House debates

Tuesday, 7 February 2023


Victoria: Timber Industry

7:30 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

People and wildlife die in poorly managed forests, and Victorian Premier Dan Andrews's plan to shut down the native timber industry is a plan to kill country towns, to kill wildlife and to kill Australian jobs. The combined impact of judicial activism, environmental protest, green lawfare and the abject failure of the Victorian Labor government to support our world-class and environmentally sustainable timber industry is devastating regional communities across Gippsland. Every worker who loses their job, every family facing financial stress—and the difficult decision to leave the community they love—has just one man to blame, and that man is Premier Dan Andrews and a Labor Party in Victoria that doesn't care about blue-collar workers anymore.

The native hardwood timber industry has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. It's now a sophisticated, world-class and environmentally sustainable industry that supports Australian jobs, protects our communities and wildlife from bushfires and reduces our carbon footprint. The alternative to harvesting local timber on a long-term rotational basis is to import more timber from countries with poorer environmental protocols.

Victorian Labor's failure to support the timber industry is already costing jobs. We've seen jobs lost in Australian Paper, which is no longer producing white copy paper in Australia. Australia now imports all its white copy paper. So much for Labor supporting the manufacturing sector!

A sustainable Victorian hardwood timber industry is part of the answer to reducing Australia's carbon emissions—as timber products sequester carbon in our floorboards, furniture and other timber products. Regrowing trees can increase and maintain the role of forests as carbon sinks, and is the ultimate renewable resource.

It's important to note that our most environmentally important forest areas are already protected, with more than 3.3 million hectares of conservation areas that can never be harvested in our state. We can all be proud of the fact that Victorian old-growth forest areas are already protected, enhancing biodiversity in our community. Every tree that is harvested by the timber industry is regrown, by law, and VicForests harvests and regenerates approximately 3,000 hectares each year from multiple-use public forests.

Apart from the 21,000 jobs, which are essential for country towns across Victoria and the furniture industry in Melbourne, the skills of the Gippsland timber industry workers help to keep us safe during bushfires. If the industry is shut down, as Dan Andrews plans, they will be lost forever.

Going back to where I started, people and wildlife die in poorly managed forests. All of the Black Summer bushfires started on public land that had incredibly high fuel loads after decades of mismanagement due to a chronic lack of staff and resources and a lack of commitment to protecting our community from wildfire.

We need active forest management in our region which allows for multiple uses such as camping, hiking, prospecting, beekeeping, fishing and a sustainable native hardwood timber industry. The skills of the timber industry workers should be utilised further, to maintain forest access roads and strategic fire breaks around critical assets like water catchments, towns and highways, with the timber harvested for the benefit of everyone.

We need more boots and less suits—that's more boots on the ground doing the fuel reduction work and the other practical environmental activities, and less suits in Melbourne making excuses and stupid, politically motivated decisions which endanger the lives of locals and visitors.

Under Labor's plan to shut down the native hardwood timber industry by 2030, I am worried about all jobs at Australian Paper's manufacturing plant and every town with a timber manufacturing industry or workers who support the harvest and horti sector.

It's not just me making this point. Labor's own supporters in the unions are disgusted by the way this premier is treating timber families. Michael O'Connor, from the CFMEU, wrote:

… federal Labor's task of convincing blue-collar workers and communities they will be looked after is threatened by the approach of the Andrews government toward timber workers and their communities.

Because these workers are being thrown on the scrap heap.

When Daniel Andrews announced that his government would halve the Victorian native forest industry from 2024 and shut it down completely by 2030, it was a hammer blow which blindsided thousands of Victorian timber workers, their families and communities, and shocked and devastated an entire industry.

That's Michael O'Connor from the CFMMEU. He went on to say:

The only type of transition that the current Victorian Government proposal offers for the worker, their family and community is a transition into poverty.

This is from the union movement, not from the National Party.

At least one federal member of parliament, Senator Raff Ciccone in the other place, took the time to visit Gippsland and understand the industry. It's a pity none of his Melbourne Labor mates in the Victorian government could be bothered driving two hours to find out more of the facts. As the member for Gippsland, I will continue to make the case to save Gippsland timber families from Dan Andrews's plan to ban them into poverty.