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Bob Brown Foundation ordered to stop illegal protests

The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) and Forest Industries Association of Tasmania (FIAT) have welcomed the Work Health and Safety Regulator’s “common-sense decision” to order the Bob Brown Foundation to cease all illegal forestry protests, which have endangered lives and impinged on forest workers’ right to a safe workplace. Source: Timberbiz

According to an official notice addressed to Bob Brown Foundation CEO Steven Chaffer, the ban will apply until such time as the foundation has satisfied the Work Health and Safety Regulator that it is managing risks to workers and others.

“This decision sends a strong message to extreme activist groups that their conduct is illegal, dangerous and well beyond the right to peaceful protest,” FIAT Acting CEO Terry Edwards said.

“For these workers the forest is their office – they should be allowed to go about their lawful business without fear of having protestors endanger themselves or others in the workplace. This has done the right thing by these forest workers and by the protestors by upholding their rights.”

“FIAT have been concerned at the potential of serious injury or even death of these reckless protestors and the consequences this may have on the mental well-being of forestry workers that are just going about their lawful daily work,” Mr Edwards said.

In the letter, Worksafe Tasmania chief executive Mark Cocker said failure to comply with the notice could incur maximum penalties ranging from $100,000 to $500,000.

Mr Cocker said the foundation was “without reasonable excuse engaging … in conduct that exposes a person(s) to the risk of death or serious injury”.

AFPA CEO Mr Hampton said regulators around the country should take notice of the decision, particularly in Victoria where demonstrators are conducting similar illegal forest worksite invasions.

“AFPA respects the right of an individual to engage in protest in a respectful and lawful way, but this must be balanced against the rights of lawful businesses and their workers who work in Australia’s vital primary industries to have a safe work environment,” Mr Hampton said.

“The decision by the Tasmanian Regulator sends a strong message to the other states that workplace safety laws do apply in the forest and to protestors in the same way they apply to others, and I urge them to follow Tasmania’s example to protect our sustainable forest industry workers.”

The notice comes after pressure from pro-forestry advocates to use workplace safety laws to stop protesters entering logging coupes and the state government’s decision to refer the foundation to Worksafe Tasmania.

Earlier this month, protesters rallied to two sites in the state’s north west at Que River and the Boco forest, where the Tasmanian Government-owned Sustainable Timber Tasmania company said it was “conducting selective harvesting for special species timber”.

“The selective harvesting of the forest will be managed in accordance with Tasmania’s Forest Practices System. Most of the forest will remain intact with the small gaps naturally regenerated to maintain the many forest values present,” the company said at the time.

Minister for Resources Guy Barnett and Attorney-General Elsie Archer said in a joint-statement they were aware of the notice and “the unsafe workplace behaviours of the Bob Brown Foundation have caused significant angst in the community”.

“The government has been advised that the Work Health and Safety Regulator has issued a notice prohibiting the Foundation from undertaking certain activities, which place its workers at risk of injury,” they said.

“The notice prohibits the foundation from carrying out forest protests throughout Tasmania, until such time the foundation has satisfied the Work Health and Safety Regulator it is managing health and safety duties appropriately.

“The government strongly supports free speech and the right to protest, but threats, trespassing and endangering workers is completely unacceptable.”

Bob Brown said the move would do ‘President Putin’s Moscow proud’.

“This edict would have prevented all environmental protest in Tasmania since and including the Franklin River blockade in 1982-83,” he said.

“It snubs the High Court finding, after the forest protests at Lapoinya, that peaceful protest is part of a representative democracy.”

Bob Brown Foundation Tarkine campaigner Scott Jordan said the notice was “clearly an attempt to shut down protest activity in Tasmania”.

He said the organisation was seeking legal advice about the matter.

“I’ll refrain from any further comment until we’ve got that legal advice,” he said.

Mr Jordan would not comment on the potential safety risk of protesters, however, Bob Brown Foundation campaign manager Jenny Weber said on February 5 no protesters had been injured through protests, but they had been violently attacked by loggers in previous years.

“If the Tarkine is protected, there is no safety issue,” she said.

“It is the logging that creates the potential for harm.

“As with the Franklin campaign, those who saved the Styx Valley of the Giants, and all the great protests for human progress, the valiant people making a stand to save the Tarkine do so of their own volition.”

Mr Barnett and Ms Archer said the government “takes work health and safety extremely seriously and is committed to ensuring all Tasmanians go home safely at the end of the day”.

“All protest action should be conducted lawfully and without jeopardising worker safety,” they said.

The foundation has 14 days to lodge an application with the Magistrates’ Court of Tasmania Administrative Appeals Division.