VicForests referred to IBAC

VicForests has been referred to IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman. PICTURE: ON FILE 165631_01

VicForests have been referred to IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman following allegations of ‘spying’ on conservationists and illegal logging reported on by the ABC.

Deputy Leader of the Victorian Greens, Ellen Sandell has issued a letter to IBAC outlaying her complaint, concerned with allegations the government owned logging agency hired a private investigator to follow conservationist Sarah Rees in 2011.

“This can’t continue to go on unchecked. We need a proper, independent investigation as soon as possible,” Ms Sandell said.

The letter also detailed concerns over illegally logging.

It read, “The ABC has also aired deeply concerning evidence that VicForests has been illegally logging on steep slopes in Melbourne’s water catchments and has been failing in its obligations under law to regenerate forests after logging. These practices have been going on for many years.”

An IBAC spokesperson has confirmed a complaint has been received regarding VicForests.

“Every complaint is assessed in accordance with the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Act 2011 to determine whether IBAC will investigate, refer it to another organisation for investigation, or dismiss it. As a matter of practice, IBAC will not be commenting further on the status of this complaint,” they said.

In November, VicForests issued a statement saying the Board of Directors has commissioned an external investigation into the surveil claim.

“The investigation is underway to identify any evidence to confirm or refute historical allegations that VicForests engaged a private investigator in 2010 and 2011 to surveil environmental activist Sarah Rees,” VicForests wrote in the statement.

“The claims made do not reflect the culture, the values or the people of VicForests.”

RSM Australia is conducting the investigation and is an experienced, diligent and highly commended external agency which will produce a report that will be made publicly available.

VicForests also denied claims in another statement that it is not meeting it’s regeneration obligations.

“Vicforests’ responsibility is to regenerate harvested forests to the standard of the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014 (as amended November 2021) and the associated Management Standards and Procedures for timber harvesting operations in Victoria’s State forests 2021.

“Most of the time, areas are regenerated within three years but there is no set timeframe. Let’s be clear, we continue to regenerate our coupes until they are successfully regenerated in accordance with our obligations under the Code and the MSPs. Our obligations are not complete, and coupes are not removed from the Timber Release Plan, until the Code regeneration standards are met.”