Environmental action charges

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When engaging in environmental actions you can be be charged with:

  • general criminal offences,
  • offences against police, and
  • specific offences relating to forests, electricity, and coal and gas infrastructure.

Offences against police 

And you can be searched and charged for any illegal items that are found.
See: being searched


Forest protests

Activists can be charged for actions relating specifically to forestry operations under the Safety on Public Land Act 2004 (SPLA) and the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 (SFTA).

Under the SPLA the DELWP (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) can declare certain areas of State forest to be a ‘public safety zone’ (SPLA s4).

Under the SFTA the Minister can declare an existing coupe to be a ‘timber harvesting safety zone’ (SFTA s77A) which includes:

  • any road within the coupe;
  • any roads that have been closed for the purpose of timber harvesting; and
  • any area of State forest within 150 meters of the coupe boundary.

(SFTA s77B).

Information about declarations of a public safety or timber harvesting safety zone, and the area they apply to, must be clearly displayed near the zone and on the internet (Note: the SFTA only requires internet publication for operations conducted by VicForests).

Under the SPLA, it is an offence to:

  • Carry out any activity in a public safety zone in contravention of the public safety zone declaration. 20 penalty units (section 13(1)).
  • Refuse to leave a public safety zone after a DELWP authorised officer has asked you to leave (provided the officer gives proof of their identity and official status) 20 penalty units (section 14(3)).
  • Following a direction to leave a public safety zone, to re-enter the zone, or to attempt to re-enter. 20 penalty units (Section 15).
  • Hinder or obstruct an authorised DELWP officer exercising their duties and powers, without reasonable excuse. 60 penalty units (Section 20).
  • Fail to give your correct name and address to an authorised DELWP officer, if the officer reasonably believes you have committed an offence, and they have informed you of the grounds for their belief. 5 penalty units (Section 17(3)).

Under the SFTA, it is an offence to:

  • Enter or remain in a timber harvesting safety zone. 20 penalty units (Section 77G).
  • Refuse to leave or re-enter a timber harvesting safety zone after an authorised officer has asked you to leave. 20 penalty units (Section 77D(2)).
  • Refuse to stop or move a vehicle when directed to do so by an authorised officer. 20 penalty units (Section 77E(2)).
  • Allow a dog to enter a timer harvesting safety zone. 20 penalty units (Section 77I)
  • Refuse to remove a dog when directed to do so by an authorised officer. 20 penalty units (Section 77F(2)).
  • Be in possession of a ‘prohibited thing’. 20 penalty units (Section 77H).
  • Unlawfully break down, damage or destroy a fence that has been erected to restrict access to a timber harvesting safety zone. 60 penalty units (Section 77J).
  • Unlawfully alter, obliterate, deface, remove or destroy a timber harvesting safety zone notice. 60 penalty units (Section 77K).

Other Acts relating to forests also include offences, although these are now used less often than those described above.

For example, under the Conservation, Forests and Lands Act 1987 it is an offence to hinder or obstruct another person in the lawful carrying out of forest operations (s95A). If you are found guilty of this offence, you can be fined up to 20 penalty units.

What constitutes a ‘lawful forestry operation’ for the purposes of this offence can be the subject of some argument.

For example, in a 2020 case, the Federal Court decided that VicForests were unlawfully logging in 66 areas of native forest which were home to the Leadbeater Possum.

In the past, protesters have successfully appealed against an obstruction charge because the Code of Forests Practices had not been complied with.

The argument that you are protesting unlawful forest activities is not available for offences under the SPLA.


Electricity industry protests

In addition to the trespass offence described above, the Electricity Industry Act 2000 (EIA) contains specific offences relating to ‘critical electricity infrastructure’, which includes certain large electricity generation facilities (generation of 1,000kVa or greater), a related coal mine or substation, terminal station or distribution system or transmission system switchyard.

Under this Act, it is an offence to be on land or premises or in an enclosure containing critical electricity infrastructure without authority (EIA, s79). The maximum penalty is one year’s imprisonment.

The Act also contains offences which apply if a person interferes with equipment that forms part of critical electricity infrastructure (including certain vehicles) and they are reckless as to whether this will disrupt the generation, transmission or distribution of electricity. The maximum penalty for this is imprisonment for up to two years (EIA s80(1)).


Coal and gas projects

For information on protesting coal and gas projects check out this detailed guide produced by Counter Act and Environmental Justice Australia.

A Legal Handbook for the coal and gas movement.

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