Loggers Charged With 'Riot'

Following the violent attack, the Criminal Investigation Bureau in Bairnsdale identified and charged 24 people with "Riot", a Common Law offence with a maximum penalty of 10 years jail. The people were logging contractors and their supporters from Orbost, Bombala, Nowa Nowa and Newmerella. A preliminary hearing occurred on 30 August in Bairnsdale in which charges were dropped against three people, due to their providing alibis. There have been no attempts to identify the perpetrators using the victims via line-ups or photographs, as the CIB claim that line-ups are logistically difficult due to the lack of people in small towns to provide other people for the line-ups, and there is the additional risk of witness mis-identification.

Since that court case, there have been rumours, misunderstandings and confusion regarding the case. The Department of Public Prosecution wanted to reduce the charge from "riot" to "riotous behavior", a summary offence with a maximum penalty of $1000, claiming that this is what he witnesses wanted to speed the case up. This was despite the fact that the DPP had had no contact with the witnesses whatsoever. At the witnesses' request, a lawyer forwarded a letter written on their behalf which categorically denied that they wanted a reduction in charges, and stated that any reduction in penalty would have an adverse affect on the health and well-being of the victims. The charges have subsequently not been reduced, and a committal hearing is scheduled for the 15 January, 2001, where witnesses will be appearing in Bairnsdale in front of a Melbourne magistrate.

It seems that the commitment to convict these people has been lessening over time, perhaps as a result of the massive support for the defendants by the logging industry. They have between 8 and 9 lawyers representing them and leading logging industry figures attended the preliminary court case. A conviction for such a violent offence has serious implications for the logging industry, as it could potentially call into question the contractors’ licenses under the Forests Act.

A guilty verdict and appropriate penalty is essential to deter loggers from violent attacks against conservationists; anything less could be seen as a green light for further violent attacks of this kind.