Forest Safety Zones reading between the lines

Premier Steve Bracks’ new proposed law would make forest destruction invisible to the public. It would be illegal for anyone to witness or gather information on the logging. The law would ensure clearfelling was done in secret.

One of the basic skills of forest campaigning is to learn to “read between the lines” of Government documents. It’s a knack you pick up. In the case of the new Bracks government’s Safety on Public Land Bill, the words written between the lines practically made it onto Radio for the Print Handicapped.

PUBLIC SAFETY?

Firstly, the Environment Minister’s speech records that “the main purpose of this bill is to improve public safety in state forests“. Between the lines (“BTL”) is written “by preventing the public from entering them”. He goes on “At the heart of our actions has been a commitment to ensuring our forests are accessible to our community today [BTL: I mean the logging community] “and sustainable for generations to come [BTL: only not if you’re a tiger quoll, obviously]”.

“… to protect public safety, a capacity to regulate or restrict activities in particular areas at particular times is required [BTL: we aren’t talking about dangerously overloaded log trucks hurtling down tourist roads here]”.

“This bill will allow the creation of public safety zones [BTL: areas where the public will be arrested if they enter] that will ensure the government can achieve the following: to protect flora and fauna — for example, to allow rehabilitation of a site in a heavily used area [BTL: logging coupe] or to allow for forest regeneration following a bushfire or other disturbance [BTL: prevent greenies uncovering crimes like the Yalmy Road illegal logging]. . to better manage public recreational activities such as restricting access [BTL: no, he actually said it out loud this time].

“This system for declaring public safety zones is very different from the provisions made by the Kennett government [BTL: what-are they spelled differently?] that this government allowed to sunset in 2000 [BTL: when they introduced new exclusion zones for spurious ‘occupational health and safety’ reasons that remained in force even when no work was occurring].

Well, we could go on like this for hours, taking the mickey, but really it’s a serious issue. These zones are designed to prevent the public from going within 150 metres of any (or every) logging coupe, for up to 12 months.

DSE – UNTRAINED POLICE

The bill makes new offences of entering “Public Safety Zones” without permission, of disobeying the order of a DSE officer, or failing to give your name, address and identification documents to DSE officers at the risk of steep fines.

Now I don’t want to shock anyone, but DSE officers are sometimes a little partisan towards the logging industry, because, well, they’re employed in it. And they don’t have to take all of the training and oaths that the Police have to take. If you can read between my lines.

YET MORE SUBSIDIES

You and I would be paying for the new zones. Apart from enforcement and administration, each proposed zone would have to be published in a variety of places, and submissions can be sent in, which the Secretary of the Department “must consider” [BTL: you’ve got the hang of it by now, read your own BTL]. The Bill specifies that the DSE pays for these costs, not the new commercial arm of DSE VicForests, which is meant to pay all of its own expenses these days. This is yet another subsidy to the logging industry and should be added to the cost of the logs.

This legislation strips away one of the most powerful tools we use – that of taking people into the forest immediately before and after logging. Our Forests Forever camps have taken campers on tours of newly logged areas, showing that dozers have ripped through rainforest gullies, rubbish left on site, whole piles of logs have been left to burn and the post-logging fires have burned out of control and destroyed acres beyond the boundaries. These images are a powerful tool for us – people know the truth when they see it with their own eyes.

It also strips away the most powerful tools of the protesters. They bring media into areas who beam images of the destruction to the world.

REVENUE RAISING

You can easily think of a pretty harmless scenario where someone might check out a logging coupe over the weekend, when logging is not occurring, but the zone remains in force. She enters the area (up to $2,045 fine), and notices that half a rainforest gully has been logged against the law. Despite being directed to leave she goes on to check the extent of the logging (again up to $2,045). The officer is delayed by the necessity to follow her (up to $6,135 fine).

She leaves to fetch her camera, to document the illegal logging. She re-enters the area (up to $2,045 fine). Never think that a DSE officer wouldn’t have incentive (or training) to be stupidly tough. Remember the charges laid by a DSE officer at Goolengook? A cameraman removed a piece of paper that a DSE officer was holding in front of the lens to prevent footage being recorded. He was charged with ‘littering’. Another was ‘assault’, which was dropped half way through the court case when it became clear that the DSE officer’s sworn statement was inconsistent with the video evidence.

Making our public forests invisible to the public is currently Steve Bracks’ best solution to solving the forest debate. Does this mean he plans to allow controversial logging to continue for years to come?

Liz

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