In the last newsletter we outlined our concerns about a proposal to clear 1804 hectares of native forest on private land near Ansons Bay in north-east Tasmania and how, just two weeks before clearing was to commence, the TCT successfully intervened to notify the Australian Government of the operation. They in turn notified the landowner of his legal obligations. To date no clearing has occurred at the site.
Until the landowner refers the project, it is unclear whether federal government approval will be required, let alone what the outcome of any government process might be. Therefore, in March 2015 the TCT initiated a Supreme Court case challenging state approval for the clearing operation by the Forest Practices Authority.
It is our hope that the landowner refers the project to the Australian Government and that it is declared a controlled action requiring assessment and approval or refusal under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
If the Australian Government declared the operation a controlled action then we would seek to have the Supreme Court case suspended indefinitely. We would reassess the importance of challenging the state permit once the federal process is completed. If the operation was refused completely by the Australian Government, we would seek to end the state case.
So while the Supreme Court case is potentially a costly venture, and may not be needed if the federal government intervenes, we needed to commence it to secure our rights to have the state approval reviewed.
The Supreme Court case has not progressed to trial. It is listed again for a mention in court on 14 August 2015. The TCT is represented in this case by the Environmental Defenders Office Tasmania.
The case against the state approval
We believe the Forest Practices Authority (FPA) has made a mistake in how it has interpreted the law.
This case is not just about protecting an important area of forest, it also highlights a major flaw in state laws that apply to clearing of forests and private landowners’ rights to compensation.
Based on a publicly available 2009 Forest Practices Tribunal decision in relation to this clearing proposal, we know many of the values on the property; these include:
- 491 hectares of Eucalyptus ovata forest, which is perhaps the largest concentration of this state listed endangered vegetation community in Tasmania
- habitat for state and nationally listed threatened fauna: tiger quoll, Tasmanian devil, New Holland mouse, and swift parrot
- eight state listed threatened plant species (two of which are also nationally listed).
The proposed clearing operation was refused in 2009 by the Forest Practices Authority and that decision was upheld at appeal.
The TCT understands that subsequently the landowner sought compensation from the state government but, following a decision by Minister Matthew Groom in October 2014, no compensation was provided.
In January 2015 the FPA certified the Forest Practices Plan that it had previously refused, claiming that, because compensation was not provided, it was compelled by provisions of the Nature Conservation Act to not place any restrictions to protect threatened species habitat or threatened vegetation communities.
The TCT’s argument is that the landowner was not eligible for compensation and that the FPA misinterpreted the law and should not have issued the Forest Practices Plan.
The outcome that the TCT wants is for the Supreme Court to revoke the Forest Practices Plan and prevent these forests being destroyed.