PARK WATCH September 2021 |

Executive Director Matt Ruchel and Nature Conservation Campaigner Jordan Crook explain how changes to logging laws are bad news for forests and very bad news for communities who fight for the protection of nature.

Anyone that knows the Code of Timber Production knows it protects the logging industry far better than our native forests. 

This is why many community groups across Victoria have challenged poor interpretations and compliance of the Code in the courts over the years. At least when the logging industry broke these rules and put nature at risk, community groups could pursue justice through the law. 

But now, the Victorian Government is trying to dilute the already weak and poorly enforced legal protections for forest wildlife, and silence community rights to hold illegal logging to account.

The Code of Timber Production (2014) and its associated Management Standards and Procedures are the key set of rules managing how native forest logging happens in Victoria. 

The current clunky and opaque Code is a relic of the coalition state government who rushed through substantial changes to the earlier 2007 version only days before the caretaker period of the 2014 election.

The current Andrews Government withdrew proposed reforms to the Code in 2019 after environment groups, including VNPA, highlighted the wholesale removal of large sections of the Code by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in response to ongoing legal challenges. At that time, the Minister for the Environment Lily D’Ambrosio responded that she “…acknowledged there are legitimate concerns around the draft reforms to the code of practice for timber production and how they fit together” then intervened to “withdraw the current consultation” committing to further consultation on the total package of proposed changes.

Despite this previous backlash to their flawed plans, now the Andrews Government is again proposing reform to the Code. This has been formulated behind closed doors in consultation with the timber industry, and released in July to the public with only 28 days (half of that time in COVID lockdown) to understand and interpret 3000 highly technical changes among 350 pages of documents. 

The Code in its existing form needs updating, but the current proposed changes would lead to an overall further eroding of protection of threatened species and forest ecosystems.

In a media release on 20 July 2020, the Victorian Government stated it had initiated a review of the Code to:

“minimise the risk to short-term supply obligations arising from third-party litigation

ensure it remains fit for purpose and facilitates the implementation of the Victorian Forestry Plan

strengthen the regulatory powers available to the Conservation Regulator

identify regulatory reforms informed by the 2019-20 bushfires.”

This update of the Code should map out a clear transition out of native forest logging in Victoria as committed by the Andrews Government in its Victorian Forestry Plan. It should be a genuine plan for removing logging from sensitive areas such as threatened species habitat, water catchments, important cultural heritage and recreational sites and within proximity to tourism assets. But instead, it facilitates further and increased destructive logging of these areas. 

This process could have been a chance to start the phasing out logging in high conservation areas as the industry is wound down to its 2030 cessation,
but seems to have been used as a last chance smash and grab of more native forests to feed the rapacious paper pulpers and saw millers. 

The review is certainly aimed at diminishing legal protection and at reducing community legal cases. We summarised this in our submission as follows:

“Despite statements from the department to the effect that the review of the Code is limited to clarifying its operation and is not intended to change current standards or forest protection, examination of the material published for consultation demonstrates that this is not the case – this review proposed significant changes to current regulations covering logging in Victoria’s forests.”

If these plans go ahead, hundreds of dedicated zones designed to protect the habitat of threatened wildlife won’t be governed by rules, but aspirational targets.

We hold concerns around many elements of the changes proposed by the state government, including a worrying increase of activities like constructing roads allowed in Special Protection Zones (SPZs) that will make it easier for logging operations to be conducted in areas such as where Leadbeater’s Possums have been detected by citizen science groups. Meanwhile, a Forest Management Zoning Accountability Framework 2021 is being sold by the environment department as a tool to manage and increase accountability of fixed zoning protections in state forests, but detaches it from the Code and leaves its enforcement and legal standing in a sense of doubt. 

Much can be written about the proposed reform changes to the Code and their impact on forest ecosystems and wildlife. I would encourage you to read our submission.

 


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