VicForests to pay court costs

VICFORESTS has been forced to pay the costs of the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum’s case, and half the cost of its the environmental group’s appeal case, after the state-owned logging agency was still found to have breached the law.
The Federal Court ruled in favour of the environmental group last May, which argued VicForests had breached environmental laws by logging sections of 66 areas of the Central Highlands inhabited by the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum and vulnerable greater glider.
Last month, VicForests successfully appealed that decision in front of the full Federal Court, when it argued Australian logging companies do not need to abide by state-based laws in order to retain their exemption from federal environmental laws through Regional Forestry Agreements.
Last Thursday, the same court ordered VicForests to pay the respondents’ costs of the original trial and 50 per cent of its costs during the appeal.
The costs judgement reads although the court ruled Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum should not have originally succeeded at trial, that did not mean there was no just basis upon which it should recover its costs of the trial.
The costs judgment found the environmental group was “overwhelmingly successful at trial in establishing, as matters of fact, that VicForests contravened state legislative instruments with respect to the endangered greater glider and Leadbeater’s possum species. Those factual findings were not disturbed on appeal.”
” … the full court did not overturn any of the primary judge’s factual findings which were challenged on appeal and which occupied much of the trial and a considerable portion of the hearing of the appeal.
“These were costs which were wasted due to VicForests’ conduct.”
Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum president Steve Meacher said the group was still appealing to the High Court and would do everything it could “to hold VicForests to account under our federal, as well as state, laws.”
“The court’s decision to order VicForests to pay our costs indicates the importance of this case and the findings that were made.
“We urge government to listen and act to conserve the forests found to be in dire need of protection for these precious native possums, that are being driven toward extinction by VicForests’ logging operations.
“The Andrews’ government is a nature laggard, with the worst record on nature protection in decades.
“We are now the country’s logging capital – senselessly wood-chipping tonnes of native forest each year, far beyond any other state.”
Nicola Rivers, the co-chief executive of Environmental Justice Australia, the lawyers who represented Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, said it was encouraging to see the courts hold VicForests accountable for the costs of the public interest case.
“This case has shown that enforcement of our environment laws, particularly against government agencies, is falling to the community,” she said.
“We are working with our client, Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum to appeal to the High Court on the issue of the logging industry’s exemption from federal environment law.
“In the meantime, injunctions remain in place protecting the critical areas of habitat subject of the case while that occurs.”
Findings upheld by the appeal court were that VicForests breaching the precautionary principle by failing to avoid serious and irreversible damage to the greater glider, failed to identify and protect a Leadbeater’s possum colony and its habitat, destroyed protected tree species, clear-felled vegetation gaps in the forest far larger than permitted, and failed to retain forest in minimum required buffers.