The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) welcomes efforts by NSW Greens MLC Dawn Walker to restore community oversight to native forest logging operations on public land.
Logging is permitted in public native forests under Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs), 20-year deals between the NSW State and Federal governments that begin to expire in NSW in 2019. The RFAs circumvent Federal environmental law (the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act) by giving an ‘exemption’ to logging that is not available to other industries.
But that’s not the only special treatment that logging gets: the RFAs in NSW also stripped away the ability of third parties (i.e. non-government actors such as members of the community or environment groups) to challenge breaches of environmental standards conducted through logging operations. This has led to an absurd arrangement where evidence of breaches gathered by community groups must be presented to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA)—itself having been shown to be an ineffective regulator of forestry via a Parliamentary Inquiry in 2015—which then decides whether or not to pursue a prosecution.
A 2011 report by the Environment Defenders Office documented an abundance of serious breaches of multiple environmental responsibilities by (then) Forests NSW, and stated that “the breaches reported in the breach reports undertaken by NSW conservation organisations are numerous and wide ranging, such that it is not possible to conclude that Forests NSW is operating in a manner that is consistent with Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management”.
The number and severity of breaches by Forestry led Justice Pepper of the Land and Environment Court to observe in 2011 that “the number of convictions suggests either a pattern of continuing disobedience in respect of environmental laws generally or, at the very least, a cavalier attitude to compliance with such laws”.
Since then numerous other breaches have been repeatedly documented through logging audits by environment groups throughout NSW with scant consequences for Forestry Corporation.
Dr Oisín Sweeney, NPA Senior Ecologist said: “Given the inability of the EPA to regulate forestry, and the lack of intent of government to ensure forestry operations don’t destroy the environment it’s high time the law was reformed to allow the public to look after its own land.
“The situation in NSW is a catch 22: the public elects the politicians who are in charge of the state-owned Forestry Corporation. Forestry Corporation logs public land, yet the public is hamstrung in its ability to protect its own land from unscrupulous exploitation via legislation.
“In Victoria, third parties are allowed to challenge environment breaches through forestry. This has resulted in some notable court victories with Vic Forests subsequently forced to protect species like greater gliders, powerful, sooty and masked owls and precious rainforest ecosystems.
“We know—because regional environment groups have repeatedly documented it—that threatened species habitat, protected features like rocky outcrops and protected ecological communities are routinely damaged by logging in NSW.
“Yet citizens in NSW are not permitted to take action to protect the places and wildlife they love.
“The political spokespeople for the logging industry in the Coalition consistently tell us how logging is ‘world’s best practice’ and is subject to strict environmental standards. Well in that case they have nothing to fear from reinstating third party rights to enforce regulations and should support the proposed reforms.
“The response of the government to the Greens bill when it’s debated will reveal whether logging in NSW will continue to receive a free pass on environmental destruction and, by extension, the esteem in which the government holds the rights of the public.”
Media contact: Oisín Sweeney 0431 251 194