Today was a sad day for the Leadbeater’s possum and a sad day for activism.
The Victorian Court of Appeal today handed down its decision to a packed courtroom on the case brought by MyEnvironment, represented by the EDO, to try and protect areas of Leadbeater's possum habitat from logging.
The Leadbeater's possum is critically endangered and is in a state of decline. Its only remaining habitat is in Victoria’s Central Highlands, where VicForests continue their logging activities. Logging of its habitat is one of the main threats to the possum. The decision today clearly demonstrates that the law does not protect the Leadbeater's possum and needs to be changed.
The case turned on a technical legal interpretation of the definition of 'Zone 1A' habitat for the Leadbeater's possum contained in the logging regulations. Zone 1A habitat is the only kind of possum habitat protected from logging. The Court found that the coupes in question did not meet the definition of Zone 1A habitat. As a result, VicForests can go ahead and log the coupes that are the subject of the proceedings. MyEnvironment has since obtained photographic evidence of the possum in the coupes that were the subject of the proceedings.
This case is also a powerful example of why states cannot be trusted to protect the environment, and why the Federal Government cannot afford to hand its environmental law powers to the states.
The Federal Government accredited the states' laws on logging for the purposes of the Federal environmental laws, and exiting the space of species protection when logging is involved. The Federal Government now wants to accredit all state environmental laws, and give its powers over to the states. As this case shows, Victorian laws do not adequately protect the Leadbeater's possum and other threatened species from the impacts of logging. Because the Federal environmental laws do not apply to logging, the state government cannot be compelled to protect the possum, and by continuing to fail to take action, are free to oversee the extinction of the leadbeater's possum. It may soon be the case that all environmental regulation will be in the hands of the state, with no Federal oversight.
Meanwhile, as a result of the Court ordering that MyEnvironment pay the costs of VicForests, there is a risk that MyEnvironment, an important voice for the local community and the possum, will cease to exist. This small community group has devoted thousands of hours and dollars to the protection of the Leadbeater's possum, in the face of government inaction.
The EDO extends our sincere thanks to barristers Julian Burnside SC and Emrys Nevkapil for their hard work in this matter.
Read the full judgement here: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/vic/VSCA/2013/356.html