A Supreme Court judge has ruled that the Bracks government’s environmental code for logging native forests (Code of Forest Practices) is enforceable under law.
Prior to this ruling, DSE argued that the only lawful requirements were that the coupe be in a logging zone and that the loggers have a licence to log. The ruling is no ‘get out of jail free’ card for future protestors as the Bracks Government has introduced new ‘Public Safety Zones’ which makes being in areas to be logged a crime regardless of whether the logging is illegal.
Justice Harper said that DSE officers must ensure that “individual licences or the boundaries of coupes” comply with the Code or logging “will not be lawful”.
He went on to say “it seems to me that a breach of the Code is prima facie a breach of the law”, and that a County Court judge “was incorrect in describing the Code as something which merely provides guidelines”. (The case had previously been through both the magistrate’s and county courts).
His Honour explained more fully that there are some areas where an officer’s discretion may be exercised unchallenged, but “There will be occasions when it is possible to identify a clear breach of the Code. Where it is so possible, a breach of the Code would amount to a breach of the law.”
The ruling was made during a Supreme Court appeal by conservationist Tony Hastings and former mill worker, Greg Tantram. They had been convicted in the magistrates court of obstructing lawful logging operations in 2001 at Dingo Creek in East Gippsland. Greg and Tony have always insisted that they were preventing the illegal logging of rainforest. They unsuccessfully appealed to the County Court before the current Supreme Court appeal.
It is not the final ruling on the appeal, but it gave them permission to go on to argue the reasons they claimed the logging was unlawful. This is a hurdle a previous Supreme Court appeal (Hensleigh Creek case-mid 90s) was unable to get over. As we go to print, the case has finished and the two men await the judgment.
It remains to be seen if DSE will ensure the logging they oversee will now comply with the law or if they will continue to sanction shocking abuse of our forests. They will no longer be able to claim that our logging practices are better than those of overseas countries who log their rainforests.
We wish Tony and Greg well.