Jill Redwood, as coordinator of Environment East Gippsland, conducted a landmark environmental court case that saw her group awarded damages against the Government Forestry corporation, VicForests, who were told to conduct proper investigations for the presence of threatened species in areas they logged and to design and enact plans to safeguard them according to the law. Three years later the Giant Trees Walk on Brown Mountain, which EEG had created in order to develop awareness of the rape of East Gippsland's forests, has been destroyed by persons unknown, equipped with heavy equipment and chainsaws.
"All the way along here to our Brown Mountain forests - which was the test case in this court case - they have cut down every big tree along the way."
The case proved that VicForests were not abiding by the government's own rules. They have to do prelogging surveys before they go in and log areas that might have threatened species in them. Prior to the court case they were not doing this at all. "If they couldn't find them, that was better. They didn't want to know about them."
They've changed the law for poteroos. Where they used to find them, they have to protect 450ha. then they changed the law, so now they only have to protect 50ha and this doesn't have to be in the detection sites. So, if one is found right in the middle of where they plan to log, they can protect 50ha somewhere over the other side of the gully. This law was changed under the current (Baillieu then Napthine) Liberal government, but the case began under the Bracks (Labor) Government in 2009. The Liberal Government carried on the bad work of the Labor Party. The Liberal Party wanted to change the Code of Forest Practices, which is a mess of laws and management plans and codes which interconnect, but the Code did say that they have to abide by the management plan and the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act. So what this Liberal Government wanted to do was to change the code or the wording in the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, so that a minister could just say, "No, where you find threatened species, you don't have to protect them; go in and log." So they were going to change the whole thing just by adding one extra sentence in. But they probably haven't done that because they realised that would open up more legal cases to challenge that change. All the laws are interconnected, so if they change that one, then it will may then contradict or contravene another law or laws. It goes back to the RFAs and all sorts of things.
At the moment they are carrying out pre-logging surveys, but EEG calls them 'mickey mouse surveys' because they are so poorly done and poorly financed. The people doing the pre-logging surveys might find a tenth of what is there because they just don't have the time and the resources. That suits VicForests very well. That's how they are getting away with logging areas that have threatened species now.
The court case took a huge toll on the Environment East Gippsland group. They had saved up $40,000 which was not really enough but once that people heard that there was a court case to save the forests, they were able to access huge public support.
Nothing has really changed, unfortunately. A few areas have been protected, probably where they did not want to log really. Recently EEG found them logging protected rainforest sites of significance. EEG threatened to sue them over this but VicForests gave in before they got to the Court steps.
The logging industry is a huge liability for the Victorian Government. VicForests is a government-owned logging monopoly now. It has cost the government millions to defend it in court.
It's really another form of public land-grab
It's about a land-grab. It's the real-estate they want, not the old growth forest. The old growth forest doesn't have very good timber for logging needs because the trees are old and twisted. But, where old growth grows and where these nice rich, lush, wildlife rich and valuable forests grow is on the highest productivity land. That is, land with flat topography, deep soil, high rainfall - perfect for plantations. Hey, and it's public land! Public money! Clear the forests, put in these nice single-species tree farms ... Sucker public has to pay for it. That's what's been happening for 40 years. Where we used to have this landscape of beautiful old growth diverse forests, with the threatened tiger quoll, the owls, all these wonderful creatures here, with little pockets of logging. Now, it's these little pockets of old growth in this sea of tree-farms for the overseas pulp industry.
EEG, whilst preparing their case against VicForests, set up infrared photography in the forests and were the first to film a long-footed poteroo gathering brush for its nest by carrying it under its tail. We don't know half of what we have in these forests. Gippsland is still such an unknown area. The number of threatened species here, both plant and animal, is 7 times the state average. Jill describes it as 'a Noah's ark' which should be protected as such and says that, if only the government could realise the value in this. Ecotourism is the part of the tourist industry that is just growing phenomenally. People want to come out here. They want to experience nature. They want to see the wildlife. So much money is being spent to prop up the destructive industry of logging - which, if it were a person, would be a 'welfare bludger' and a vandal, says Jill - to destroy these areas that could be the showcase of Australia. It could be globally important to take these international visitors and take them on night walks and show them the gliders and stand at the base of this massive big tree that's 15m around. Instead the government's loggers are just cutting them down every day! They're just destroying them!