The Victorian Parliament is slated to pass a new Bill giving long-term control of Victoria's timber resources to industry. The Sustainable Forests (Timber) Amendment Bill 2013 removes certain safeguards and regulatory oversights of native forest logging, which the government says is crucial to protecting the state's economic prosperity.
Under the current provisions of the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 (VIC), state-owned timber business VicForests can log state forests with government approval, provided they adhere to a forestry code of practice and the strictures of the Act, which emphasises principles of ecological sustainability. Allocation orders grant VicForests access to specific areas and types of native forest, and set the conditions for logging them.
The proposed changes would see the level of government oversight reduced, moving instead towards a model of self-regulation. A new purpose would be inserted into Victoria's logging Act, making the logging laws no longer only about environmentally sustainable logging practices, but also about ensuring that logging takes place in Victorian native forests in the long-term. The mandatory five-yearly government review of orders would be removed, and the current 15-year limit on allocation orders would be changed to grant VicForests indefinite ownership of native forests. The commencement of logging would no longer require the government to approve VicForests' proposed timber release plan, with the responsibility instead falling to the company's board of directors.
The stated aim of these changes is to improve the efficiency and clarity of the system while reducing the regulatory burden on VicForests.
However, critics have said that the Bill gives VicForests too much power, and locks future generations into logging agreeements that may not be economically or environmentally desireable.
Lisa Caripis has written at The Conversation that the Bill will "leave Victoria’s forests – and the creatures living in them – in a precarious position."
Legislative Council Opposition Leader John Lenders has said, "If the board of VicForests is trying to make a profit — and that is part of its obligation — the danger always is, if there are no obligations in such matters, that corners will be cut."
However, the Bill has already been passed by the Legislative Council, and it is expected that the Bill will be enacted into law by the end of this month.
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