An agreement that allows coastal logging to continue between Sydney and the Queensland border is to be challenged in the Federal Court.

Key points:

  • The Regional Forest Agreement on logging, ranging from Sydney to the Queensland border, was first signed in 1999
  • The RFA was renewed in 2018 for another 20 years
  • The agreement will now be challenged in the Federal Court

The North East Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) was signed in 1999 and renewed in 2018 for another 20 years.

Chief executive of the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), David Morris, said it would argue the Commonwealth made the decision without regard to endangered species, the state of old-growth forests, or the impacts of climate change.

“We’re using that assessment to permit continued native forest logging for another 20-plus years.”

Mr Morris said the situation was like “having a media policy which didn’t refer to the internet”. 

Potential landmark case

The EDO is acting on behalf of the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA). 

Men stand next to the stump of a formerly huge tree.

Reported old growth and unmapped streams were logged in the North East Regional Forest Agreement area. (

Supplied: Jimmy Malecki

)

The NEFA’s Susie Russell said it was potentially a landmark case, and the first time an RFA had been challenged in New South Wales.

She said the federal and state governments relied on the RFA to exempt forestry operations in the region from the usual Commonwealth environmental assessment and approval requirements.

“So if our case is successful, that exemption will no longer apply.

“Both governments have effectively rubber-stamped ongoing destruction of our forest ecosystems. 

“It is appalling that in the face of the twin global crises of rapidly changing climatic conditions and biodiversity decline that all they could do is agree to more of the same without considering the science.”

A forest looking through trees with rays of sunlight

Sub-tropical forests on the NSW Far North Coast are covered by the logging agreement.(

ABC North Coast: Leah White

)

‘Struggling to get timber’

The NSW branch of the Australian Forest Products Association issued a statement that labelled the challenge as time-wasting and inappropriate. 

Chief executive Sue Grau said the High Court and the Federal Court recently rejected similar claims in Tasmania and Victoria.

“Australia’s rigorous RFA framework has withstood these claims, with the courts holding that RFA forestry operations operate with strong environmental controls and in parallel with the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation (EPBC) Act,” she said.

“During the current COVID crisis and building boom across NSW, many families are struggling to get enough timber to meet market demand for construction. 

Ms Grau said the native hardwood industry used the equivalent of six trees out of every 10,000 and those were then replaced through regeneration.

The ABC is seeking comment from the prime minister’s office, Timber NSW and the office of NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, whose portfolio includes regional NSW, industry and trade.  

Posted , updated 

Forest logging agreement ranging from Sydney to Queensland to be challenged in court
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