Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been forced to announce an end to native forest logging by the end of the year. The decision came in the 2023–24 budget, alongside an extra $200 million to help workers and businesses transition away from the devastating industry.
The government had a plan to halt logging in native forests by 2030, but had to move the deadline forward to January 1 next year. Treasurer Tim Pallas blamed this on the successful legal action by Kinglake Friends of the Forest and Environment East Gippsland (EEG).
The activist groups proved in the Supreme Court of Victoria last November that VicForests, the government-owned logging company, was not doing enough to ensure its operations did not harm native species, specifically the yellow-bellied glider.
In response, VicForests halted its logging of native forests late last year. Its 2022 annual report said that legal proceedings had cost more than $10 million.
EEG said the halt was “long overdue”, but warned campaigners not to relax. It said VicForests and other logging companies might still be able to undertake “salvage logging” — harvesting wood from areas already devastated by natural disasters, such as fires and storms.
Victorian Forest Alliance, a coalition of grassroots environmental groups, said on May 31 that activists “need to keep vigilant” as logging can continue over the next six months. The alliance is closely monitoring the government to ensure that it regenerates forests devastated by logging and closes loopholes. Logging contractors could still make “smash and grab” logging operations, to chop down as much forest as possible while they still can, it said.
It said it did not know what will happen to the Forests (Wood Pulp Agreement) Act, which “has locked in forest destruction for so long”. It is concerned about “the devastating Regional Forest Agreements which give logging a special exemption from federal environment laws”.
“We must keep the pressure up to make sure the state government abolishes these dodgy agreements. We know there’s talk of reforming federal environment laws and there’s certainly a need for this.
“We must keep pushing the federal government to get rid of all the regional forest agreements — particularly since we know Tasmania and NSW are still logging native forests, with no end in sight.”
Despite the end to native logging, new draconian anti-protest laws remain on the books.
The Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment 2022 was initiated by Labor and passed with the support of the Liberals last year. It threatens climate protesters who target forestry sites with up to a year in prison, or $20,000 in fines.