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Two Anti-Logging Advocates First to be Charged Under Tasmania’s Anti-Protest Laws

Protesters arrested at planned clearcut site in northwest Tasmania

By Calla Wahlquist

Two healthcare workers protesting against the clearfelling of native forest in Tasmania have become the first people charged under the state’s controversial anti-protest laws.

John Henshaw, 66, and Jessica Hoyt, 35, were in a group of nine protesters who walked on to a Forestry Tasmania coup at Lapoinya, 37 kilometers from Burnie in northwest Tasmania, on Monday.

Photo of Forest Northwest TasmaniaPhoto from Forest of Lapoinya Action Group Facebook Forestry Tasmania plans to clearcut 49 acres of forest in Lapoinya

Earlier this month, Forestry Tasmania bulldozers moved into the area, which is home to the endangered Tasmanian giant freshwater lobster and according to locals has a population of disease-free Tasmanian devils. It is a longstanding forestry coup [harvesting area] and has been selectively logged before but the current harvesting plan is to clearfell 49 hectares.

Forestry owned land can be divided into coupes logged a coup at a time.

Henshaw, a retired anesthesiologist, was arrested and charged on Monday with an offence under the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014, because he allegedly failed to comply with a direction from police to leave the site. He faces a fine of up to $10,000.

Five other people left when asked by police and three more, including Hoyt, were escorted from the site by police and given an infringement notice, which meant they would be arrested if they staged another protest on an active forestry coup, or any other area considered to be a workplace, within three months.

Hoyt was arrested when she returned to a different area of the forestry coup on Tuesday.

Hoyt’s mother, Barbara, told Guardian Australia the arrests went against forestry minister Paul Harriss’s promise the legislation would not target “mum and dad” protesters. Hoyt, a registered nurse, has a three-year-old daughter and is stepmother to a teenager.

The first draft of the anti-protest law was amended after criticism from the UN but constitutional law experts said it remained vulnerable to high court challenge.

“We are not activists, this is our home, our backyard,” Barbara Hoyt said. “Jess rides horses there and she believes that it’s wrong to log it, and it is wrong.”

The Hoyts and Henshaw are part of the Forests of Lapoinya Action Group, which sprung from the local community last year when plans to log the coup were announced. About 70 people have been gathering at the entrance to the coup for the past week to mark their opposition to the logging, and Barbara Hoyt said those who did walk onsite did so peacefully with the intention of hanging around until police arrived and asked them to move on.

Workplace safety rules mean the bulldozers that drive the clearfelling can’t operate until the protesters leave. They were not padlocking themselves to forestry machinery, a common practice in the episodic battle between environmentalists and industry in Tasmania.

“It is a peaceful, community process, and the police have been really good in the circumstances when no one really knows how the new law applies,” Barbara Hoyt said. “The police think it’s stupid and ridiculous and all of them are so supportive of us.”

Harriss defended the use of the anti-protest laws, releasing a statement saying the Tasmanian government was “a strong supporter of free speech and the right to protest” and it was “very disappointing that some people yesterday chose to allegedly break the law”.

His comments on Wednesday came as the Forestry Tasmania chairman, Bob Annells, announced his retirement from the board of the government-owned company. Three other board members retired at the same time.

Tasmanian Greens senator Nick McKim, who visited the Lapoinya protesters on Tuesday, said Annells’s decision not to seek another term was significant because Annells was a vocal supporter of the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement (TFA), torn up in 2014 as the first act of the Hodgman Liberal government.

“This is blowing up in Paul Harriss’s face. He has got what looks like a board crisis at Forestry Tasmania at the same time as his legislation which was designed to scare people out of protesting is not happening,” McKim told Guardian Australia.

“They have definitely restarted the forest wars in Tasmania and they will reap what they sew.”

The coup at Lapoinya was not marked as a higher conservation area under the TFA, which Harriss suggested on Tuesday meant environmentalists thought it was “OK to harvest this coup while the Greens were in government, but it’s not OK to harvest it under the Liberals.”

Vica Bayley, Wilderness Society campaign director in Tasmania who helped negotiate the TFA, said it was “hypocritical and ironic” for Harriss to “try to hide behind the TFA.”

“It looks like a unilateral decision driven by politics and an attempt to create conflict as a distraction from the fact that he clearly doesn’t have a coherent plan for the future of forestry in Tasmania,” Bayley said.

The Guardian
The Guardian UK, one of Britain's top daily newspapers, provides coverage of international environmental issues. Earth Island Journal is a member of the Guardian's Environment News Network.

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