A Federal Court judge has dismissed a historic legal challenge to the agreement that allows logging in north-eastern NSW native forests. [1] 

The North East NSW Regional Forest Agreement (North East RFA) covers the vast coastal area between Sydney and the Queensland border, and exempts logging from federal environmental assessment under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). [2] 

The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) challenged the agreement in court arguing that when the RFA was renewed in 2018 for another 20 years, the Commonwealth did not assess climate change, endangered species or old-growth forests as it was required to. 

Justice Perry dismissed those arguments. She found that such an assessment was not required, and in any event had occurred. Justice Perry did not make any finding in relation to the environmental sustainability of logging operations. 

The case, lodged by the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) on behalf of NEFA in August 2021, was the first legal challenge to an RFA in NSW since RFAs were entered into in 2000. 

NEFA President Dailan Pugh said: “NEFA objected to the governments extending the North East RFA in 2018 based on 1997 data, without requiring a new assessment. 

“It is therefore extremely disappointing that after a five-year legal battle this process of not requiring a contemporaneous assessment has been legally validated. 

“The decision to not require a new assessment put at risk the survival of a multitude of species that have rapidly declined since 1997, including many nationally threatened species that are not adequately protected under NSW’s logging rules and are being significantly impacted.” 

NEFA vice-president Susie Russell said: “We are in the midst of extinction and climate crises, aggravated by the 2019-20 wildfires, rising temperatures and logging, so it is reprehensible that these species are still not receiving the immediate increase in protection Professor Samuel’s review of the RFAs identified as needed back in 2020.” 

EDO Managing Lawyer Andrew Kwan said: “We’re disappointed by today’s decision. Without law reform, it means that native forest logging in the region will continue to be exempt from Commonwealth environmental assessment for at least another 20 years.  

“This could have devastating consequences for wildlife and forests. It is vital that our remaining native forests are properly protected by a reformed federal legal framework that includes strong national oversight.  

“We will be closely considering the court’s decision and speaking with our clients to discuss next steps.   

“We will also continue our important work on the current reform of the EPBC Act, including a push to overhaul these ineffective native forest management laws.” 

NEFA and EDO thank counsel who acted in this matter: Jeremy Kirk SC (now Justice of the NSW Court of Appeal), Claire Roberts and James Johnson. 


[1] North East Forest Alliance Inc v Commonwealth of Australia [2024] FCA 5 – JUDGEMENT 

[2] New South Wales Regional Forest Agreements, Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.  

[2] Forests defenders seek injunction to stop NSW Forestry Corporation logging koala habitat, 31-7-23, EDO media release. 


EDO | James Tremain | 0419 272 254  

NEFA | Dailan Pugh | 0400 711 054 


The North East NSW Regional Forest Agreement was originally signed between the Commonwealth and NSW in 2000. It was renewed in 2018 for another 20 years with rolling extensions that could continue indefinitely.  

In the summer of 2019-20, devastating bushfires ripped through native forests in the RFA region, including areas of the World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia. In 2021 and 2022 many of those areas flooded. In 2022, koalas, which call the forest habitat home, were listed as endangered in NSW. 

On behalf of the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA), EDO argued that when the North East RFA was renewed, the Commonwealth did not assess endangered species, the state of old-growth forests or the impacts of climate change on forest ecosystems, as the EDO argued it was required to do.   

NEFA asked the Federal Court to declare that the North East RFA does not validly exempt native forest logging from federal biodiversity assessment and approval requirements (EPBC Act).