Next steps for Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio

Goongerah Environment Centre welcomes the re-appointment of Lily D’Ambrosio as Minister for Environment in the Andrews government cabinet. The government must do more to protect Victoria’s forests and we believe the Minister recognises this.

We look forward to working constructively with Minister D’Ambrosio to ensure that meaningful protection of Victoria’s native forests is achieved and that VicForests and the Department of Environment will be held fully accountable for logging operations that have breached environmental protection laws.

There are a number of environmental issues that remain unfinished business from the previous term of the Andrews government. Minister D’Ambrosio has responsibility for these issues so we’ve put together a ‘to do list’ for the Minister. First on the list are tasks to complete within the first 100 days of government, second on the list are actions that must be taken in the long term.

In the first 100 days:


Formalise protection for special parts of Kuark Forest informally ‘protected’ last term

Minister D’Ambrosio informally protected small parts of the Kuark forest in March 2017. This was a welcome step in the right direction, but remains unfinished.

The Minister told ABC news that the government would eventually move to legislate the area for permanent protection as part of the Errinundra National Park. This has not been done and should be completed within the first 100 days of office, whilst further work is done to create the Emerald Link in its entirety.

Kuark forest is still not formally protected

 

Release the independent review of the logging regulator

DELWP has shown systemic failure to appropriately regulate logging in Victoria. DELWP has demonstrably proved themselves to be pro-logging and anti environment, despite their responsibility to protect the environment and ensure logging operations are compliant with the law.   

DELWP has been an extremely weak, incompetent and captured regulator. They have deliberately sat on logging breach investigations until limitation periods expire, they have actively resisted prosecuting VicForests for serious breaches and they have rejected scientific advice calling for greater protections for threatened wildlife.

In September 2018 Minister D’Ambrosio requested that the Secretary of the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) commission an independent review into regulation of logging.

The review was sparked by the Department’s failed prosecution of VicForests who had been charged with illegally logging protected rainforest. The prosecution failed after the Department bungled their paperwork, incorrectly filling out the charge sheet, and the matter was thrown out of court.  

There is an urgent need to get to the bottom of DELWP’s systemic failure to act as a fair and transparent regulator. Minister D’Ambrosio’s independent review has begun the process of shining a light on these long standing problems in DELWP. The findings and recommendations of the review must be publicly released with a meaningful opportunity for stakeholder comments on next steps. Importantly any proposed regulatory reform measures must be evaluated against the social , economic and environmental costs of continuing logging in native forests. 

Illegal logging of rainforest near Cann River that DELWP failed to prosecute VicForests for

 

Release the Greater Glider Action statement and immediately protect key habitats

Minister D’Ambrosio listed the Greater Glider as vulnerable to extinction on the Flora and Fauna Guarantee (FFG) Act in June 2017. An action plan for the species has still not been released and logging continues in high quality habitat.

The Scientific Advisory Committee recommended the Minster list the species as Vulnerable and noted in the advice that accompanied the listing that gliders die when their home range is logged.   

The SAC called on the Minister to use her powers under the FFG Act to implement an interim conservation order and stop logging in the Strathbogie ranges. This advice was rejected by DELWP and the Strathbogie ranges was logged.

In June 2018 the ABC exposed a cruel and unethical experiment being conducted by VicForests in East Gippsland. The experiment is known as the ‘Greater Glider project’ and involves logging Greater Glider habitat to see how many survive. VicForests told ABC news that the experiment was ‘very likely‘ to kill gliders.  

A consultation draft of the Greater Glider action statement must be released immediately for public comment and strong protections that prevent logging of areas where Greater Gliders are known to inhabit must be implemented immediately.

Time is running out for the Greater Glider and Minister D’Ambrosio must act swiftly. Too much time has been lost due to a lack of action in the last term of government.  

