Watershed court victory against VicForests

There were emotional scenes inside the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal in June 2023 as environment groups gathered to hear the judgement in their latest legal fight against VicForests.

In November 2022, VicForests was found to have been logging in breach of environmental protections in a landmark court win by Environment East Gippsland and Kinglake Friends of the Forest.

These decisions halted logging in large swathes of Gippsland and the Central Highlands, where endangered Greater Gliders and Yellow-Bellied Gliders live.

With state resources behind it, VicForests appealed the ruling that it had breached Victorian legislation by endangering Greater Gliders and Yellow-Bellied Gliders in its logging practices.

With so much hinging on the outcome of the appeal, the court room was packed with citizen scientists, conservationists, campaigners and journalists.

In the end, the delivery of the judgement took just a few minutes. There were tears and cheers in the courtroom as the Judges dismissed the appeal, upheld the original verdict, and awarded costs to the community groups.

“We told the regulator that VicForests was breaking the law.
The regulator did not believe us or refused to regulate, so we took it to court. The court agreed with us. They have been breaking the law over these two vast areas.”

sue mckinnon, kinglake friends of the forest

Strategic litigation

The community groups were represented by Barrister Jonathan Korman and Oakwood Legal.

Along with increasingly severe bushfires, these and other court cases by community groups were a key factor in the Victorian Government’s decision to bring forward the end of native forest logging to 1 January 2024.

Cases were also run by Gippsland Environment Group, Wildlife of the Central Highlands, Warburton Environment, Friends of the Leadbeater Possum and the Flora and Fauna Research Collective Inc.

“Litigation is an expensive and risky undertaking for small community groups, but our decision to turn to the law has been vindicated.  The end of native forest logging has brought with it a sense of relief, but also grief, anger, and sadness for all that has been senselessly lost.” 

Jill redwood, environment east gippsland

The verdict

The full judgment is available online but in essence, the Court upheld the findings of the trial judge that VicForests’ logging practices did not comply with the precautionary principle and its reckless logging practices threatened the gliders’ survival.

The precautionary principle means that scientific uncertainty should not be relied upon as a reason to postpone efforts to reduce threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage. The Court ultimately found that VicForests‘ application of the precautionary principle fell “well short” of what was required to protect gliders from harm, having regard to the science.

The work continues

Despite the win, environmental groups were quick to point out that Victoria’s forests are still at risk from logging.

The state logging agency announced the addition of 184 new coupes in their Timber Release Plan to ‘allow for flexibility’.

More than 65,000 hectares of public land is also still on the chopping block beyond 1 January 2024, with logging centred around Benalla, Mansfield, Bendigo, Central and East Gippsland, the Mid-Murray and Western Victoria.

While we celebrate this remarkable court win, Environmental Justice Australia will keep working on behalf of our clients to make sure the forests are protected until the end of native forest logging and beyond.