By Mitchell Clarke
A controversial State Government pledge to phase out logging in native forests by 2030 has left Gippsland MPs accusing the Premier of buying ‘Greens’ votes.
In what has been referred to as the “largest environmental protection policy” in Victorian history, 90,000 hectares of old growth forest will be protected immediately, sparing more than 35 threatened species.
But in just over 10 years, all logging in native forests will be banned, putting the livelihoods of those in the timber industry at risk.
“This industry is going through a transition. It means it’s not good enough for us to merely cross our fingers and hope for the best. We need a plan to support workers and support jobs,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.
“With a 30-year plan for transition, we’re providing much-needed certainty for workers and their families.”
That certainty is $120 million which will back long-term sustainable jobs and give local workers confidence about their futures.
Eastern Victoria MP Harriet Shing acknowledged the transition would be a challenge and would require planning, support and engagement with industry, unions, workers and local logging communities.
“As we work towards 2030, it will be vital that there are dedicated supports in place, including through ongoing investment in innovation, skills and training, technology and jobs,” Ms Shing said.
But Narracan MP and Shadow Assistant Minister for Forestry Gary Blackwood has slammed the move, claiming there was no thought about the future of jobs for timber workers.
“This decision is not based on any science and is entirely politically motivated,” Mr Blackwood said.
“Daniel Andrews has clearly shown he is happy to share a bed with radical city based Greens pushing to lock up all Victorian forest regardless of the impact on jobs or the cost of home grown product to our state.
“Regional communities cannot continue to be treated like this, just because it suits Daniel Andrews’ political agenda.”
It’s understood the Native Forest Industry contributes nearly $590 million into the Victorian economy, employing 2000 people directly.
Following the announcement, concerns are mounting for those reliant on the native logging industry, with president of the National Timber Council, Dale Harriman appalled at how regional jobs and communities would be “jeopardised” by “poor government decisions”.
“The timber industry is an industry of the 21st century and perfectly fits into a carbon constraint society, after all it is the ultimate renewable, and any government that is serious about climate change cannot bury their head in the sand and not recognise the merits of the industry,” Mr Harriman said.
The State Government said over 186,000 hectares of area will be protected, with the state home to an area of native forest larger than Tasmania’s land mass by 2030.
But Nationals Eastern Victoria MP Melina Bath claims only four in every 10,000 trees are harvested each year.
“Our local timber is sustainably sourced under a strict and comprehensive regulatory framework, but now timber will have to be imported from overseas without stringent guidelines,” Ms Bath said.
“Instead of blindly swinging an axe, Daniel Andrews should be supporting the native timber industry and celebrating its sustainability.
“Victorians must rally against this announcement, we cannot afford to lose the native timber industry.”