Yesterday’s state government announcement to immediately cease logging in remaining old growth forests and cease all logging in native forests across the state by 2030 comes as a blow to local communities reliant on the industry.
Premier Daniel Andrews said as part of the plan, $120 million would be set aside to ensure the industry was fully supported, “backing long-term sustainable jobs and giving local workers confidence about their future”.
VicForests will extend existing timber supply agreements until 2024, after which native timber supply will be stepped down before ending in 2030.
Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said he had spoken with mill owners who confirmed the plantation timber would not be available by 2030 to replace the native timber supply.
“Premier Daniel Andrews’ announcement that the native timber industry in Victoria will be shut down by 2030 will decimate the East Gippsland economy,” Mr Bull said.
“His statement that we are going to transition totally to plantation timber by 2030 is flawed.
“We do not have enough plantation timber in the ground to do this.
In Bairnsdale, Fenning Timbers has undertaken massive upgrades at its facility for future timber processing.”
Leonard Fenning said he and his company were very disappointed the government would make such a decision without any consultation to industry stakeholders.
“It is hard to make any further comment at this point in time as we are still trying to work out what is happening, given that we only have media reports to go from,” Mr Fenning said.
Nationals leader, Peter Walsh, said the Liberal/National party would reverse the decision once in power.
“Today is a dark day for our regional communities and the industries that underpin us,” Mr Walsh said.
“We should be backing Victoria’s sustainable timber industry, not axing it.”
Mr Bull said of the 7.8 million hectares of public native forest in Victoria, more than 94 per cent of it was in reserve or inaccessible, meaning the timber industry had access to less than six per cent, harvested on an 80-year rotation.
“I am very confident we are going to see the people and industries of the regions, not just forestry, fight the Premier for Melbourne every step of the way on this,” Mr Bull said.
The Victorian Association of Forest Industries (VAFI) chief executive officer, Tim Johnston, the association was devastated by the State Government’s decision.
“It’s clear the government has bowed to pressure from vocal environmental groups and turned its back on listening to those within the industry and those impacted by the flow-on of this devastating decision,” Mr Johnston said.
“Victoria has a long and proud native timber history and it is integral to many rural and regional communities that depend on it.”
He said many regional towns including Corryong, Orbost, Benalla, Powelltown and Heyfield will be devastated by this decision and said the government must work closely with industry and those affected to help towns and families recover from the impact of the government’s decision.
On the other side of the argument, Goongerah Environment Centre and Friends of the Earth spokesperson, Ed Hill, welcomed the announcement.
“It’s good to see the Andrews government finally show leadership to protect native forests, especially old growth forests in East Gippsland,” he said.
“This is a positive first step towards better protection of East Gippsland’s forests, but questions remain over how these promises will be implemented.”
Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development, Jaclyn Symes, Said industry and retailers were moving towards more sustainable timber products.
“The future of the forestry industry relies on a government with a clear long-term plan,” Minister Symes said.
“By acting now, businesses and workers have the security they need and a clear strategy in place for the transition to plantation timber.”