Gippsland based conservation group takes legal action against Canadian Multinational

January 25, 2006

Gippsland conservation group Friends of Gippsland Bush (FoGB), have taken unprecedented legal action against a subsidiary of Canadian based MFC Global Investment Management*. The action has been taken against Grand Ridge Plantations, a subsidiary company of Hancock Timber Resource Group, who come under the corporate umbrella of MFC Global Investment Management. 

(*MFC Global Investment Management was created after the merging of the assets of Canadian insurer Manulife and US insurer John Hancock Financial services in 2004.  MFC Global Investment Management has over US$206 billion in assets under management).

The legal action will be taken in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) under an Application for Enforcement Order under Section 114 to 120 of the Planning and Environment Act 1987.

It is alleged that Grand Ridge Plantations have removed native vegetation for the construction of an access track on Crown Land in the Parish of Gunyah Gunyah, in the Strzelecki Ranges.  It is also alleged that the company intends to remove native vegetation without gaining permits from La Trobe City Council.  It is alleged that this would breach Section 52.17 of the La Trobe City Planning Scheme.  Apparently GRP withdrew the planning permit in October 2005, because Grand Ridge Plantations and the Council believed that a permit was not required as an exemption under clause 52.17 of the Planning Scheme.  Friends of Gippsland Bush argue that none of the exemptions under Section 52.17 apply and that a permit is required.

A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Anthony Amis said; "It's a very brave act, to take on a company the size of MFC Global.  However, FoGB are confident that they are making the right decision.  Both FoGB and Friends of the Earth have worked for years monitoring the activities of Hancock Victorian Plantations and Grand Ridge Plantations Pty Ltd.  Almost the entire Strzelecki Ranges was effectively sold off to Hancock in 1998, through their acquisition of the Victorian Plantations Corporation and in 2001, through their acquisition of Australian Paper Plantations" Mr Amis said.

"It is disappointing that La Trobe City Council has not been co-operative in this instance.  We fear that as the responsible authority La Trobe City must make Grand Ridge go through the proper planning process, like any other private landholder. Victorian biodiversity policy directs that any proposal to clear native vegetation where it can not be avoided will be expected to identify offsets whereby gains in vegetation quality and extent can be achieved to more than balance the loss through clearing.” “By not requiring permits, it would appear that La Trobe City Council is abrogating the need for Grand Ridge Plantations to establish offsets.  Why would the Council do this? Why should Grand Ridge Plantations not go through the proper planning process?” Mr Amis concluded.

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