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Opinion: Justin Law – It’s time the regulators did their job

You know your Federal Court Case is going bad when you resort to tired stunts like getting arrested at a harvesting coupe for a bit of cheap publicity.

This is what is happening in Tasmania with Bob Brown getting on the catastrophe offensive to keep the donations rolling in. The centre of attention this time is the Swift Parrot which is the latest in the long list of species which have failed to become extinct after decades of sustainable timber harvesting in Australia.

This fact is of particular concern for the Bob Brown Foundation which falsely claimed that the Regional Forest Agreements “have left a trail of … extinction for the past 23 years”.

There is absolutely no science, even among his own paid academics, to support this assertion, which puts Brown at odds with the Collections for Charities Act 2001 (Tasmania).

The “extinction” lie was peddled during his $130,000 fundraiser for the highly publicised Federal Court case against Sustainable Timber Tasmania. Under Section 12 of the Collections for Charities Act, using misleading or deceptive statement in a fundraiser can lead to up to six months in prison.

Of more concern to the BBF is that they may have to repay the $130,000 if this part of the Act is prosecuted. If the current Federal Court case goes against them, the BBF will also have to pay costs.

So, the rationale behind this latest stunt starts to become a little clearer to the casual observer. They need money.

Dr Brown’s Federal Court case is based on the validity of the Regional Forest Agreements and how they are interpreted under a perceived loophole in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

It’s not the first time this loophole has been exploited. Dr Brown thought he was on a winner with Debra Mortimer SC (the Federal Court Judge who was a Barrister at the time) representing his foundation in the case against Forestry Tasmania over the Wielangta operation on the same point of law.

They won and then the decision was overturned on appeal.

Then, after being elevated to the Federal Court, Justice Mortimer presided over a remarkably similar case against VicForests earlier this year and found in favour of the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum activist group.

This seems to have given Dr Brown confidence to have another crack. But he had to get in quick because the Victorian decision is under appeal and there’s a quiet confidence that it will be overturned.

This time the Federal Court has sent a full bench to hear the case and it’s our understanding that so far things haven’t been going so well with Dr Brown’s case very big on “the vibe of the thing” and very low on facts.

In the meantime, his Foundation has lurched from one embarrassment to the other. There was the claim that logging was about to take place in “pristine wilderness” in Raminea. The coupe was harvest regrowth, proven by the overgrown tram tracks in the middle of it.

Then there was the published “scientific” paper authored by one of Bob Brown’s pet academics retracted after it was found to contain gross inaccuracies.

Prior to that there was a protest action in a coupe that was not due to be logged. The BBF campaign managers admitted to knowing that in an activist training camp prior to the action, but proceeded anyway, raising 10s of thousands of dollars in donations on the premise that they were stopping a harvest operation that was never going to occur.

It would appear that Dr Brown’s re-emergence as his foundation’s fundraising figurehead, riding in on the back of a Federal Court case, was in exasperation with his staff which he paid $563,000 in 2019.

We estimate it costs the Bob Brown Foundation $750,000 in staff and rental costs each year. That’s three quarters of the money they raised in donations last year.

That’s money gained by trading in outrage. The BBF, like other corporate activists, trades in creating conflict to stir up anti-forestry sentiment to compel people to donate money. And as a million-dollar corporate organisation, they need a lot of it just to survive.

So, it’s no wonder Dr Brown has resorted to cheap stunts and dragged a minor and The Greens’ Senators into it to create as much attention as possible and then attached a “donate here” button to it. It’s also no coincidence that said minor appeared in a pro-activist film, which was showing that very evening and needed a bit of promotion to boost ticket sales.

More outrage, more donations rolling in.

It was heartening to hear the Federal Government announce this week that there would be a tougher stance on activist groups posing as charities.

But so what?

Why is the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission letting the BBF keep its charity status after it continues to routinely and blatantly break the law.

Not to mention the millions of dollars in fines which have not been imposed on activists by WorkSafe for breaches of the Tasmania Work Health & Safety Act during workplace invasions.

It is time real action was taken by the regulators under the existing laws and it is time attention-seeking outrage peddlers such as the Bob Brown Foundation were made accountable for their deceitful, destructive actions which impact hard-working Tasmanians.

Forest and Wood Communities Australia has made submissions to regulators and the Police Commissioner, calling on them to take long-overdue action, which will allow our members to get on with supplying renewable, sustainable world-certified timber and wood fibre products.

Justin Law is Managing director, Forest & Wood Communities Australia