Federal Court rules against VicForests

Friday 12 Jun 2020

In a ruling released on 26 May, the Federal Court ruled against VicForests in action taken by the 'Friends of Leadbeater's Possum Inc' after the group successfully lobbied in court for an injunction on logging in the state's Central Highlands. Read a summary of the ruling here.

This decision is going to significantly impact harvesting in the Central Highlands region said the Victorian Association of Forest Industries (VAFI). This decision has come swiftly after the devastating 2019/20 bushfire season creating further uncertainty and anxiety for the local native timber sector.

VAFI is extremely disappointed in the Federal Court’s decision. It’s a further blow at a time when the added uncertainty of COVID-19 implications runs together with concerns about commitments to meet existing or extending Timber Supply Agreements up to 2024. This context means that is essential for industry that the full ramifications of the court’s ruling are assessed and communicated as soon as possible.

The native hardwood sector generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year that supports regional communities. These businesses and communities deserve certainty and security to plan for their future. To this end, VAFI is seeking to obtain vital information from VicForests, the State and Federal Governments. Key questions are:

- How will this decision be appealed in the courts?
- What is the immediate impact to the current harvesting schedule how will this affect harvest and haul contractors and timber mills?
- Can any shortfalls in supply be met from alternative areas?
- What impact will the ruling have on current plans for post-bushfire recovery harvesting in burnt coupes?
- How will the uncertainty created by this ruling affect negotiations for future harvest and haul contracts and Timber Supply Agreements?

Native timber harvesting in Victoria is done sustainably. With roughly half of our public forests in conservation reserves, harvesting takes place on only 3,000 hectares (0.04%) each year and regeneration is required by law. VAFI supports the professional forest scientists of the IFA, who say that forests can be managed at the landscape level to support recreational use, conservation, and harvesting. These outcomes are not mutually exclusive.

Ultimately, this ruling casts doubt on the current Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) framework that governs forest management across Australia. As such, it has potential ramifications for all native harvesting, not just in Victoria. If the ruling is upheld, it seems possible that there may need to be new planning and approval procedures for commercial harvesting in native forests in all jurisdictions.

If changed procedures are to be effective, they must have the full and tangible support of both State and Federal Governments to match recent statements of support. This is why VAFI is standing with other timber and forest industry peak bodies to call for rapid action to meet this new challenge and create much needed certainty for our timber businesses and communities.

Gippsland Federal MPs were seeking a meeting this week with Environment Minister Sussan Ley, urging her to override a Federal Court decision which they say threatens the future of the native forestry industry. For more information click here.

Source: VAFI – The News Mill, gippslandtimes

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