Thursday’s decision by the State Government in Victoria to delay a vote on radical reforms to Victoria’s forests legislation must only be seen as just that – a delay.
But it might just be enough if there are enough delaying tactics deployed.
And it seems likely that delaying tactics will be the Opposition’s chief weapon.
The key to success for the Opposition will be picking up the votes of two Cross Bench members in the Legislative Council.
But first, back to what lead us to this situation.
A week ago, the State Government caught pretty much everyone on the back foot by announcing it would introduce a Bill into the Upper House this week despite it having been sitting on the notice paper for the best part of 18 months.
The Bill – already passed in the Lower House – would, according to opponents, result in Victorian native forest logging contractors facing huge fines for failing to comply with a Code of Practice for Timber Harvesting that is still under review.
The Forests Legislation Amendment (Compliance and Enforcement) Bill would grant departmental officers the right to halt harvesting, and the Office of the Conservation Regulator the power to demand contractors hand over diaries and documents to check for breaches of the code.
There are fears the new laws will encourage even more anti-logging activists to harass and dob in harvest and haulage contractors for the most minor code breaches, from dropping a tree into a buffer zone to harvesting just outside a designated coupe.
The Opposition says the government should halt the Bill until it completes its Code of Practice for Timber Harvesting review, otherwise the entire timber industry would be left in the dark over what it can and cannot do.
So, when the Bill hit the Upper House on Tuesday, the first bit of good news for the Opposition was that although it was listed first on the order or proceedings, it was relegated to the last item to be debated.
That gave the Opposition the opportunity to fire question after question at the Government. And the Opposition probably – almost certainly – made sure the questions were long and involved.
Ultimately, the Government simply ran out of time, hence the decision to hold it over until for two weeks. Will the Government bring it back for a vote? Who knows?
During that time the Opposition will be hell-bent on convincing at least two Cross Benchers to vote the Bill down.
It is understood the Opposition has five Cross Benchers onside, and just needs two of the remaining three to join them.
It is believed the CFMEU is applying enormous pressure on the Cross Benchers
With only four more sitting weeks left this year, the Opposition is banking on time, or the lack of it.
It’s also banking on community outrage and pressure.
The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath, has started an online petition designed to send a message to the Government to fix the Bill.
That petition, the CFMEU, and time may be all the Opposition has in its favour.