Changes to the Victorian government’s forestry plan indicate weakened protections for threatened wildlife and ignore strong legal tools already available to regulate the industry, environmental lawyers say.
The announcement today includes a plan to introduce new legislation which lawyers say could also weaken a key safety net in Victorian environmental law, putting wildlife at greater risk.
Last year, a Federal Court ruling in a case brought by Environmental Justice Australia’s client, Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, found VicForests had logged in breach of state laws, driving threatened species towards extinction.
Despite this, no enforcement action has been taken by the regulator in the areas subject covered by the case or in others where the same breaches continued.
“While it is promising the Andrews government has recognised this is a serious issue, it is absolutely inadequate to waste time introducing new infringement options when the focus should be on using the strong environment protection tools already available in Victorian law,” Environmental Justice Australia Co-CEO Nicola Rivers said.
“Numerous, effective legal tools already exist to enforce compliance with logging rules and protect Victoria’s precious wildlife, but they are scarcely used.
“The problem is not a lack of enforcement tools, the problem is the government’s failure to use them”
“For example, the government has never used a conservation order to protect critical habitat despite it being available in Victorian law for more than 30 years, and overwhelming evidence that critical habitats for species like Leadbeater’s Possum need urgent protection – those legal tools just sit on the shelf”
“The regulator can already bring civil and criminal cases for breaches of environment protection rules, but has never bothered to.
The government’s recent changes to the Code of Practice for Timber Production removed hundreds of rules for the protection of threatened species and communities in Victoria, and weakened limits on logging steep slopes.
“Now the regulator will have the power to deem logging operations compliant with the precautionary principle – a key safety net in Victorian environment law that’s been enshrined for decades – in the same week that the regulator was referred to IBAC for their failure to regulate VicForests’ breaches,” Ms Rivers said.
“Logging continues to drive threatened wildlife towards extinction, it’s time for the Andrews government to use the full force of the law not rewrite it, and to immediately protect remaining important habitats.”
Media contact: Kathryn Lewis, [email protected]