Logging decision divides Victoria

By Simon Ruppert

A state government commitment to phase-out the logging of native, old-growth timber has divided communities across Victoria.

On Thursday Victorian Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D'Ambrosio was in the Strathbogie ranges announcing the policy to a cheering crowd.

That crowd was largely made up of members of the Save Our Strathbogie Forest (SOSF) community group.

However, the fallout from the newly announced policy has led to many in the timber industry questioning the affect it will have on regional and rural employment.

“This decision will have a highly destructive impact on small business, communities and families.” - Victorian Association of Forest Industries, Tim Johnson. 

“What we are announcing today are a series of very important actions,” Ms D'Ambrosio told those in attendance.

“Firstly that there will be an end to native forest logging by 2030.

“There will also be a step-down from 2024 in terms of the areas that are subject to native logging. We will also put in place some immediate protections from today.

Timber plan provides relief

“We will be setting aside... all of Victoria’s old-growth areas, that’s 90 000ha, that... will be protected from logging.

“Further to that there will be an immediate protection of a further 96 000ha from today in other areas in the state.

“Those areas go from parts of central highlands though to east Gippsland and of course these wonderful Strathbogies that we’re standing in right now.

“From today we will have 186 000ha protected from native timber logging - that represents the largest reserve system to be protected in almost 30 years.

“I'm also pleased to announce today that we are also releasing the greater glider action statement.

“The Strathbogies represents one of the most significant strongholds for the greater glider, (which) will have a much stronger and better future from today.

The Save Our Strathbogie Forest community group are pleased with the announcement

“This is a wonderful outcome for the threatened species.”

Whilst the decision does great things for the state's environment and a number of threatened species, many in the logging industry are concerned about how they will continue to put food on the table into the future.

The Victorian Association of Forest Industries called the decision devastating.

“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,” VAFI chief executive officer Tim 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.

“This short-sighted decision sadly comes as no surprise given the government’s lack of response to issues affecting the native timber industry over the last five years.

“This is a great day for our forest, and for many other significant areas of native forest to be protected forever as a part of this package announced by the Government." - SOSF spokesperson Bertram Lobert

“It will be one that will hurt the Victorian economy, and more importantly, local communities and families that are reliant on it.

“This decision will have a highly destructive impact on small business, communities and families.”

Mr Johnston specifically cited Benalla, and other towns with a thriving timber industry including Corryong, Orbost, Powelltown and Heyfield, as areas that he believes will see negative consequences of this decision.

“The rhetoric we hear all the time is that native forestry workers and businesses should transition into plantations, but this is not viable for a number of reasons,” Mr Johnson said.

“Firstly, there needs to be land available for plantation establishment.

“The government’s own plantation estate has barely been established, let alone developed to a point where it can realistically supply fibre to industry.

“While VAFI supports the government’s previous commitments to plantation development, there is nothing new in (Thursday's) announcement.

“Secondly, the existing plantation resource here in Victoria can’t replace the products
from native forests.”

Ms D'Ambrosio disputes the rhetoric that this announcement will have a negative impact on jobs in regional Victoria.

“The (state) government (has) also... announcing $7m to invest back into these areas that are to be protected immediately,” Ms D'Ambrosia said.

“We will continue to support this industry. The premier was out today to explain what the future of plantation industry will be.

“It has a strong future. But it’s a future that needs to go through a transition period to make sure that it is sustainable.

“And that is the key, sustainable forestry, (and) sustainable local communities.

The sight of loggers working in Victoria's old-growth native forests will soon be a thing of the past

“So the actions that have been announced today are to protect those local communities, right across our state, that have relied on the timber industry for generations.

“Future generations will have a lot to look forward to through a very strong transition package, enough time to transition, (and) significant dollars to help those communities to transitions.

“And ensuring that the type of forestry that Victoria will have into the future is sustainable, this is the key.

“There’s a lot of matters that will be discussed further, together with local communities as this package is rolled out, but it's important to remember that this is an entire package.

“An entire package that provides a bright future for forestry, for local communities, for transition, for sustainable industry, and importantly, for protection of our natural environment - which we know is the key to so much of our future.”

State Member for Euroa Steph Ryan also spoke strongly against the policy.

“Our communities have had an absolute gut-full of arrogant Andrews putting politics first and country people second,” Ms Ryan said.

“Instead of supporting and promoting Victoria’s sustainable forest industries, Daniel Andrews has sacrificed them to keep Melbourne inner-city voters happy.

“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 and on top of this the high-quality timber – appearance grade timber for furniture and floors - takes at least 40 years to grow and can’t be matured viably in plantations.

“This is just going to drive up imports, often from countries with far less oversight and regulation and cause massive job losses locally.

Woodies and archers build benches

“No amount of money Daniel Andrews puts into a package can replace these jobs.”

One of the strongest voices supporting the policy, perhaps unsurprisingly, is one of the groups who have been lobbying to protect Victoria's native forests - SOSF.

SOSF spokesperson Bertram Lobert said this decision showed far-sighted leadership.

“This is a great day for our forest, and for many other significant areas of native forest to be protected forever as a part of this package announced by the Government,” Mr Lobert said.

“What we now need to ensure is that these commitments are followed through, and that the government keeps working to protect other, irreplaceable native forests in Victoria.

“SOSF has campaigned tirelessly for increased protections for the Strathbogie Forest since 2013.

“We are delighted that this government has listened to regional Victorians and responded with such far-reaching, positive outcomes for the natural environment.”