Federal Court Throws Out ENGO Case Against RFA in NSW Forest

Breaking: Justice Perry has thrown out the case brought forward by the North East Forest Alliance.

Thu 11 Jan 24


The Australia Federal Court has thrown out a case brought by North East Forest Alliance (NEFA), questioning the lawfulness of native forest harvesting under federal environmental laws.

In making the ruling, Justice Perry – the Federal Court responsible for the decision – noted that Regional Forestry Agreements (or RFAs) “are an alternative mechanism to deliver the EPBC requirements through the states” and that opposition to the agreements “are essentially political decisions.”

The NEFA had argued that a 2018 agreement between the Commonwealth and NSW governments allowing harvest approvals bypassed federal environment checks and was, therefore, faulty.

Launched in 2021, Justice Perry provided final judgement on a case that argued that a 2018 decision to extend a 20-year Regional Forestry Agreement (or RFA) in northeast NSW was invalid because it “failed to consider the impact of logging on endangered species, old-growth forests, and climate change.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images
The dispute looked into the validity of forestry areas – which could be subject to the great Koala National Park. (Photo Credit: I Stock Images via Getty Images)

RFAs are, in effect,  long-term plans for the sustainable management and conservation of Australia’s native forests. In NSW, there are 3 RFAs, and if the court finds in favour of the NEFA, it could rule the RFA covering North East NSW operations is invalid.

Wood Central understands that had Justice Perry ruled in favour of the NEFA, the decision would have impacted commercial harvesting across more than 800,000 hectares of forest stretching from Sydney to the Queensland border.

Had the RFA been deemed invalid, Wood Central was advised by a legal expert connected to the process that the Federal Minister for the Environment, Tanya Plibersek, could have had the power to issue a declaration by legislative instrument, “removing an exemption for forestry operations that enables activities without an additional approval under the biodiversity provisions of the EPBC Act.”

“Whatever happens after the judgement will be a political decision, not a legal one,” the legal expert told Wood Central yesterday leading up to the ruling.

Wood Central understands this is the presumptive legal strategy for environmental activists “where the forest operations can be stymied through administrative roadblocks and shut down by proxy.”

In July, Wood Central reported that more than 250 (predominately NSW-based) ALP branches led a grassroots campaign to change the party’s stance on native forests. 

That was ultimately rejected at the ALP National Conference, but it did commit to removing RFAs and “applying the National Environmental Standards to Australia’s native forests.”

According to NSW Greens MP Sue Higginson, the push to remove RFAs relates to “protecting Southern Greater Gliders”, which have been subject to stop orders since a carcass was found in August.

Ms Higginson, who in May brought a bill to the NSW Parliament calling for a ban on all native forestry, joined protesters blocking access to roads at Clouds Creek State Forest on Monday.

“The Federal Court of Australia is on the verge of deciding whether public native forest logging ongoing in NSW is compliant with federal laws that are supposed to protect the environment and biodiversity,” Ms Higginson said about the RFAs leading up to today’s decision.

“The logging operations that have been blocked by the community today could well be permanently halted if the court agrees that the Government has failed to obey the law.”

“The community and the Forestry Corporation both know that logging is being undertaken in areas with reported sightings of endangered Greater Gliders without the lawfully required protections for their habitat trees being in place.”

The court action comes amid growing pressure on the Minns government to end native forestry logging after similar decisions in Victoria and Western Australia. 

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In September, Wood Central mapped the available timber supply over the proposed Great Koala National Park.

In November 2023, Premier Minns – the only non-left-aligned ALP Head of Government Australia-wide, announced the roadmap for the Great Koala National Park, which will see the development of a conversation park in areas that contain forest coups.

Should the Federal Court have ruled the RFA’s to be ‘unlawful’, the NSW industry could operate under a state-based agreement – like Queensland.

In 1999, the Queensland Government, led by former Premier Peter Beattie, secured the South East Queensland Forests Agreement (SEQFA), which operates in accordance with the national environmental laws.

  • Wood Central will continue to further updates after the ruling as more information becomes available.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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