Opposition grows to Victoria’s anti-protest laws

March 16, 2023
Old growth forest in No Rush coupe at Swifts Creek, February 2022. Photo: Friends of Bats and Habitat Gippsland

Environmentalists, including Extinction Rebellion, anti-logging activists from the Goongerah Environment Centre and representatives from some left groups and unions met on March 7 to discuss the right to organise for climate and the environment.

The Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Act 2022, which passed late last year with Coalition support, aims to stop protests at logging sites in Victoria.

Environmentalists and some unions opposed the bill. The Victorian branches of the Maritime Union of Australia, the United Workers Union (UWU) and Australian Services Union wrote to the Labor government requesting the “undemocratic” bill be withdrawn.

The law means that anyone hindering, obstructing or interfering with timber harvesting operations faces up to 12 months imprisonment and fined more than $21,000. Authorised officers will have powers to search containers, bags and vehicles.

Meanwhile VicForests, the state-owned logging company, has for years been found to be in breach of environment laws.

Natalie Hogan from the Environmental Justice Australia centre described the law to about 40 people in the room and more online.

Godfrey Moase from the UWU said the democratic right to protest should trump an anti-protest law which, he said, wrongly implies protesters are endangering themselves and loggers by protesting by citing occupational health and safety risks.

Gunnaikurnai woman Marjorie Thorpe spoke about how logging destruction is affecting her people.

Following the presentations, participants devised motions to respond to the law.

Five motions, focusing on resistance, were put and passed either unanimously or almost unanimously. Working groups were then formed, with at least 34 people signing up to be involved.

There was agreement on a mass action for forests, including against disaster logging, despite the anti-protest bill becoming law in May.

A defence fund to pay for fines, training and up-skilling the movement, and broadening union opposition to the anti-protest laws were also agreed to.

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