Media Releases - 10 November 2023

Magistrates Court considers question of access to justice for Tasmanian communities in illegal logging matters

Supporters outside Launceston Magistrates Court

Yesterday Launceston Magistrates Court heard submissions from the Wilderness Society Tasmania and Forestry Tasmania on the issue of whether private individuals and organisations have the right to pursue criminal charges for illegal logging of native forest under the Forest Practices Act 1985 (Tas). The decision, which is set to be handed down on the 14th of December, could have far reaching repercussions for access to justice over illegal logging issues in Lutruwita/Tasmania.

The question of whether private individuals and organisations can pursue criminal prosecution of illegal logging activities is critical in determining whether the Wilderness Society Tasmania can continue criminal proceedings against Forestry Tasmania, brought in July this year, which allege that the state-owned logging agency has illegally logged native forest in the Styx region of Lutruwita / Tasmania along protected streams and outside the ‘harvest boundary’ set out in the Forest Practices Plan.

However, the decision could also have far reaching repercussions for access to justice over illegal logging issues in Tasmania, and is therefore a serious decision regarding integrity and accountability when it comes to environmental and development decision-making.

Serious questions of illegality persist about forestry in Lutruwita / Tasmania’s native forests, which are of enormous cultural significance to First Nations people and are home to declining species such as swift waylitja / parrot, Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle and eastern quoll. It is vital communities are able to hold Forestry Tasmania and others to account for their part in the destruction of the state’s magnificent native forests, especially where there are persistent questions of illegal logging.

Lawyers for the Wilderness Society Tasmania argued that the law says private criminal prosecutions are justified and can only be overridden by clear and express statements prohibiting this ancient right. Lawyers for Forestry Tasmania argued that the case should be dismissed, and that there was no public interest in this case about alleged illegal logging.

Magistrate Evan Hughes’ ruling in response to yesterday’s preliminary hearing will be handed down on 14 December at Launceston Magistrates Court. The ruling could have significant implications for access to justice for the public.

Alice Hardinge, campaigner with Wilderness Society Tasmania, said, “A self-regulated regime of weak laws and little enforcement has allowed the logging industry to rampantly degrade Lutruwita/Tasmania’s magnificent forests. By taking these alleged breaches to court, we are further exposing Forestry Tasmania’s alleged long-standing non-compliance with Tasmania’s already weak forest protection laws.

“This case is the first of its kind, and yesterday’s hearing could be a pivotal moment for community access to justice over illegal logging issues. If the Court finds that we don’t have authority to prosecute this case, we will not be able to continue these proceedings, but Forestry Tasmania will certainly continue to trash Lutruwita / Tasmania’s magnificent native forests while the question of illegality hangs in the air. ”

A decision will be handed down in Launceston Magistrates Court on 14 December 2023 at 2:15pm.

For interviews or further information contact Rhiannon Cunningham, media adviser, on 0419992760 or [email protected]