Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (17:59): I rise to speak to the Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022, a bill that purports to improve Victoria’s legislative framework for safe timber harvesting. The bill is said to respond to increased dangerous forest protest activity in timber harvesting safety zones, but the government have not been able to document evidence of increased OH&S incidents in their briefing to my office. Rather, it seems like it was a vibe thing, that we are worried that this could be. Well, my vibe is that this is not an OH&S bill at all. Rather, it is the corruption of an OH&S framework for the primary purpose of criminalising peaceful protest. It is crude. It does not have my support.
I have spoken in this place many times in criticism of native logging. It is unnecessary and there are far better options. We are already seeing native timber plantations; there is hemp for paper et cetera. It seems quite absurd to me, these repeated legislative efforts to shore up an industry which is being completely phased out by 2030. So with laws like this where the consequences could also be the permanent phasing out of some of our most precious endangered species it also sets a dangerous precedent, and we heard that from Mr Hayes—that we start here in using OH&S as a form of stopping protests, and where do we stop?
Forest protests are not arbitrary. As we have seen in court cases like the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum v. VicForests, there have been numerous contraventions of environmental laws in numerous forest areas where unlawful logging occurred that failed to avoid serious and irreversible damage to the greater glider, which was less than a month ago listed as an endangered species. I think it is important to understand—and I have met with them—that the average protester is a 60-year-old woman taking a photograph of a habitat tree with a GPS location in shot to document that that particular tree should not be cut down. Freedom to protest sits at the heart of our democracy. It is enshrined in our charter of human rights. It is a right that we should be protecting, just like the species that are placed in jeopardy by unlawful logging, for which this type of protest is an important check and balance. We have seen this play out clearly in our courts many times, and as Mr Hayes mentioned, this was not once, this was not twice—there have been at least 66 incidents that were alerted by so-called protesters in the forest. You may ask: if a tree with a greater glider in it falls in the forest but there is no protester around to hear it, did it really happen?
I do not support the bill. The Reason Party does not support the bill. In that context I thank Ms Bath for providing me with some information about her amendments on this bill, but I cannot support those either.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 4/8/22