Today I will introduce a Private Senator’s Bill that will bring surety and job security to the almost 200,000 people employed directly and indirectly in Australia’s valuable native hardwood timber industries.
My Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Regional Forest Agreements) Bill 2020 to amend the EPBC Act and Regional Forest Agreements Act seeks to remove uncertainty from the intersect of the EPBC Act and the Regional Forest Agreements, and reinstate the original drafters’ understanding of how that works.
A Federal Court ruling in May created ambiguity with respect to the provision of the EPBC Act this Bill seeks to amend. It means if a forestry company is acting under the local regulator’s rules, or even a formal legal direction, a Federal Court judge can decide to take a different view. For example, in Victoria, VicForests was complying with the Victorian rules for managing risks to Leadbeater’s Possum, however the Federal Court ruling said VicForests needed to do more to meet its legal requirements.
This means all forestry companies in Australia operating under a state-based regulatory regime approved through an RFA cannot rely on any direction or approval from the local regulator. This legal uncertainty exposes the nearly 200,000 people employed along the industry value chain to anti-forestry groups who threaten to use the precedent to disrupt legal, sustainable forestry operations which generates a turnover around $24 billion annually.
This impossible situation can only be solved by making the law clear.
Professor Samuel’s Interim Review of the EPBC Act recommended that legal uncertainty created by the court case needed to be addressed and industry’s legal advice is that unless this uncertainty is removed by amending the EPBC Act and the RFA Act as soon as possible, there would be more legal challenges.
As a Victorian Senator, it is my duty to help remove the ambiguity and give confidence for the hundreds of thousands of Australians who make their livelihoods in our amazing sustainable and renewable forestry industry.
The amendment removes only eight words from the EPBC Act, and from a similar provision in the RFA Act. By doing so it removes much greater ambiguity.
This amendment needs to be made, and quickly, because a wait-and-see approach is not good enough and only adds to the uncertainty.