News - 10 December 2021

High Court decision in the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum marathon four-year legal case

The Wilderness Society provides the following comment on today’s decision by the High Court in Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum marathon four-year legal case.

This important case has been anything but a victory for VicForests. Communities remain concerned about the logging corporation’s unsustainable practices, and the 2020 Federal Court ruling of illegal logging stands.

Today’s High Court decision not to grant Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum special leave to appeal proves the absurdity of national environment laws – regardless of how much damage is being done by logging in vital habitat for threatened species, it remains exempt from national law.

There is no doubt that scrutiny of VicForests’ logging in habitat critical to the survival of unique threatened species such as the Greater Glider / Warnda and Leadbeater’s Possum / Wollert will continue.

This four-year case involved a historic win against VicForests in May 2020, which laid bare the staggering unsustainability of industrial native forest logging and the catastrophic failures of governments in stopping their own logging corporations from sending our wildlife into the abyss of extinction.

Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum sought to have the High Court consider whether, when logging in threatened species habitat, VicForests should continue to be exempt from national environment law. Despite the High Court deciding not to grant special leave, almost all court findings against VicForests’ logging during this four-year case have been upheld. VicForests attempted to appeal the Federal Court decision and failed on all but one ground, with the appeal Court confirming logging in vital habitat to the Leadbeater’s Possum / Wollert and Greater Glider / Warnda and was driving extinction, in breach of Victorian law.

Today’s High Court decision highlights what the recent independent Samuel Review of our national environment law found: Australia’s environment laws simply do not protect the environment or threatened wildlife. This means companies, investors and communities are still on notice—neither national environment law, nor bi-lateral arrangements such as Regional Forest Agreements, can be relied on as a marker of sustainability. Neither is it a marker of legality, as today’s outcome does not overturn the May 2020 Federal Court ruling of illegal logging under Victorian law.

Today’s outcome does not change the systemic risk of illegality that exists in VicForests’ activities, and confirms that national environment laws are in desperate need of reform to protect endangered forest animals from logging harm.

This marathon case highlights the failure of governments to regulate and enforce environmental laws, and the burden this creates for community groups and citizen scientists in their efforts to halt logging in vital habitat for threatened species. Not only is the regulatory system failing species, it is also failing communities, who reasonably expect governments to protect endangered wildlife from extinction.”

The Wilderness Society recognises the courage of Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum and Environmental Justice Australia, who did not give up and went to the highest court in the land to hold VicForests to account over unlawful and unsustainable logging in threatened species habitat.

Richard Hughes
Wilderness Society Victoria