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Friday analysis: Abundant good news for forestry but environmental lawfare strikes

What a week it has been for the timber industry both at a local and national level. The good news just seemed to keep on coming. VicForests was vindicated by the Federal Court which determined its forestry operations covered by Regional Forest Agreements provide all the environmental protections required by national environmental laws.

In a unanimous decision, the Court upheld VicForests’ appeal against Justice Mortimer’s decision 12 months ago which had created significant legal uncertainty for RFAs and for the tens of thousands of forest industry jobs that the bilateral state-Commonwealth agreements underpin.

Then just last night the Senate agreed to recommended changes to the Regional Forest Agreements framework to give even more operational certainty that the native forest industry has been screaming out for.

The Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee report follows the committee’s inquiry on a private Senator’s Bill put up by Senator Bridget McKenzie.

Expectations are that the Bill will succeed with Opposition support but, as always, expect a slow drawn-out affair.

Then there were two helpings of icing on the cake, which to this point was looking pretty good.

Bunnings announced it will review its decision to stop selling timber logged by VicForests. Bunnings announced in June last year it would stop selling timber logged by VicForests after Justice Mortimer’s ruling.

With that ruling overturned, it should not be difficult for Bunnings to follow suit.

And the Federal Budget allocated $10.6 million to expand and continue the Regional Forestry Hubs, including new funding for Hubs in north Northern Territory and south east NSW, with a further $1.3 million pledged for a feasibility study to create a new National Institute for Forest Products Innovation.

But, while celebrating her success in the Senate, Senator McKenzie sounded a wise word or two of warning.

“We cannot rest on the protections achieved following the unanimous Federal Court’s ruling that overruled Justice Mortimer’s judgement; protection from environmental extremists must be secured for the forestry industry,” she said.

Cue Environment East Gippsland’s successful application for an interim injection against VicForests halting logging in a stand of intact forest where a high density of threatened Greater Gliders had allegedly been found.

That Environment East Gippsland got up enough “evidence” to enable it to get an injunction imposed so quickly should raise a few eyebrows.

That it barely gave VicForests 24 hours’ notice heralds perhaps a new strategy.

Either way, clearly the environmental lobby for now does not plan to scale back what could be seen by some as “vexatious litigation”.

But there is hope that the Senator’s Bill will go some way to give the timber industry some protection from the current “lawfare”.