By PHILIP HOPKINS
GIPPSLAND logging contractors and their workers will be more protected from illegal protests in the forest by environmentalists under strengthened laws passed by the Andrews Government.
The Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022 brings stronger penalties to deter dangerous protest activities that put the safety of both forestry workers and people who illegally enter dangerous work sites at risk.
The new legislation, which had been demanded by unions and the state opposition, introduces offences and updates existing penalties to deter dangerous protest action in timber harvesting safety zones. These zones are small and restricted worksites where forestry harvesting and activities are undertaken.
It is illegal for anyone who is not authorised to be in those areas. The new legislation comes into effect from next May.
CFMEU national secretary, manufacturing, Michael O’Connor, said people had a right to protest peacefully but they should not target timber workers.
“All workers have the right to go to work each day and do their job without having their health and safety compromised by dangerous activity,” he said.
Workers had experienced verbal and emotional abuse, he said.
Environmentalists maintain the legislation takes away their democratic right to protest against activities they regard as environmentally destructive.
However, Mr O’Connor said timber workers had been shocked by various incidents.
Workplace invaders had hidden in undergrowth and leapt out in front of operating machinery, children had been brought into logging areas and steel spikes hammered into forestry roads.
VicForests chief executive, Monique Dawson, told a Senate hearing last year that in one incident, a child was wandering near where protesters were attached to a harvester that could have crushed them.
“It was, frankly, a terrifying situation,” she said.
To stop repeated safety risks across multiple timber harvesting safety zones, authorised officers will be able to issue banning notices if they believe a person has committed or will commit a specified offence.
These authorised officers will be given additional powers to search containers, bags and vehicles for prohibited items.
The Minister for Agriculture, Gayle Tierney, said the government would not tolerate people putting workers at risk while they were on the job.
The law changes do not limit normal recreation in forests, or peaceful demonstrations in areas where it is safe and legal to do so.
The government said the legislation would bring the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 in line with other similar pieces of legislation in other jurisdictions and in Victoria such as the Wildlife Act 1975.