Polishing the turd – the RFA make-over

The lack of credible science, the use of flawed data and the systemic violation of environmental laws is clearly DELWP’s and VicForests’ weaknesses in the public’s eye. So what is their strategy to continue on with this dysfunctional system, remain exempt from federal environment laws and give the appearance of using science and evidence? They plan to polish the turd’ by using the name of a well-respected science institution as a major front, but it will play a very minor role.

1997 gave us Sweet (R)FA

Few people might remember the travesty that was known as the Regional Forest Agreements or RFAs. It was basically an unscientific agreement between state and federal governments and the logging industry that allowed 20 years of unrestrained logging of extremely valuable forests and wildlife habitat. The East Gippsland RFA was the first forested area to be signed off in Australia and it expired in February 2017. It saw a massive increase in logging and export woodchipping.

The RFA was based on a faulty process back then. Now it’s not only faulty but is totally obsolete. Our forests and wildlife are in deep trouble despite the governments’ promises to look after these values. As loyal devotees of logging and woodchipping, the state and federal governments are steadfast in their plans to renew these crooked deals for another 20 years or more.

New terminology like ‘modernising’ the RFAs is window dressing; it is as disreputable now as it was 20 years ago.

In the late 90s the Comprehensive Regional Assessment process (CRAp) included sham consultations, a quagmire of lofty lies and rhetoric and meaningless bureaucratic baffle-gab.Their ‘science’ and ‘evidence’ had more holes than substance. It is clear this same strategy is planned again. The only commitment that has been honoured since then was to the woodchippers.

Sweet (R)FA – present day

As part of the ‘renewal’ plan, there has already been the token public consultation process in January and a perfunctory round table meeting in early October 2018. These ‘tick the box’ exercises are designed to placate the public and those they term stakeholders.

Public consultation has become a formality to legitimise the decisions the government has already made.

Legal action by environment groups such as EEG and groups carrying out citizen science surveys have exposed the government’s logging arm. The general public knows it does not fund proper forest research, is anti-science, is data-poor and suffers ecological blindness. To top that off it has a long history of lawless logging and just cannot be trusted.

DELWP is the department that loves the word ‘sustainable’. In December it held a meeting to introduce the ‘modernising’ of the RFAs at the well-respected scientific institution the Royal Society of Victoria. This has operated in Victoria since 1854. The venue was clearly designed to lend credibility to their planned roll-over of forest destruction -and of course the 4 speakers were DELWP staff or DELWP funded researchers. 

One attendee was a now retired senior government botanist. He gave a useful report back. He saw little if any value in the small, unrepresentative social surveys presented. However he did see value in new information presented by Craig Nitschke on ash forests not needing stand-replacement treatment (clearfell and burn). But without clearfelling, the woodchip industry would have vastly reduced volumes of ‘waste’. And it is the market for woodchips which has driven logging since the 1970s.

Bureaucratic baffle-gab

Here are some of their terms to be cautious of:

  • Modernisation process (a meaningless mantra)
  • reflect modern science (as the last RFA also claimed)
  • consider the needs of communities, industry and the environment (with industry demands the only one fully considered)
  • Recognition of the rights of Traditional Owners to partner in land management (only if they agree with the government)
  • (traditional owners) to seek economic and cultural opportunities (get a job in a mill)
  • impact of climate change … including drought and bushfires (how burnt forests will affect the log supply to industry)
  • Changing forest-based industries and opportunities (the new biomass market – burning forests in electricity furnaces)
  • Advancements in scientific and technological knowledge about forests and ecosystems (we have the knowledge now but it’s been ignored for decades)

DELWP says the revamped RFA has three key elements:
* updated assessments of forest values(data-poor and ignored anyway),
* robust engagement with communities (tokenism at best), and
* renewal of Victoria’s RFAs and forest management system. This is the clanger.

The government plans to see logging continue regardless of what the community wants or how clear and critical the evidence is to protect forests.

An ‘independent’ panel to roll-over the RFAs

Back to the Royal Society’s unknowing part in this façade; DELWP wants to set up a panel that it claims will be scientific and independent. The Royal Society of Victoria has been tasked to:

…oversee the appointment of ‘experts in their field’ who will assess and validate the science behind ‘modernising’ the RFAs in Vic.  People can self-nominate up until 21st Jan.

This could be interesting to see who self-nominates or is encouraged to self-nominate by certain interests. Panel members will not be paid to research or work on issues outside of the scheduled meetings (which might be four times a year). That is asking a lot from expert scientists who are already fully engaged and usually over-committed.

The Panel will review and report on the relative merits and limitations of methods and data used to assess forest values. The blurb sounds half reasonable until you read further.

The Department’s deputy secretary has the final say in all of this. He will appoint the final members that the Royal Society might suggest, he will choose the Chair of the panel and can change the Terms of Reference at any time. Who is this person? He is the infamous Lee Meizis. He’s been operating at a high level within DELWP and the minister’s office for years. He’s been around since before the Brown Mt Supreme Court case. He was the DELWP/DSE witness to defend logging the old growth and habitat of threatened wildlife back then. More recently he represented DELWP in the Supreme Court before Xmas to answer accusations of illegal logging of East Gippsland’s protected old growth.

The 1997 RFA was claimed to be the most rigorous and scientific process but all it did was identify all the knowledge gaps before locking in clearfelling and unlimited woodchipping for two decades. It then brashly walked away from the many fine-sounding environmental obligations.

From the Departments job description or “Assignment specifications” p.16 :

‘The assessment process will build on existing data and information and will incorporate new knowledge where possible. The process will identify priority gaps in existing information and will be designed to ensure that the modernised RFAs will be soundly based on the best available information’.

How many more loopholes and qualifications can they include?
This identifying of knowledge gaps is exactly what they did in the last process. No data or research in critical areas is actually a benefit to them. If there’s no evidence that for example, all of the rare large forest owls are in deep trouble, they’ll continue to destroy their habitat and hollow-bearing trees.

At best there could be minuscule and insignificant changes to things like pre-logging survey techniques to sell as the ‘compromise’ or ‘balance’.

Flaws galore

Unless this RFA make-over includes a review of the wood supply agreement with that huge Nippon pulp and paper mill in the Latrobe valley (driver of Victoria’s logging), the rest of the process is fairly pointless.

The government knows this. They also know that they must keep its political masters and the CFMMEU happy by supplying cheap logs from our forests to keep the paper mill operating – even at great cost to the tax payer, the climate and environment.

Legal case

Currently a case being run in the Federal Court by Friends of Leadbeaters Possum is questioning the legitimacy of the RFA. The RFA conveniently included an exemption from the federal EPBC Act which should protect nationally threatened species. This case which will be heard in February or March 2019, uses the Leadbeaters Possum and the Greater Glider to prove the total inadequacy of Victoria’s enforcement of laws to look after rare and endangered wildlife. The outcome of this case could add a major consideration to government plans to usher through another 20 years of wildlife and forest annihilation.

2 Replies to “Polishing the turd – the RFA make-over”

  1. OMG. I bet they are still using the ancient HARIS database which was proven to be seriously flawed by a $3Million (federally funded) study (late 80s early 90s) by a group of Scientists, Foresters and Forest Technical Offiers. Instead of throwing out the old database (which said there was plenty of trees left in East Gippsland for timber and woodchips), Forests Division threw out the new study because it showed the then level of logging was unsustainable.
    I was on the study team as a Botanist.


    1. OMG!!!


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