forfeited to the State and attract a more serious charge and penalty.  

Anyone who is suspected of committing or having committed an offence under the Act can be banned from entering timber harvesting safety zones for up to 28 days, with further offences and penalties for re-entering or remaining in the zone in contravention of a direction to leave.  

The Act defines a timber harvesting safety zone as a logging coupe or any area of State Forest within 150 metres from the boundary of the coupe. This means that members of the public could be arrested simply for being on a public road that has been closed for logging.


The Andrews Government has introduced these harsh new laws after a wave of litigation and protest against VicForests, the government’s own logging agency.  

Last year, VicForests, was found to have logged illegally in breach of environmental protections in two landmark court wins by community groups and citizen scientists. 

The Federal Court made similar findings in 2020 in a case brought by Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum Inc, represented by Environmental Justice Australia.  

VicForests is currently defending five cases alleging that the State-owned business’ logging practices are unlawful.  

These cases would not have been possible without the efforts of community groups and citizen scientists who diligently surveyed forests for threatened species and observed what was happening on the ground to hold the industry to account.

Image: Chris Taylor


The new laws are part of a deeply concerning national trend of criminalising peaceful protest, particularly environmental protest. 

We have seen harsh amendments to protest laws in New South Wales, Tasmania, and Queensland where protesters confronting coal and gas mines and climate inaction have been refused bail and jailed. 

We’ve seen challenges launched to question the laws’ compatibility with the Australian Constitution, including from the Bob Brown Foundation and, most recently, by two Knitting Nanas, represented by the Environmental Defenders Office. 

Plaintiff and Knitting Nanna Helen said she had tried sending letters, signing petitions and meeting politicians, but the Government continues to dismiss climate science and approve the destruction of our environment. 

Here in Victoria, when the Government introduced the forest protest laws, Traditional Owners, environmental groups, legal organisations and unions voiced their opposition to the laws in a joint letter sent to Parliament and thousands of concerned members of the public signed a petition calling for the Bill to be withdrawn.


What’s NEXT?

Environmental Justice Australia will continue to represent activists and citizen scientists who are charged or fined under this legislation.  

We’re developing resources to help people understand the new laws, their rights, and how the laws interact with the Constitution and Victorian Charter of Human Rights. 

Now, more than ever, environmental activism, community oversight and citizen science are vitally important to protect our incredible forests and native plants and animals.  

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