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Protesters fighting native forest logging could potentially face jail time or a huge fine under a new policy introduced by the Victorian government.
Under the new laws, native forest protesters are prohibited from entering timber harvesting zones or from blocking workers and their machinery, according to The Age.
If they break this rule, they could be chucked in the slammer for up to 12 months or pay a AUD$21,000 fine.
Forest campaigner Chris Schuringa called the new laws ‘a really heavy-handed and draconian response’ to prevent those trying to protect biodiversity across the state.
He explained to The Age: “Twelve months imprisonment for a peaceful non-violent protesting is ridiculous.”
Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam also slammed the new legislation for being ‘extreme’.
She said: “Victorians have just voted unequivocally for candidates supporting climate action, which includes protecting forests.
"Yet instead of protecting our precious forests, the Victorian Labor government seems hell-bent on logging at all costs.”
The Age reports that Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas defended the new law, saying that protesters would continue to put the lives of forestry workers at risk if protesting remained unregulated.
“We respect the right to protest safely but want to make sure workers go home to their families each day,” she said.
“Every Victorian has the right to be safe at work. Protests are becoming increasingly dangerous, particularly for workers, which is why this legislation will support them to get on with their job and minimise disruption to the industry.”
The Age also contacted VicForests to confirm if there had been accidents due to demonstrations at logging sites. They stated protesters had indeed created ‘unacceptable risk to the safety of workers’.
Despite pushback from climate change activists over the recent policy, the Andrews’ government announced a plan in 2019 to phase out native logging within the next decade.
He also promised to provide $120 million to the industry facing increasing pressure in recent years.
While speaking at a tree nursery in Alberton, in Gippsland, Mr Andrews acknowledged that the move would be a ‘challenging transition’ for workers in the sector.
However, he confirmed they would be supported.
"There will be pain and there will be challenges in this, but we will stand with every single community to provide the certainty and the support to make it through this tough transition," he said.
"Essentially we are going to replace those jobs currently employed with native timber, with jobs in planting, cutting down and hauling and processing plantation timber.
"That's the way this transition will be managed."