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Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum v VicForests

VicForests is pleased that the Federal Court has rejected the argument brought against it by the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum (FLBP). The Court found that VicForests was not affected by government delays in reviewing the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement (RFA). Sources: Timberbiz,

Consequently, VicForests operations under the RFA had the benefit of being exempt from processes required by the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

“As we have consistently said, VicForests’ operations are achieving high biodiversity and ecology standards laid out in the Regional Forest Agreement, which is agreed between the Victorian and Commonwealth governments,” the Chair of VicForests’ Board, Michael Humphris said.

And the Federal Government also welcomed the decision.

Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Anne Ruston said the Australian Government was committed to Regional Forest Agreements, which are the best mechanism for balancing environmental, economic and social demands on native forests.

“The Court found that VicForests was not affected by government delays in reviewing the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement (RFA),” the Senator said.
The FLBP had argued that because five-yearly reviews by Government were late, VicForests’ operation was therefore not in accord with the RFA and had to comply with the EPBC Act.

“It’s pleasing that the Court rejected the claim by the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum,” Mr Humphris said.

Justice Mortimer emphasised that: “This case was not about any breaches of the requirements in Victoria’s forest management system in the Central Highlands State forest,” or whether VicForest complied with requirements.

She also rejected VicForests argument and accepted a “mid-way” position put by the Commonwealth.

Justice Mortimer accepted the submission from the Commonwealth, that, for the EPBC Act exemption to apply, forestry operations must be undertaken in conformity with the system of forest management accredited by the RFA, that is the State regulatory system.

Justice Mortimer declined to make a final order at the time and instead requested the parties to make submissions by 16 March 2018 as to the wording of the final order.

In the meantime, the injunction in relation to the 34 coupes continues.

Mr Humphris said: “The proper thing for us to do now is to closely consider the detail of the Judges request before we make our submission to the Court,”

“We are confident our extensive protections comply with the requirements of the RFA,” he said.

“For example, we protect the Greater Glider by preserving habitat trees and the Leadbeater’s Possum by preserving 12.6ha of habitat around possums, an area equivalent to six MCG fields,” he said.

“Our strong view is that RFAs have delivered for the environment. More than 3.3 million hectares of native forest has been transferred into conservation reserves through the RFAs. This has increased the reserve system by 46%.

“The government will continue to work with state governments to fulfil our promise to rollout the extensions of RFAs in all ten RFA regions across Australia,” Senator Ruston said.

“With over 67,000 people employed, the forestry industry brings jobs and economic prosperity to regional Australia and we want make sure those jobs are secure into the future,” the Senator said.

According to Ross Hampton CEO of Australian Forest products Association (AFPA) the Federal Court decision to uphold the validity of Regional Forest Agreements sends a strong signal that the RFAs strike the right balance between environmental, social and economic management of our forests.

“The Australian forest industries welcome today’s vindication of our sustainable, renewable industry which relies on the latest available science to ensure our precious native forest resource is sustainably managed to ensure it is available to all Australians in perpetuity,” Mr Hampton said.

“The facts are that Australia’s RFA framework rightly demands the highest environmental standards and is complemented by rigorous state-level environmental laws, on par with the the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. Today’s decision by the Federal Court has confirmed that.”

In November 2017, the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum filed an application in the Federal Court seeking an injunction to stop VicForests from logging in the Central Highlands area of Victoria.

The Court held hearings on 14 and 15 December to consider a preliminary question of law in relation to this matter. The Commonwealth’s submissions were accepted by the Court.