You may not realise it, but the Victorian Government is planning to amend Victorian law to lock in logging in our native forests for the foreseeable future.
The Department of Primary Industries has announced a review of the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004, which is one of the main laws regulating the way VicForests, the State logging agency, carries out logging in native forests. The idea behind the review is to streamline the laws that allow VicForests and logging contractors to chop down and remove trees from native forests.
The review is just one part of the Government's 'Timber Industry Action Plan', which was released in 2011. As Minister Peter Walsh announces in the preface, the Plan is part of the Government's election promise to help the timber industry.
So what are the proposed changes to the Act? The main ones are:
- To amend the objects of the Act to add two new objects: to 'enable long term access to timber resources in State forests for timber production' and 'to provide mechanisms that ensure resource security for timber production'.
- To streamline the process by which the Government allocates forests to VicForests for logging, by making the allocation unlimited in time, and removing any conditions on the allocation.
- To remove the need for Governmental approval of Timber Release Plans, which set out in detail the areas of forests that VicForest plans to log.
- To remove the need for logging operators to hold a Timber Harvesting Operators Licence.
It is true that Victoria's logging laws are a maze. Logging in Victorian is currently regulated by a complicated web of Acts, Regulations, Codes and plans. As a consequence, the environmental controls that are in place to protect threatened species and their habitats are often breached or ignored, and there is little that community members can do about it. The recent cases of Environment East Gippsland Inc v VicForests  and MyEnvironment Inc v VicForests  show the extraordinary lengths environment groups must go to in order to determine whether logging practices are actually complying with environmental laws.
It is also true that the environmental controls that are meant to prevent logging from harming Victoria's threatened species, like the Leadbeater's Possum, are out of date or not enforced. A recent EDO report showed, for example, that the Government has failed to prepare Action Statements (one of the key environmental controls that applies to logging) for more than half of Victoria's listed threatened species.
The Government's current review does nothing to address these problems. Instead, it's aim is to simple make it easier for VicForests and its logging contractors to carrying out their logging practices, and to do so for the foreseeable future.
If you're concerned about the Government's approach, what can you do? You can make a submission to the Department of Primary Industries about the review – but you must do so by 1 October 2012.