Andrews Gov. Defends Anti-Protest Logging Act

The Andrews government is trying to pass a bill broadly criminalizing protest against indigenous logging activities, which is opposed by environmental and human rights groups.

On May 24, the Government of Victoria introduced the Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022 in the State Parliament.

It went through the Legislative Assembly and it is now before the Legislative Council – in which the deciding votes are held by minor parties and independents – for consideration.

According to the government, the bill penalizes protesters who illegally enter logging safety zones and “interfere with workers or their machinery”.

Agriculture Minister Mary Anne-Thomas said:

The bill has been criticized by human rights and environmental groups, who say it will have “a significant chilling effect” on the right to protest in the state.

The bill comes nearly three years after the Andrews government pledged to end indigenous logging by 2030. Western Australia has pledged to end such practices by 2024.

For years, Victoria has failed to prioritize the best interests of the environment and biodiversity in its forest management practices, says Friends of the Earth Australia (FOE) spokesperson Cam Walker:

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Victoria’s Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 seeks to criminalize a range of behaviors that occur within a ‘timber harvesting safe zone’. These areas include areas where logging is planned or has taken place, a road in the area that has been closed for the purpose of logging operations, and any area of ​​forest within 150 meters of the logging site. offers.

In particular, the Victoria government’s bill seeks to increase the penalties associated with various breaches of the law. These offenses include disobeying an order to leave a safe area; being in possession of an object prohibited in the security zone; and obstruct, obstruct or interfere with logging operations.

The maximum penalty is a $21,000 fine or 12 months imprisonment.

The use of PVC or metal pipes in a protest would also be banned if the bill passes.

Meanwhile, the Tasmanian government has tabled a bill in its upper house, seeking to criminalize a wide range of protest activity, while the New South Wales government has passed an “anti-protest” law. “earlier in the year.

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Human rights organizations and environmental groups universally rejected the proposed bill, calling it an attack on the rights to protest and political expression.

The Human Rights Law Center and Environmental Justice Australia called the bill ‘draconian’, saying it negatively impacts the ‘democratic freedoms’ of environmental protesters to take a moral and political stance on indigenous logging .

Mr Walker told IA:

While the Bill ‘seems to be influenced by a desire to ensure a safe workplace for forestry workers’, Mr Walker that FOE ‘urges the Andrews Government to withdraw the proposed new law which would criminalize peaceful protest’.

Experts said the proposed law could breach the Human Rights and Responsibilities Bill of Rights Act 2006 and that a legal challenge to the provisions of the law should be expected if it is passed by the Legislative Assembly.

The Supreme Court of Victoria cannot invalidate the provisions of a law if they violate the human rights contained in the Charter.

Nicholas Bugeja holds a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Arts degree from Monash University and Associate Editor for Independent Australia.

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