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Vic Govt dissuades VicForests to recover taxpayer funds from enviro group

Victoria’s Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas

Victoria’s State Government has told VicForests to back off taking legal action to recover $2 million in taxpayers’ funds from the anti-logging group MyEnvironment, according to a report in the Weekly Times. Source: Timberbiz

The move has led the timber industry and Opposition to accuse the Government of going soft on environmental activists, as it prepares to battle the Greens in key inner-city seats at November’s state election.

Timber industry sources say Labor ministers have repeatedly “leaned on” VicForests not to recover $1.2 million it was owed by the MyEnvironment group.

The debt is the result of a 2015 Supreme Court order demanding MyEnvironment cover VicForests legal costs after the anti-logging activists lost a case it brought against the state-owned forest harvest manager. Since then, the $1.2m debt has ballooned to $2m on the back of unpaid interest.

The Weekly Times claims that VicForests recently received legal advice that it had fresh grounds to pursue the recovery of the debt from MyEnvironment and its directors.

But the newspaper also understands Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas immediately stepped in, writing a letter directing VicForests not to take action against MyEnvironment.

After repeated questioning over the past week by The Weekly Times Ms Thomas finally admitted she had written to the VicForests’ board, but her office stated “no direction” was given in regard to recovering the court-ordered legal costs from the anti-logging group.

A Government spokeswoman said the Minister simply expressed “an opinion” based on her own department’s legal advice in regard to recovering the money from MyEnvironment.

In statement late on Wednesday the chairman of VicForests Board, Chris Lovell confirms the Minister for Agriculture did not direct VicForests Board regarding the judgement debt owed by MyEnvironment Inc.

Victorian Deputy Opposition Leader and Agriculture spokesman Peter Walsh told The Weekly Times it was clear the Government was willing to “sacrifice regional Victoria’s jobs” to win inner-city seats.

“I think the fact the Minister (Thomas) intervened to discourage VicForests from recovering money from MyEnvironment confirms the government is quite happy for activists to destroy the timber industry,” Mr Walsh said.