Media Releases - 10 May 2021

Federal Court rejects 20 of 21 grounds of appeal for VicForests and supports original findings of VicForests led extinctions

The critically endangered Leadbeater's possum. Image: Steven Kuiter.

The Wilderness Society provides the following comments following the handing down of the Federal Court judgement in the appeal of the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum Inc v VicForests case this morning. 

National Campaigns Director, Amelia Young said, “The bench of the Federal Court has dismissed all but one of the grounds of appeal that VicForests put forward and upheld the previous finding of fact about the extinction risk that VicForests’ logging activities pose to the Critically Endangered Leadbeater's Possum and Greater Glider. And the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum community group deserve all of our gratitude for bringing this case and highlighting the real damage that VicForests is doing in our publicly-owned native forests. 

“The one ground that the Federal Court has upheld relates to whether it believes it has the jurisdiction to intervene when a state logging agency damages the environment where a Regional Forest Agreement is in place. In effect, the full Court agreed with The Honourable Justice Mortimer that VicForests was and is manifestly impacting on the survival of endangered species but disagreed that it is their Court’s responsibility to curtail these impacts. 

“Given all but one of the grounds were upheld, the Court’s finding of illegal logging under Victorian law stands. This means that VicForests aren’t obliged to adhere to state environment laws in order to enjoy an effective exemption from national environment laws.

“Manufacturers, processors, retailers and consumers of timber, paper and packaging products made from wood logged by VicForests must take action to remove themselves from VicForests’ supply chain, if they have not already done so.

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

“There are currently five matters before the courts regarding VicForests’ logging operations.

“Only last Friday, the Commonwealth Threatened Species Scientific Committee started consultation on uplisting the Greater Glider from vulnerable status to endangered—another step along the road to extinction. 

“Between the scientific evidence and now the full Federal Court judgment it’s clear that Victorian forest fauna is in severe danger from the state government logging company. What is not yet clear is what anyone is going to do about it. A practical question arises: will the Victorian State Government stand up to its own logging agency to prevent VicForests from further endangering these precious species? 

“While appeals to the High Court are being considered by Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, we call upon the Victorian Government to act upon the findings of fact by the Federal Court, and take immediate steps to rein in VicForests, as well as expand the reserve system in order to protect endangered forests and animals.

“It is critical that the Victorian industry’s planned 2030 exit from native forests be brought forward, and wood volumes reduced, not least because VicForests itself gave evidence in these proceedings that the size of the wood volumes it is required to provide are a constraint on it being able to be consistent with Victorian law, meaning the only way VicForests can meet wood quotas is to log illegally.

“The Victorian pulp, paper and packaging sector must be supported to utilise the existing plantation estate for domestic use and manufacturing—rather than having large volumes of plantation wood exported offshore every year, and sawmill workers must be supported through inevitable change as the wood resource from native forests cannot continue to be supplied at current volumes,” Ms Young concluded.

Please note that the numbers of grounds quoted in the original release have been updated to acknowledge that VicForests abandoned eight of its original grounds for appeal on or before the first day of hearings, and did not press two additional grounds of appeal.

For further information please contact Tim Beshara on 0437 878786