Wednesday, 31/07/2013 Tom Arup, The Age
Logging agreements in four states have led to substandard protection of native forests due to gaps in state government laws and enforcement, a report has found.
The report, by lawyers from Environment Defenders Offices in three states, commissioned by anti-logging groups, says years of evidence from court cases and independent reviews suggest state governments have struggled to monitor and enforce a series of regional forestry agreements.
It says inadequate state laws to protect endangered species had undermined the agreements, which largely devolve authority to the states. For example, there are no plans for the recovery of more than half of Victoria's threatened species.
The defenders offices reviewed public material from court cases, independent reviews and auditor-general reports related to the forestry agreements in Victoria, NSW, Western Australia and Tasmania.
They concluded that if each logging project had been assessed under national environment laws rather than state laws protection for forests would have been higher.
The report says the experience of the logging deals reveals dangers in devolving federal environment decision-making to states, as proposed by the Coalition.
The 20-year forestry agreements, drawn up in the late 1990s, effectively exempt forestry projects from approval under national environment law. They aim to ensure a stable amount of timber for industry while limiting environmental impacts.
Victorian Environmental Defenders Office principal solicitor Felicity Millner said: ''The system has not lived up to its promises and people should be really sceptical of these agreements that lock in outcomes for decades.''
The forestry industry strongly rejected the analysis. Australian Forest Products Association chief executive Ross Hampton said data showed the objectives of the agreements were being achieved.
''Attacks on the [agreements] are sometimes simply a cover for those seeking to see the closure of Australia's forest and forest products industries and the loss of some 80,000 regional jobs,'' he said.
The report concedes the agreements have resulted in areas of forest being set aside as habitat for threatened species, which it says may not have happened under individual national assessments.
Australian National University environment law associate professor Andrew Macintosh agreed state rules had been deficient in upholding the environmental protections in the agreements. But, he said, there was little evidence to suggest the federal government would have been much better.
The data showed the agreements had a mixed record in reducing the intensity of logging, he said.
A 2009 independent review of national environment laws commissioned by the government recommended an overhaul of forestry agreements, including more consistent and independent monitoring and beefing-up penalties. It was rejected by federal Labor.