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Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
4 August 2022

The right to peaceful protest is at the heart of our democracy, and it is under attack right across Australia. For those without deep pockets or access to politicians and platforms, protest can be the only tool many in our communities have to be heard and to secure change, yet anti-protest laws have already been passed in New South Wales and Queensland. They look set to become a reality in Tasmania, and now they are before us here in Victoria. Let us be clear: this crackdown on protest is being executed by both Labor and Liberal-National governments. The old parties are in lock step, captured by destructive industries and their donation dollars. It is a dangerous double act designed to silence communities speaking up for a better, fairer future.

That such draconian anti-protest laws are being rammed through our Parliament here in Victoria, through this bill, just months out from an election, is something all Victorians should find deeply disturbing. Four years ago on election night Labor proudly called themselves progressive, yet today Labor gives us these fundamentally anti-democratic, anti-progressive laws. Progressive governments do not introduce laws like these. This is devastating for our democracy, for forests and for all the life that depends on them, and these laws truly demand some soul-searching from Labor MPs.

Have you forgotten that the labour movement was born out of protest, that Victoria is the birthplace of the 8-hour working day, won through protest, or that protest has secured women’s rights, racial justice, LGBTQI+ rights and environmental justice? Without the activists, protesters and environmental defenders the government is seeking to criminalise today, the Franklin River would be dammed, the Tasmanian wilderness would be drowned, the Daintree forest would no longer exist, Kakadu would not be a place to visit to wonder at the world and of course we would no longer be able to marvel at the magnificence of our precious old-growth forests around the country.

I also note the significance of the fact that today a number of unions have recognised the threat of these laws. The United Workers Union, the Maritime Union of Australia and the Australian Services Union have come out today urging the bill to be scrapped. They know that, firstly, the logic behind this bill is a threat to unions, their members and any workers who want to fight for a better life. As they said in their letter to the Premier:

Any stripping away of the right to protest eventually finds its way to further limiting workplace action …

Already Australia has some of the most restrictive laws around industrial action in the world. In the context of a climate crisis, the right to protest must be advanced not diminished.

Secondly, as indicated by that quote, these unions recognise the threat of climate change. Workers across our economy are already facing the impacts of the climate crisis. More frequent and intense heatwaves will become an increasing problem for workers in a whole range of industries. The ability of workers to protest, strike and fight for a livable world and workplace rights in a time of climate change is under threat with laws like these. This bill levels draconian penalties—fines of up to $21 000 or 12 months jail—at members of our community for defending precious native forests from destruction. Protesters will face up to triple the existing penalties, including jail time, for many current protest offences. Search and seizure powers will be increased and broadened in scope, allowing the seizure of any ‘prohibited thing’. Most worrying is the introduction of banning notices, which can be issued by an authorised officer should they deem someone likely to commit an offence in the next 28 days. This is Orwellian in its true sense.

These laws also target the vital work of citizen scientists. These are the dedicated volunteers who have been doing the work our governments fail to do. They are the people surveying the forest to identify threatened species ignored by the government’s own logging company, VicForests. The amazing greater glider, essentially a flying koala, was once common across Australia. In just six years a unique and beautiful creature has gone from threatened to endangered. It now faces extinction. Logging and the climate crisis are the unequivocal drivers of this decline. Time and again citizen scientists identify gliders and other threatened species and protesters defend the forest habitat on the front line while grassroots community groups fight to secure their protection in the courts. A good government would see this often-repeated cycle and make the call: native forest logging needs to end now. Yet Labor is instead choosing to, piece by piece, remove the tools our community has to keep forests safe. First it was laws trying to stop the court cases, now it is these laws to block citizen science and frontline actions.

That logging is unashamedly propped up by both major parties is a clear sign of the sway that the logging industry and their donation dollars have over both parties. Logging is taking place on First Nations land—country where sovereignty has never been ceded—without consent from traditional custodians. Not only does logging destroy habitat and push plants and animals to extinction, it destroys cultural heritage, threatens our water supply and is making the climate crisis worse. Logging makes our forests more fire prone, and it costs us public money every single year.

Just this month the long-delayed state of the environment report was released, finally. It shows us what the Greens have known and Labor and the Liberals have refused to address: our environment is in crisis, and that crisis is accelerating. Logging and climate change are two of the biggest drivers, yet protesting for action on both these issues is exactly what the nationwide crackdown on protest is targeting.

It is truly gobsmacking the lengths to which Labor and the Liberals and Nationals will go to keep afloat an industry that has no place in the 21st century. They are on a unity ticket with their digging-it-up and chopping-it-down mentality. We cannot go on as we are and expect to have a livable planet for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and all the precious life that shares this world with us. The vast majority of Victorians want to see an end to native forest logging. This bill is a disgrace and should be scrapped.

I will finish by saying the Greens are not alone in our fierce opposition to this bill, alongside my colleagues who have spoken out strongly in this place. I want to thank all those groups from across civil society who have taken a strong stand against this. I am proud to be amplifying the voices of opposition to this bill from Environmental Justice Australia, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, the Australian Democracy Network, the Victorian Forest Alliance, Environment Victoria, the Victorian National Parks Association, Friends of the Earth, Liberty Victoria, the Human Rights Law Centre, the Wilderness Society, Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, Act on Climate, Melbourne Activist Legal Support, Doctors for the Environment, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Bob Brown Foundation and CounterAct. Finally, I wish to express my deep gratitude personally and on behalf at the Greens to all the brave activists, volunteers and dedicated grassroots groups who are doing everything within their power to keep our forests safe. You are on the right side of history, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
4 August 2022
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