The issue

Victoria’s tall montane ash and mixed species forests in the Central Highlands provide some of the last remaining habitat for the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum and the vulnerable Greater Glider. These tiny, nocturnal possums need the tall canopies and deep hollows of old-growth eucalypts to survive.

But right now the Victorian government (VicForests) is logging their habitat and driving these fragile creatures closer to extinction. We urgently need to stop logging in their habitat before we lose these precious creatures forever.

Federal Court case

Almost one year ago, representing Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, we took VicForests to Federal Court to stop the destruction of precious habitat for the Leady and the Glider. We won a temporary ban to keep the bulldozers out – but the ban is only temporary while the case goes to Court. We return to the Federal Court on 3 June for a three week trial. The Court will hear experts and legal submissions, and our barristers will cross examine VicForests witnesses about their logging and its impact on threatened species.

Acting on behalf of Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum, we’re asking for a Federal Court order to stop logging in 41 forest coupes in Victoria’s Central Highlands that are home to Greater Gliders and Leadbeater’s Possums. We’re also asking the court to protect additional forests to mitigate for 26 sites we allege were unlawfully logged in the past. If we win this case, we can stop logging in these critical areas of the Leadbeater’s and Greater Glider’s habitat and help save them from extinction.

National significance

This situation isn’t limited to Victoria. Logging is continuing in threatened species habitat while Regional Forests Agreements (RFAs) between state and federal governments are in place across the country.

RFAs have meant that logging agencies don’t play by the rules of our national environment laws – they continue to bulldoze the homes of threatened species that are meant to be protected. No other industry has this kind of exemption. Not even mining. In the 20 years these Regional Forest Agreements have been in place, logging has pushed iconic Australian species like the Swift Parrot, Leadbeater’s Possum, the Koala and the Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo closer to extinction. If we win this case, we’ll set a national precedent that could change the way our forests are managed nationally and have a huge, positive outcome for the wildlife we love.

No government or company should be exempt from national environment laws that are in place to protect threatened wildlife like the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum. We are determined to prevent the extinction of our unique native animals and to do that we must stop the senseless logging of critical possum habitat.

Steve MeacherPresident, Friends of Leadbeater's Possum

Case update – 15 Sept, 2019

From Steve Meacher — President, Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum 

Since the closure in June of the hearing in the Federal Court, Friends of Leadbeaters Possum v VicForests, before Justice Debra Mortimer, we have continued to work tirelessly on the case. We have now completed Final Written Submissions and Submissions in Reply.

Justice Mortimer had made orders for written Closing Submissions to be filed by 2 August. Both sides prepared very substantial submissions of more than 250 pages, requiring additional time. They were filed and exchanged on 7 August. Accordingly, time for Submissions in Reply was extended to 4 September.

Unless Her Honour’s deliberations expose further unanswered questions and she calls us back to Court, the case is now finished and the wait for judgement begins. Obviously it is impossible to predict how the Judge will decide but we remain satisfied that our team prepared and presented the best possible case.

If you would like to know more about the case, you will find many of our documents and more information on the FLbP website, under “News”, where you will also find daily reports and transcripts.

Case update – 20 Jun 2019

The hearing of evidence in the case finished Thursday 20 June 2019 with oral submissions from both parties.

Our barristers forcefully submitted that the evidence in the case demonstrates that in planning and carrying out their logging in Victoria’s Central Highlands, VicForests are not complying with Victorian law. The consequence, we argue, is that logging should not be exempt from our national environment protection laws when it comes to impacts on the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum.

 “what we submit, your Honour, is that the evidence that’s been led establishes a systematic and an endemic failure on the part of VicForests to consider and to give effect to the precautionary principle, and that concerns the greater gliders – greater glider as a species, and also greater glider habitat” – Jim Delany QC

Both parties will now prepare detailed written submissions and submissions in reply by the end of August.

The trial attracted considerable interest, with most seats taken in the court room over the three weeks of the hearing.

We thank barristers Jim Delany QC, Julia Watson and Tanya Skvortsova for their hard work and excellent conduct of the trial on behalf of the Friends and to the many people who supported our client’s crowdfunding campaign to get this case to court.

Some but not all of the public documents from the trial are available on the Federal Court website. We’re working to make other public documents from the trial and expect that these will be published soon.

Case update – 14 Jun 2019

This week commenced with a view – a full day tour for the judge and legal teams of the Central Highlands areas that have been logged and that are proposed to be logged.

Then from Wednesday we were back in Court, continuing cross examination of VicForests staff before hearing from expert ecologists for both sides. The Friends called Dr Andrew Smith and Professor John Woinarksi to give expert evidence for the Friends on the habitat requirements of Greater Gliders and Leadbeater’s Possum and the impact of logging on each. On Thursday, the parties made closing submissions.

It’s a complex case and the judge will be required to resolve a number of complex and important legal issues covering Victorian law and the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act).

The main questions to be resolved as they have shaped up during the course of the hearing are:

Are VicForests logging practices in the disputed areas (past logging and proposed) in breach of the Victorian Code of Practice for Timber Production? The main argument put forward by the Friends here is that the manner in which VicForests goes about it’s planning and operations is contrary to the precautionary principle.

Does this breach of Victorian regulations “switch off” the exemption under the EPBC Act for forestry operations carried out “in accordance with a Regional Forest Agreement”?

Is the logging that VicForests has already undertaken or is proposing in contravention of the threatened species protections under the EPBC Act? The Leadbeater’s Possum and Greater Glider are both listed as threatened species under the EPBC Act, and the Act prohibits “actions” that are likely to have a “significant impact” on threatened species unless there has been compliance with the assessment and approval requirements of the EPBC Act.

The case has attracted lots of interest, with members of the public filling the court room most days. The Federal Court has a practice of publishing court files online public interest matters. Currently the court documents are available here. We expect further documents including evidence for each of the parties will be published soon.