New Forest Bill – ALL spin – NO solutions!

The latest proposed changes to the Forests Act makes the Bracks Government less accountable and less obliged to consider biodiversity.

A new Bill is ready to be passed that will set up an arm of DSE called Vicforests to manage the commercial side of logging. Premier Bracks made a pre-election promise that the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) would be more financially accountable. This Bill hampers accountability.

NO FORESTS NO FUTURE

Some of the Bracks Government’s promises in the Our Forests Our Future policy document included:

  • Introducing ecologically sustainable logging;
  • public accountability and transparency in the management of our forests;
  • and complying with Competition Policy (this should see public forests no longer being sold for peanuts, which made it impossible for plantation growers to compete).

Technically, there is no time frame under which the government has to implement sustainability criteria – it could be within the next 20 years. That knocks out their first point.

There is nothing in the Bill that will allow for community consultation over areas to be logged. Once an agreement has been drawn up with logging interests it will be a commercial-in-confidence agreement that no one can access even under FOI. That knocks out the second accountability point.

The Bill might only partly implement the third point, but it leaves the way open for a continuation of the massive public subsidy we’ve been exposing for years.

Vicforests will choose which forests will be logged but this will be in the absence of an ecologically sustainable forest management system (ESFMS). Under the RFAs, the Bracks Government agreed to develop sustainability indicators and ESFMS.

Even if some sort of sustainability system is developed, there will be no direct obligation for Vicforests to comply with it. Given Vicforests’ commercial objectives to make profits, this is a huge concern.

The other fear is that the Bill does not ensure that Vicforests will recover the full cost of logging. It will bring in a system whereby licence holders will bid for logs. This will push smaller players out of the field and open the door for price fixing between the larger mills. There would be no minimum price for logs on offer.

There was a huge opportunity here to make forest management comply with biodiversity protection and other environmental laws. It could also have resolved the issue of clearfelling old growth and other heritage forests. However it has written another vague and unenforceable piece of legislation.

The Bill also makes other amendments to the Forests Act 1958 and the Conservation Forests and Lands Act 1987. One is a change of wording for charging protesters. It has been common to win appeals after people have been charged with “Obstruct lawful logging operation”. The wording has now been changed to “Obstruct approved logging operation”. This is an admission that very few of their approved logging operations are in fact lawful!

Jill / Vanessa Bleyer, Lawyers For Forests

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