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Nationals say Vic Labor has set the stage for more ugly forestry protests

Protesters at the Wombat State Forest. Picture: Wombat Forestcare Facebook page.

The Victorian Government has set the stage for an ugly showdown between legal forestry workers and increasingly belligerent and reckless protestors by blocking urgent amendments to legislation covering the timber industry, according to the Nationals. Source: Timberbiz

The Nationals Leader Peter Walsh says his party wanted amendments to the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 to better protect workers.

The Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022, passed last week, brings stronger penalties to deter dangerous protest activities that puts the safety of both forestry workers and people who illegally enter dangerous work sites at risk.

The new legislation introduces offences and updates existing penalties to deter dangerous protest activities in Timber Harvesting Safety Zones and prevent harm.

Timber Harvesting Safety Zones are small and restricted worksites where forestry activities are undertaken. It is illegal for anyone who is not authorised to be in those areas.

To prevent repeated safety risks across multiple Timber Harvesting Safety Zones, authorised officers will be able to issue Banning Notices when there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person has committed or will commit a specified offence. The notices will aim to stop individuals from repeatedly engaging in dangerous activities in Timber Harvesting Safety Zones and other forestry coupe areas.

Authorised officers will be given additional powers to search containers, bags and vehicles for prohibited items.

These changes are focused on illegal and dangerous behaviour occurring within THSZs and do not limit normal recreation in forests, or peaceful demonstration in areas where it is safe and legal to do so.

But Mr Walsh said the Premier, Daniel Andrews, had again shown he was willing to put regional lives in danger to simply curry favour with green city voters, elevating this debate from an environmental issue to a genuine occupational health and safety crisis.

“The fear of timber harvesters is absolutely palpable. Licenced harvesting areas – known as coupes – are a workplace, and harvesters should be able to conduct themselves without fear of injuring or killing someone,” he said.

“Our forestry workers and their families deserve a better deal, and someone prepared to back their safety at work.

“They are authorised workers doing a job to support their families, it’s the same conditions – and risks – as a major construction site.”

The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region Melina Bath said environmental protesters had been given the green light to continue harassing harvesters, with proper police search and seize powers denied by Labor, the Greens and Independent MPs.

“Harsher penalties for illegal protesters are desperately needed or many will continue to evade penalties or receive a slap on the wrist and crowdfund their fines,” Ms Bath said.

“In recent years, protesters’ tactics are becoming more perilous for workers, and rather than sending a strong deterrent with our amendments in place, Labor continues to go soft on these dangerous behaviours.

“It is no longer an environmental debate. This is about keeping Victorian workers safe.”

Ms Bath says that if elected, a Liberals and Nationals Government will immediately overturn Labor’s appalling ban on the native timber industry and ensure our world-class – and sustainable – industry will thrive, creating a number of valuable jobs for regional Victorians.