Gippsland East Nationals MP, Tim Bull, has labelled East Gippsland Shire’s response to a report it commissioned showing the Andrews Labor Government’s plan to end the native timber industry would devastate the region’s local economy, as inadequate and extremely disappointing.
“This is a report commissioned by East Gippsland and Wellington councils that shows over 1,100 jobs will be lost and over $300m in economic output per annum removed from the local economy if the industry closes. These are staggering figures and does not include the flow on effects that will simply destroy communities like Orbost and Heyfield and impact heavily on many others,” said Mr Bull.
“However, the responses from the two councils have been very different.
“Wellington came out very strongly the day after the report was released and said it expected better of the State Government out of respect for local communities and it supported the retention of the industry – no ifs or buts there.
“Wellington is also challenging the State Government to provide the data and scientific research to back up this decision (which has not been forthcoming) and is questioning the ‘transition’ when there are no hardwood plantations to transition to.
“That council is really going into bat for these workers, their families and their timber communities,” said Mr Bull.
“East Gippsland, on the other hand, took two weeks to issue a response saying the study ‘will help inform decision making about the native timber harvesting phase out’. This is accepting of the phase out and therefore massive job losses.
“My point is, East Gippsland Council on one hand says the jobs are important, but then separately acknowledges the phase out of the industry and contractors should be afforded work in other sectors. To me these are in stark contradiction and council appears to be trying to ‘rove to two ruckmen’.
“It cannot be both. You are either in the fight as Wellington Shire is and want the industry retained, or you are accepting of the phase out and therefore the job losses. It’s either one or the other, I don’t believe there is any middle ground here.
“Wellington is in for the fight to save the industry and have it continue, while East Gippsland accepts the phase out and therefore job losses that will have major impacts on our communities.
“Full credit to Wellington for standing up for the retention of these local jobs and our industry. The Liberal Nationals have already announced it will overturn this decision if elected next year.
“East Gippsland has a lot of explaining to do to these timber workers and communities in the firing line. It needs to state why it is not fighting as Wellington is to save these timber jobs and these towns.”
Mr Bull said the State Government’s so called ‘transition of the timber industry’ was a complete falsity. The reality is hardwood takes around 30-60 years to mature depending on species and conditions, so if there was to be a ‘transition’, hardwood plantation coupes would need to be at least 20 years old now.
“Fact is they aren’t and worse still, they don’t exist!
“The demand for hardwood is increasing and in fact Planet Ark is telling us to use it, as wood is a renewable environmentally friendly resource, but here we are closing it down with no replacement. It will only drive up hardwood imports from jurisdictions with less oversight.
“This is about closing down an entire sector that will result in significant job losses in our community at a time when we need help and support.
“The industry harvests four trees in every 10,000 per year in Victoria and only has access to 5% of the forest, of which, only 0.16% of that 5% is harvested each year, with these trees replanted to ensure the sustainability of the industry for future generations,” he said.
Mr Bull said he has spoken to individual councillors who openly supported the continuation of the timber industry and hoped council would reconsider its position with a strong stance in support of timber worker families and timber communities.
Friday, 14 May 2021