Two forest activists protesting against the clearfelling of native forest in north-western Tasmania have become the first people charged under the state's controversial anti-protest laws.
John Henshaw and Jessica Hoyt were part of a group of nine protesters who walked on to a Forestry Tasmania coup at Lapoinya, 37 kilometers from Burnie on January 18. About 70 other protesters have gathered at the entrance to the coup for the past week to oppose the logging.
Earlier this month, Forestry Tasmania bulldozers moved into the area, planning to clearfell 49 hectares of native forest. The area is home to the endangered Tasmanian giant freshwater lobster and has a population of disease-free Tasmanian devils.
Henshaw was arrested and charged with failing to comply with a direction from police to leave the site under the contentious Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014.
Five other people left when asked by police and three more, including Hoyt, were escorted from the site by police and given an infringement notice, which meant they would be arrested if they staged another protest on an active forestry coup, or any other area considered to be a workplace, within three months.
Hoyt was arrested when she returned to the forestry coup the next day. Henshaw and Hoyt face fines of up to $10,000 or jail time.
The protesters are part of the Forests of Lapoinya Action Group, formed last year when plans to log the coup were announced.
Workplace safety rules mean the bulldozers that drive the clearfelling cannot operate until the protesters leave. Protesters have not padlocked themselves to forestry machinery, as in previous battles between environmentalists and industry in Tasmania.
“It is a peaceful, community process, and the police have been really good in the circumstances when no one really knows how the new law applies,” a protester said. “The police think it's stupid and ridiculous and all of them are so supportive of us.”
The flare-up in the conflict over logging has been linked to the departure of four out of six Forestry Tasmania board members, including its chairperson Bob Annells.
Tasmanian Greens Senator Nick McKim, who visited the Lapoinya protesters said Annells's decision not to seek another term was significant because Annells was a vocal supporter of the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement, which was abandoned as the first act of the new Will Hodgman Liberal government.
Tasmanian Greens leader Cassy O'Connor said Annells and at least two other outgoing board members supported the Tasmanian forest peace process.
"The timing is so interesting: yesterday the first arrests at Lapoinya and the first arrests over forestry since the Tasmanian Forest Agreement was torn up by the Liberals," she said.
"It's hard not to draw the conclusion that this rout of the Forestry Tasmania board is connected to the Liberals' conduct in reigniting the conflict at Lapoinya.”