The first 'not guilty' pleas for 'Trespass' in the Goolengook State Forest were heard in Orbost Magistrate’s court yesterday morning.
In unprecedented severity, one conservationist was faced with a 90 day prison sentence, suspended for one and a half years for the charge of 'wilful trespass'. Fines for his three charges came to $4750. The other charges included, 'Refusing to leave an area of state forest after being directed by a forest officer' & 'Obstructing a logging operation.' This occurred when he exercised his democratic right to non-violent protest in Goolengook forest block in March this year where he locked-on underneath an excavator.
Another conservationist, also charged yesterday with trespass received a total of $4555 and received three convictions. This was her first offence and in this circumstance she was at least 10 km from the nearest logging coup. She was at the scene as a medical observer.
The defendants pleaded 'not-guilty' to their charges, as they did not believe the Department of Natural Resources and Environment’s policy on excluding the public from large areas of State Forest was lawful. The Goolengook forest block contains seven sites of biological significance, five of which are unprotected and two of those were being logged at the time of the arrests.
"These astronomical penalties for summary offences, especially concerning legitimate peaceful protest, send a frightening message to the community about the state of our current democratic system," said Rena Gaborov from Goongerah Environment Centre.
This sentencing comes in stark contrast to the recent cases heard this month in the Bairnsdale County Court. In this case logging workers received a 4 month prison sentence suspended for 1 year for "unlawful assembly". This incident took place in Goolengook 2 years ago when 40 industry workers violently attacked a small number of conservationists at a protest camp.
"The similar penalties for such radically different charges in action, intent and seriousness of the crime, can only show the blatant discrimination that forest conservationists in East Gippsland face for simply trying to protect the last remnants of Australia’s old-growth forests," concluded Ms.Rena Gaborov.
FOR FURTHER COMMENT CONTACT :
Rena Gaborov, Goongerah Environment Centre – 03 51540156
In the Bairnsdale County Court yesterday the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE), discontinued the three charges against Rhonda Jankovic. All charges were in relation to trespassing in an exclusion zone in Goolengook earlier this year.
Found guilty in the Orbost Magistrates Court in August, her fines amounted to $3500 and three convictions, although the defendant had no prior offences. A number of barristers and a Queens Council were ready to appeal the case testing the legitimacy of the DNRE enforcement of the controversial exclusion zones. ‘By DNRE withdrawing all the defendants charges and therefore denying a test case shows what little legal merit they hold for the legality of the zones’ stated Klaus Mueller barrister for the Defendant.
The exclusion zones which lock the public and the press out of the forest have been enforced statewide where clearfell logging is occurring in contentious areas. This year hundreds of people have been charged and summonsed for trespassing in the DNRE enforced exclusion zones.
‘These wrongful arrests by DNRE enforcement officers is clearly denying citizens legitimate rights to be in public forests and is further exasperated when citizens are removed by force. One must question how these bogus laws by government departments came into play in the first place.’ Said Tom Crook spokes person for the Goongerah Environment Centre.
For further information contact;
Brian Walters, QC: 03 9 600 1422
Tom Crook: 03 5 154 0163
Rena Gaborov: 03 51540156