NEFA’s court case ‘North East Forest Alliance Inc v Commonwealth of Australia & State of NSW’ challenging the extension of the North East NSW Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) will be heard in the Federal Court of Australia before Justice Perry on the 28 and 29 of March. NEFA’s challenge is being run by the Environmental Defenders Office.
NEFA is challenging the 2018 decision to extend the North East RFA, effectively indefinitely, largely based on the Comprehensive Regional Assessment (CRA) undertaken in 1997 and 1998, without a new assessment.
“Should we win, the North East NSW RFA will no longer exempt logging operations from assessment and approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, or exempt wood from the requirements of the Export Control Act 2020, with potential ramifications for all other RFAs, NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said.
“NEFA were key stakeholders participating in the variety of committees overseeing the CRA process from 1995-98, doing our best to ensure the collation of the best available data to identify the promised Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative forest reserve system, Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management and socio-economic impacts.
“As such we are acutely aware of the numerous inadequacies in much of the data at that time, with some projects incomplete and some aspects, such as climate heating, not even considered.
“Because of the data limitations we argued that the RFA should only last 10 years, though we were over-ruled to make it 20 years. We participated in good faith. We would not have taken part in the CRA had we thought there was any chance of its being extended indefinitely because the data was not good enough. We relied upon the promise there would be a reassessment by 2018.
“While we achieved a significant increase in the reserve system, the political outcome protected less than half of what the science said was needed, with many species and ecosystem reserve targets unmet.
“We are aware of the studies since undertaken by scientists, the improved data, changes to forests, growing threats, increasing numbers of threatened species, increased understanding of climate heating impacts, and changes in the logging industry and regional communities, that should have been part of a new CRA before extending the North East NSW RFA.
“NEFA considers a reassessment now would conclude that all public forests should be protected.
“In court we are arguing that the RFA Act required an assessment of old growth, threatened species and climate change before the North East NSW RFA was extended, but that those assessments were not undertaken.
“The Commonwealth and the State of NSW are arguing that no such assessments were required before the extension, and that even if they were, those assessments were in fact done.
“Should we win it may expose failings of the Commonwealth’s proposed regional environmental protection plans, which are intended to replicate the RFAs by covering mining and other activities in 10 regions around Australia, presumably similarly intended to exempt miners from having to gain Commonwealth approvals forever after” Mr. Pugh said.