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					Wielangta Forest Victory


The Federal Court ruling in Hobart this week concerning logging in the Wielangta State
forest demonstrates that the separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature is
alive and well in Australia. It also shows how a desperate politician can put a positive spin
on even the worst news.

Forestry Tasmania, according to the judgement handed down by the court, was in breach of
the Regional Forest Agreement because its activities in Wielangta threatened three
endangered species, the wedge-tailed eagle, the swift parrot and the wielangta stag beetle.
Forestry Tasmania was not exempt from environmental protection laws, the court ruled.

The case against Forestry Tasmania had been brought personally by Senator Bob Brown, who
was pleased at the outcome, saying that the ruling had serious implications for forestry
practices all over Australia that impacted on endangered species. The Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Act had been claimed by some politicians and logging companies
not to apply in areas which were regulated by Regional Forestry Agreements (RFAs), but this
decision has set a precedent which shows them to have been wrong.

The wider impact of the ruling will be somewhat lessened because on the very last sitting day
of Federal Parliament this year amendments were passed to the Act which meant that a huge
financial security would have to be put up by anyone bringing a case under its provisions in
future.

Federal Minister for Forests, Senator Eric Abetz, who has already lost face after his claims
about the origins of the devastating bushfires on Tasmania’s East Coast were shown to be
baseless, is claiming that the court decision has confirmed the validity of the RFA and that
therefore Senator Brown had lost. This is a twisted line of argument which not only elevates
petty political point-scoring to a level of importance above that of our environment, but
which ignores the substance of the finding, that, RFA or no RFA, what Forestry Tasmania
was doing and planning to do was against the law.

Despite Senator Abetz’s attempts at spin, other supporters of logging have been less
optimistic. Barry Chipman, spokesman for Timber Communities Australia, said that the
ruling created uncertainty and could put other timber harvesting operations on hold. The
CEO of the National Association of Forest Industries, Catherine Murphy, however, said that
as the decision was “ about specific species in one forest” it could not be extrapolated further.

In handing down the judgement, Justice Shane Marshall was critical of Forestry Tasmania’s
presentation of its case. He was critical of the agency’s manipulation of the evidence of one
expert witness, and described other expert witnesses as lacking independence.

It is believed that Forestry Tasmania is planning an appeal, and the leaders of the two major
Tasmanian political parties have sought briefings on the implications of the judgement.
Celebrations by those who are concerned about the destruction of Tasmania’s forests may
well be short-lived. As it is, the victory has a pyrrhic element to it because a large part of the
Wielangta forest was destroyed in the recent bushfires.

				
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