Community involvement is mainly at the stage of identifying issues when developrs apply for planning permits. Some areas, such as forestry agreements, are outside the regime.
All of the administrative systems and bodies of law discussed above are relevant to the protection of natural environments as well as urbanised human environments. The activity complained about might require planning permission, or an environmental impact assessment (EIA) or works approval. All of these legal processes have enforceable opportunities for input by members of the community, as described above. Other laws and systems specifically directed to the protection of nature and natural areas include the EPBC Act, Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Vic) (“FFG Act”), Wildlife Act 1975 (Vic), National Parks Act 1975 (Vic) and Heritage Rivers Act 1992 (Vic).
These laws have two interconnected aspects:
1 identification or listing; and
Generally, only species or natural systems that have been identified and listed can be the object of enforcement. The community plays an important role in identifying important natural systems and habitats, and pressing for them to be listed.
Enforcement is, however, usually at the discretion of the relevant minister. In the 17 years of its operation, only one coercive order – then only temporary – has been made under the FFG Act with respect to a listed species on private land.
Many natural systems and habitats are found in the state’s forests, on public land, but outside national parks or reserves and vulnerable to logging operations. We saw above that actions under the national system of Regional Forest Agreements are exempt from EIA under the EPBC Act, and is an EIA, even if a “significant impact” is ever found, ever more than an investigatory and reporting mechanism completely in the hands of government in any case? Forestry operations are carried out under the Forests Act 1958 (Vic), the Conservation, Forests and Lands Act 1987 (Vic) and the plethora of regulations and management plans made under them.
With few exceptions, the community is not allowed to play a direct role in enforcing these laws. Protests are organised regularly against logging activities that are or should be banned. For more information about protester’s rights in environmental protests, see Community activism. The organisation Lawyers for Forests also provides information about activist rights (www.lawyersforforests.asn.au).