VicForests – serial defendants to environmental cases

VicForests is becoming a familiar defendant in the Victorian Supreme Court. In late 2010 the Court found it guilty of intending to illegally log an old growth forest near Brown Mountain that supports protected rare and endangered wildlife. Now they are again in the same court defending their actions to destroy Victoria’s faunal emblem, the endangered Leadbeater’s possum. On March 30th the Orbost Magistrates’ Court is hearing a criminal case against illegal rainforest logging by VicForests. In April, they will again be back in the Supreme Court to answer another case of illegal logging – this time in relation to a protected National Site of Significance for Rainforest.

In December 2011, VicForests sent logging contractors into a very controversial stand of forests – a protected buffer for the Cobb Hill stand of cool temperate Rainforest on the Errinundra plateau in East Gippsland. Despite ours, and our lawyer’s letters to VicForests and its minister, Peter Walsh, the logging did not stop.

The law states that areas designated as Sites of Significance for Rainforests at a National level will be fully protected. The DSE and VicForests now claim the maps that have been around for years and show that the area is to be protected were wrong; the area they want to clearfell isn’t really in a protected buffer.

Despite a court order, VicForests is still refusing to pay Environment East Gippsland’s legal costs from the Brown Mountain court win back in September 2010. Yet we have been forced down the costly track of once again suing VicForests. In December, we applied to the Supreme Court for an urgent injunction to stop the bulldozers in the Rainforest Site of Significance. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters and our super-human legal team, we were able to lodge the court papers in record time and pay the associated costs. VicForests undertook not to log the area until the injunction could be heard.

The application for an injunction was heard in late January. VicForests was hoping to obtain another adjournment. His Honour Justice Jack Forrest thought this was wasting the Court’s time. Not only was VicForests refused an adjournment, His Honour suggested they speed up the process and go straight to trial, bypassing the injunction phase. So rather than a time line that would have seen a spring trial, we will have VicForests in the Supreme Court in April. We liked the idea. VicForests didn’t. It opposed it – and lost.

It is inconceivable that in this day and age, in a developed, supposedly democratically-run country, a small local environment group has to constantly find the funds to take a government agency to court for breaking its own government’s laws. The rest of the world knows the value of primary forests and rainforest, but the Baillieu government doesn’t.

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