Greater Glider (Petaroides volans) - Caleb Mc Elrea


Immediately stop logging on the Sea to Summit forest trail and place moratorium on high environmental value forests in East Gippsland

In the final week of the election campaign the Andrews government announced a commitment to commence planning for the Sea to Summit walking trail in East Gippsland. The trail is proposed to link the coastal town of Bemm River to the summit of Mt Goongerah (Mt. Ellery), one of the highest mountains in the far east of Victoria.  

The trail is part of the Emerald Link proposal, a proposal seeking to link up existing protected areas and parks in the far east of the state to create a continuous network of protected forests from the alps to the coast.

The Andrews Labor government committed $1.5 million to plan and establish the Sea to Summit trail, however the commitment did not include any conservation measures to protect forests currently earmarked for logging on the route of the proposed trail.

Whilst a commitment to commence planning for the trail was welcomed by environment groups and Bushwalking Victoria, serious concerns were raised about the lack of protection for forests along the route of the trail.

Logging in high environmental value forests along the route is occurring now, just after the re-election of the Andrews government, and logging was occurring at the time the government announced funding to commence planning the trail.  

Logging by state owned company VicForests is degrading the special values that the Sea to Summit trail would showcase. Time is running out for the forests in the proposed Emerald Link and unless logging ceases along the route of the proposed Sea to Summit trail, it’s hard to see how a project like this will be successful. No one wants to walk through logged and burnt forests.  

Logging along the route of the proposed trail must immediately stop and plans to log other areas on the route must be scrapped. A moratorium on all high environmental value forests in East Gippsland must be put in place whilst steps are taken to create to Emerald Link and Sea to Summit trail.

Logging on the route of the proposed Sea to Summit trail

 

Hold VicForests accountable for widespread forest theft and illegal logging

In the final week of the election campaign a special report on the ABC 7.30 program exposed widespread illegal logging in Victoria. The investigation revealed that for several years government logging agency VicForests has been logging forests that have not been legally allocated to them. Legal experts describe this is ‘tantamount to stealing timber from public forests’.

Instead of taking these extremely concerning findings seriously, Minister D'Ambrosio and Minister Pulford made a weak statement and DELWP produced a dubious excuse.

They argue that the data displaying the extent of the area of allocated forests, that was given to the ABC by the government, is not used to legally enforce the law and make sure VicForests is not logging where it is not permitted to log. Instead they argue that a low resolution paper map is used for enforcement purposes and that map is so hard to read that it is impossible to tell if VicForests is logging within or outside areas it has been allocated.

Legal experts say that if this is the case the Minister has no way of knowing where the allocated forests are and where they are not and that means all of VicForests logging could be illegal.

Minister D’Ambrosio must immediately act to clarify this situation and confirm whether DELWPs fuzzy map excuse is acceptable.The Minister should establish a thorough review into VicForests logging outside of the allocation order and immediately direct DELWP to prosecute VicForests for logging outside of the allocation.

 Logging at the Boomtown coupe in West Gippsland. (ABC News/Digital Globe/AUE Imagery

The area where logging is allowed is in red. The yellow outline shows areas VicForests has illegally logged.

 

In this term of government:

Create the Emerald Link

The government must act to create the Emerald Link proposal in its entirety, with formal legislated protection for the high environmental values forests in the Kuark Forest, Errinundra Plateau, Nunniong Plateau and the Coopracambra Coast.

East Gippsland is only place on mainland Australia where continuous intact natural ecosystems run uninterrupted from alpine environments to the coast. The Emerald Link will safeguard this unique connectivity by linking existing parks and reserves to create a continuous network of protected forests from the alps to the coast.


Scrap the Regional Forest Agreements and refer logging plans for federal assessment.

In March 2018 the Regional Forest Agreements for East Gippsland and the Central Highlands expire. These agreements exempt logging from complying with Federal Environment law.  

Minister D’Ambrosio must allow these agreements to expire and not renew them. At the expiry of the RFAs all logging plans should be referred for assessment under federal environmental laws.


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