Forests in Victoria, like NSW, WA and Tasmania suffer
from a failed ‘Regional Forest Agreement’ signed between the Howard Liberal Commonwealth Government and the Liberal Party Victoria
Regional forest agreements were touted as providing environmental protection to Australian native forests but in reality were more about guaranteeing a resource for the woodchip industry and its investors for 20 years. When RFAs were signed the Commonwealth Liberal government stepped out of the way, even when nationally significant endangered species could be harmed by intense logging for the woodchip industry. A recent report commissioned by an alliance of environment groups, examines the legal management of forests under the RFAs. It looks at the regulatory frameworks put in place by the states, and the various court battles since they were established 15 years ago. It concludes that, with few exceptions, the regulations, standards, monitoring, compliance and enforcement have been weaker under state governments than they would have been if management of the forests had still required commonwealth approval.
One key failing is the weakness of state protections for threatened species. Commonwealth approvals have to meet international standards. They would have to have put in place strict conditions on native forest logging to protect nationally listed endangered animals like the square-tailed kite and the Leadbeater’s possum. Forests in Victoria were supposed to have management plans (known as action statements) for more than half of the state’s threatened species but VIC Forests does not operate with these in place. In their absence, there is no proper protection for these animals in the forests in Victoria.
Another failing is the inability of the 20-year agreements made by the Liberal Party Victoria to take account of new information and situations. Accelerating global warming was not considered when the agreements were framed and remains unaddressed. The massive bushfires in Victoria, partly caused by intensive logging, can only increase with climate change if this logging continues.
Monitoring, compliance and enforcement by state governments are patently inadequate — they have turned a blind eye to what is going on. When they have been unable to ignore serious breaches, they write stern letters, give a slap on the wrist to companies whose quest for a quick buck has endangered precious wildlife, or even change the law to suit the logging industry’s needs.
Third party participation, so often vital in environmental protection, is limited and in NSW non-existent. Tragically, it’s often left up to individuals or community groups to try to stop the damage being done, and in some regions even that right is stripped away under RFAs.