Australia’s Regional Forest Agreements: The Great Forest Case
Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2IWFaEjO8A&feature=youtu.be
The Bob Brown Foundation has launched a legal case challenging the legislation exemption of native forest logging. Their “case will argue that the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) is not a valid agreement. [They] want to strike down the RFA as it is not protecting any endangered species. This is the best chance in a generation to stop native forest logging.”
RFAs and their impact
Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) are “20-year-old agreements which essentially exempt logging from national environment laws. There are ten RFAs across Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania.” According to the Australian Government’s agriculture department, RFAs “seek to balance economic, social and environmental demands on forests by setting obligations and commitments for forest management.” These exemptions from Commonwealth environmental laws mean that the logging of natural habitats of “some of Australia’s most critically endangered specifies such as the Leadbeater’s Possum and Swift Parrots” is legally permitted. Tasmania’s iconic wildlife is under threat due to the damages RFAs allow to native forests, including the “Masked Owl, Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle, Tasmanian Devil and Giant Freshwater Crayfish”.
How it got to this point
The Tasmanian RFA was extended for 20 years in 2017 by the Australian and Tasmanian governments under the claim that it has “proven to be a strong and effective framework for the sustainable management of Tasmania’s forests.” This, however, chooses to neglect the potential environmental impact of the continual logging of native forests, and the devastating impacts on the native flora and fauna that relies on this environment for survival. Contrastingly, Vica Bayley from the Wilderness Society criticised the RFA extensions, "Regional Forest Agreements for the past 20 years have been a manifest failure for Tasmania,". Similarly, Jenny Weber from the Bob Brown Foundation claimed the RFA extension is simply “signing [Tasmania] up to 20 years more of devastation in [it's] forests." 
The Great Forest Case
The Bob Brown Foundation has become one of the primary sources of backlash and resistance to these RFAs and the logging they legally allow. As an experienced Australian Senator, Bob Brown and his team are seeking to sue to the Tasmanian State Government. The court case will argue that the Tasmanian RFA is invalid on two grounds:
1. The concept of legal enforceability. Bob Brown is choosing to highlight the sections of the RFA relating to the “management of threatened species”, claiming that the lack of enforceability does not legally bind Tasmania (through Sustainable Timber Tasmania) to protect threatened species, allowing logging to continue.
2. Independence of the Tasmanian State Government. Due to Australia’s separation of the Commonwealth (Federal) and the State Governments, no environmental protection for native ecosystems or wildlife is guaranteed. Environmental “legislation, policies and all forest practises codes and management plans” is overseen by the State Government, meaning not only is the Tasmanian Government allowed to create any and all legislation they deem desirable, but no one is able to hold them accountable for their actions.
As the Bob Brown Website states “This case aims to end native forest logging in Tasmania and potentially the rest of Australia. If our case is successful, we will seek an immediate injunction to stop Sustainable Timber Tasmania carrying out any logging without the Federal Minister’s approval. We will also seek an injunction to repair any damage they have done, which is in breach of the EPBC Act.” The Great Forest Case was lodged August 2020 and is predicted to take approximately 6 months to complete.
The Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act
The Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is a central piece of legislation that provides a protective framework for important flora, fauna, ecological communities and heritage places. The Great Forest Case is being run under this EPBC Act, to “protect the habitat of endangered species”.
Brown’s case has a legal precedent ruled in its favour. In June 2020, the Australian Federal Court ruled that VicForests, a timber company owned by the Victorian State Government, had breached environmental laws by having "razed the habitat of the critical endangered Leadbeater’s Possum and the vulnerable Greater Glider.” This ruling has been the first considerable recognition of the Australian Governments prioritising the interests of threatened species over the financial or political gain of logging these native environments. Because of this ruling, the likelihood of success from Brown’s case is increased, due to the many shared characteristics.
The Great Forest Case is the “best chance in a generation to stop native forest logging” within Tasmania, and wider Australia. To preserve the safety of threatened species, and ensure protected biodiversity, the environment must be prioritised over any gain that native forest logging provides. The legal court case launched by the Bob Brown Foundation identifies these priorities, and fights for a sustainable future for Australia’s native forest ecosystems.
Watch Bob Brown explain The Great Forest Case:
For information about the “Modernisation of… Regional Forest Agreements”:
Other works cited:  https://www.bobbrown.org.au/tgfc  https://www.agriculture.gov.au/forestry/policies/rfa/regions/tasmania https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-18/tasmanian-regional-forest-agreements-to-be-extended/8818838#:~:text=The%20Regional%20Forest%20Agreement%20(RFA,exemption%20to%20Commonwealth%20environment%20laws.  https://www.environment.gov.au/epbc  https://theconversation.com/the-leadbeaters-possum-finally-had-its-day-in-court-it-may-change-the-future-of-logging-in-australia-139652#:~:text=The%20Federal%20Court%20last%20week,and%20the%20vulnerable%20greater%20glider