South Sister St. Marys, Tasmania

final hearing on 6-8 june, 2005

$500,000 security demanded!

[Updated 10 March, 2005]

On Friday March 4, 2005 a hearing was conducted at the Resource Management and Planning Appeals Tribunal (RMPAT) between residents opposed to the logging of South Sister and Forestry Tasmania.

The Environmental Defender's Office (EDO) represented the Applicants and sought the issue of a temporary stop work order to Forestry Tasmania. Unfortunately this was not forthcoming despite the Chairman of the Tribunal being "satisfied that there is a prima facie case established by the evidence tendered on behalf of the applicants".

Forestry Tasmania sought an undertaking from the applicants that should Forestry win the case, the Applicants would have to pay approximately $50,000 per week for an estimated 9 to 10 weeks (= $500,000 for lost harvest time). FT argued that contractors would not have other coupes available to harvest during the time that they would be required to stop work.

The Applicants had proposed in the application that an undertaking should NOT be required in the present case. Given the limited recourse available to the community to address concerns regarding forestry operations, the Applicants submitted that it would be appropriate that the Respondent bear any expense resulting from a temporary order rather than Applicants acting in good faith where the potential harm is significant and where the application was supported by sound scientific evidence.

In addition it was stated that the Respondent bear the burden of the expense rather than the Applicants because of:

Finally, requiring the Applicants to give an undertaking to cover losses pursuant to a temporary order presents a substantial deterrent against applying for such an order. The principles of natural justice support the Applicants being afforded an opportunity to address the matters they raised in the Application. Imposing such a burden on small community groups and individuals seeking to protect the environment on the basis of strong scientific evidence effectively denies this opportunity.

Objective 1 (c) Part 1, Schedule 1 of EMPCA states "to encourage public involvement in resource management and planning"

Despite these reasons being provided in the Applicants' submission, the Chairman concluded his decision by "As no undertaking is to be offered ..... the temporary order sought is refused".

The Hearing lasted 2½ hours and the Chairman informed the parties that he would notify them when the decision was reached.

At 4.40pm, the Applicants were informed a decision was available at the RMPAT office. EDO and those applicants in attendance were (and still are) stunned at the result. The Chairman has agreed that there is a prima facie case yet has not stopped FT from continuing with their plan. The final hearing will be heard on June 6 and is expected to last three days.

The Applicants were not asked during the Hearing, nor during the time after this whether they would in fact agree to an undertaking. Obviously half a million dollars is a significant amount however it would have been considered.

where to from here?

FT has made a submission on March 7 stating that there should be no listing for a final hearing. The Tribunal has agreed that the Final hearing will go ahead pending submissions from the applicants regarding their status (they have to show that they have a "proper interest" in the case, and they will have to distinguish between "conduct" and "consequence". FT argued during the Hearing that their conduct will not lead to environmental harm but rather the consequence. EDO is required to submit the above information within 7 days and the Tribunal will then confirm in the following seven days whether the Final hearing will go ahead as planned.

One of our consultants, Mr Ralph Rallings sent a letter to Minister Bryan Green on Monday March 7 outlining that failure to assess the slopes below the coupe was "imprudent and borders on negligence". He recommended that further assessment is necessary and suggested the involvement of Mineral Resources Tasmania.

The Attorney-General (Judy Jackson) has been asked to seek temporary orders on the applicants behalf as she would not have to give an undertaking. We await her reply.

The Dept. of Primary Industries, Water and Environment (DPIWE) have been asked to issue an Environmental Protection Notice (EPN). They have been asked a couple of times in the past but refused the notice. However it is hoped that with the additional information from the Hearing (prima facie case established) and further information from Ralph Rallings (letter to Minister Bryan Green) they may issue an EPN

The Break O'Day Council has also been asked to issue an EPN. Like DPIWE, they have refused in the past and the initial verbal response is that they will not do so. The very least they could do is support the residents and ask FT to refrain from logging until the completion of the Final Hearing.

It is hoped that FT will voluntarily refrain from logging the coupe now that an independent judiciary has agreed that the Applicants have a prima facie case. However, with no stop work order, they are legally able to begin harvesting! A media release by FT on March 8, 2005 said that harvesting activities were expected to commence in the week of March 21, 2005! It would appear that FT have absolutely no concern for the safety of residents or their water supplies.

The Applicants will continue to lobby for justice therefore we continue to require community support. Donations and pledges of support are desperately needed. If you are unable to afford financial support, please visit the vigil and show your support to those on the ground. The vigil will continue indefinitely.

A tree sit began on March 7 with two tripods and tree sits on the South Sister Road. As this is a public road and the summit has communication towers which need to be accessed, a four wheel drive vehicle will be able to drive through but no trucks or machinery are expected to be able to pass.

Please write to your newspapers, ring talkback radio and write to politicians and Forestry complaining that justice has not been done. No logging should occur until the Hearing has been completed - 13 weeks from now. The state government should insist FT refrains from logging until further assessments are made.

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