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Victorian Forests Legislation Amendment Bill passed in Lower House

The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region Melina Bath in State Parliament.

Legislation that threatens increased culpability and liability for forestry workers in Victoria was passed by State Parliament today. Source: Timberbiz

It passed after the Victorian State Government refused to support amendments to the Forests Legislation Amendment (Compliance and Enforcement) Bill 2019 in State Parliament on Tuesday.

The Bill passed through the Legislative Council’s Committee stage on Tuesday with only minor amendments and was passed by the Assembly this morning.

The Bill, among other things, grants 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 tried to delay the passing of the Bill this morning by objecting to the amendments from the Legislative Council.

The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region Melina Bath said Labor had ploughed ahead with its “diabolical” Bill that she believes will introduce oppressive legal implications for timber harvesters, contractors and the state-owned enterprise, VicForests.

“Through the enforcement of a strict liability clause, the presumption of innocence for timber workers and VicForests will now be devastatingly removed,” Ms Bath said.

“During debate the Andrews Government admitted it failed to consider alternatives to the Bill’s strict liability clause,” she said.

“Our forest workers will face massive penalties, for unwittingly breaching the Code of Practice.”

Under questioning from Ms Bath, the Government confirmed prosecution could also be brought against TAFE forestry trainees and DELWP employees under its legislation.

Ms Bath said the Government’s heavy-handed action is unprecedented, with no other industry operating under these conditions.

“Labor even refused to answer why this change is needed in the first place. There has been no prosecution in the past two years and only one unsuccessful prosecution in 2018 for the industry,” she said.

“The Nationals and Liberals sought to introduce a number of critical amendments to the Bill, including the removal of the controversial strict liability provision.

“The Bill represents another unjust and unfair attack on timber jobs by Daniel Andrew.

“The Andrews Government is persecuting Victorian forestry workers by ramming through flawed legislation.”

Yesterday Ms Bath presented a petition on behalf of Forest and Wood Communities Australia demanding the Legislative Council to reject the Forests Legislation Amendment (Compliance and Enforcement) Bill 2019.

“Timber workers and supporters were urging the Andrews Government to back down and stop its relentless pursuit of its forestry Bill and timber workers,” she said.

“Instead Labor abandoned timber workers and failed to listen to the voices of many justifiably concerned Victorians.

“On behalf of The Nationals I will keep fighting for an end to Daniel Andrews’ sustained harassment of our timber workers and communities.”