Laws criminalising peaceful protests

What do Victoria’s draconian new laws mean for forest protestors?

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.

Legal guide for forest activists

Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) and Lawyers for Forests Inc. (LFF), have created a legal guide which responds to some of the most common legal questions and issues that arise in forest actions. The guide incorporates the amendments to forest protest laws in the Sustainable Forests Timber Act 2004 (Vic) in effect from 20 May 2023.

We’ve also created a short fact sheet of the most important things to know about your rights in the forest and common offences.

Download the guides below.

EJA's legal guide for forest protectors

Why these laws now?

The Victorian 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.

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.

Disturbing trend

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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