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Conservation, Forests and Lands Amendment Bill 2022

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
24 March 2022

I rise to speak on the Conservation, Forests and Lands Amendment Bill 2022. Victoria’s forests were once widespread and magnificent, from the tall trees and rainforests of the mountains to the giant box gums of the plains, to the red gums along the rivers. I so wish I could see these forests as they once were, before colonisation, when they were cared for by First Nations people.

Today Victoria is the most cleared state in all of Australia. Our forest ecosystems are either already irreversibly altered or on the brink of being so. Victoria’s remaining forests in the central west, Central Highlands and east of Victoria are so precious. They make the clean air we breathe, the fresh water we drink and the carbon stores we so desperately need to stabilise our climate. Victoria’s forests are habitats for creatures found nowhere else in the world. They are beautiful and vital, and they urgently need to be protected. Yet right now in Victoria, Labor, Liberal and The Nationals politicians continue to sanction native forest logging at all costs. Continued logging is irrational and desperate. It serves no-one but the vested interests that hold the Liberal, Labor and National parties to ransom.

This Labor government is logging in water catchments, on steep slopes and in vital refuges for threatened species following the Black Summer fires. If the coalition were in power, they would be even worse.

The bill is a gut-wrenching move by the Labor government to ensure that logging can continue uninterrupted despite the stark reality that it is wholly untenable for so many reasons. Let us be clear, the purpose of the bill is to slap down the dedicated community groups who have resorted to legal processes and the courts to gain the protection Victoria’s forests desperately need. These are people that are holding VicForests to account, while the government with this bill is wanting to change the law to avoid scrutiny.

In recent times we have seen dedicated communities and environmental organisations challenge VicForests in the courts. They are doing so on the basis of evidence suggesting VicForests is breaching the forestry code of conduct and engaging in unlawful logging, logging that not just puts our forests at risk but threatens specifically our water supply and clean air. These people and organisations are motivated to protect our native forests and ecosystems.

The government says this bill is about giving certainty in the face of these lawsuits, but the question is: certainty for whom? Instead of pulling VicForests into line, the government is going out of its way to make it easier to log our precious forests and harder for communities to seek to protect them. There is no guarantee in this bill that the new provisions will be used to protect our forests, and in fact in the hands of a different government or a different minister the result could be even more disastrous.

The Greens and I are deeply, deeply concerned about this bill and in particular by the new subsection (4), which gives the minister and secretary godlike powers to determine that logging is deemed acceptable whatever the real-world reality. We are very concerned about such a broad grant of discretionary power and the lack of checks and balances. That is why I will move a reasoned amendment calling for this bill not to be debated until the broad discretionary power it provides for has been considered and reported on by the Environment and Planning Committee.

Greens amendments circulated by Dr RATNAM pursuant to standing orders.

Dr RATNAM: It is also why I will move the amendments that I wish to propose in the committee stage of the bill to put some basic conditions on the exercise of the extraordinary discretionary powers this bill provides for the minister to potentially make illegal logging legal. If we are going to give the minister such powers, at the very least they should be exercised on the basis of scientific evidence and in furthering the objects of the act. Furthermore, they should be subject to review in the courts.

A good government would see that the time to cut down native forests is well and truly over. A good government would overturn the wildly outdated Forests (Wood Pulp Agreement) Act 1996 that hands forests over for private profit until 2030. It would stop the public subsidy used to destroy our forests for private profit. We should be debating today a bill to repeal the Forests (Wood Pulp Agreement) Act. Instead of this we have a bill here that will drive the further destruction of our forests and the extinction of our precious native species who call them home. The Greens have a bill drafted and ready to do this right now. A good government would also bring forward financial assistance to immediately support workers to retire or move to new jobs and industries.

The world is on the brink of a climate and extinction crisis. We are on the brink of the sixth mass extinction. It is well past time to end native forest logging. That this bill from a Labor government is aimed at facilitating it further is just so sad. I urge everyone in this place to vote against this bill.

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
24 March 2022
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