Alarming changes to the Code of Practice, or "the Code" are being rushed through by the Andrews government. The Environment Department have given communities less than a month to respond to the changes which are spread out over more than 350 pages of documents.
Don't have time to make a submission? Victorian National Park Association (VNPA) have set up an easy email action here.
Forests in Swifts Creek, Credit: Friends of Bats and Habitat Gippsland
The proposed changes reveal the government's stance on last year's federal court ruling that VicForests had failed to protect the endangered Leadbeater's possum and threatened Greater Glider from the impacts of logging, and had broken a number of clauses in the Code. The ruling was upheld by the federal court following an appeal by VicForests. The government have so far failed to act on similar breaches ruled on by Justice Mortimer, instead opting to make changes to the law which undermine community legal battles.
A number of environment groups including GECO wrote to the Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio TWICE to extend the consultation period, but this was ignored and the Department have refused to give an extension. One of the documents doesn't show what's been changed.
In September 2019 the Department attempted to make similar changes to the Code, after strong opposition from community groups and supporters, Minister D'Ambrosio withdrew the proposed changes. The Environment Department were planning to axe over 400 specific protections for the environment. But not much has changed and some of the changes go even further to remove protections for forests and wildlife.
The protections are still being removed from the Code, but are now being put in another document, which makes them 'targets' rather than legal protections. At a time when stronger protections are desperately needed for forests and wildlife after the catastrophic bushfires and years of unsustainable logging, the Department is hell bent on weakening the laws which govern logging.
Here's a break down of the problems:
- The consultation is far too short to enable meaningful submissions with a full understanding of all the proposed changes. It's ridiculous to expect community members to be able to respond to changes which have been described by the government as "a major overhaul"
- Weakens East Gippsland Greater Glider prescription and other threatened species protections
- Special Protection Zones have now been replaced by "exclusion areas" which appear to be significantly weaker than protections offered by SPZs
- Removal of whole clauses which hold VicForests responsible for long term planning and management of forests
- No additional protections for forests or wildlife after the bushfires, nor any changes which address the damning federal court findings and failure to act on multiple breaches reported by community groups
- No changes to properly protect mapped and un-mapped old growth forest
- Gives VicForests the power to approving it's own logging in protected areas for threatened species or large trees
- Changes laws which are currently subject to court cases to undermine community legal cases
- Removes the Environment Department's legal obligations to put in specific protections for threatened species and forests
- Removes accountability of the Environment Department for where protection zones for threatened species are placed and leaves it mostly up to VicForests which is extremely problematic