CALLS on the state government to create the Great Forest National Park, stretching from Toolangi in the north west to Erica and Rawson in the south east have been repeated by the Wilderness Society this week.
Drawing on the findings of a report by the Nous Group, commissioned by the Wilderness Society, it claims the proposed Great Forest National Park could draw almost 380,000 extra visitors a year to the Central Highlands, add $71 million annually to the local economy and generate 750 jobs with “a little” private investment.
Conservation group MyEnvironment director Sarah Rees claimed the Great Forest National Park would be a boon for the region.
“Investment in nature tourism is the next big thing for growing centres such as Healesville and Warburton, and will invigorate smaller towns such as Toolangi, Noojee and Rawson,” she said.
However the timber industry’s peak body points out the Wilderness Society’s figures on possible future employment and economic development do not add up when compared to other studies.
The Victorian Association of Forest Industries said the establishment of the proposed national park would have negative consequences, not only for the industry, but socially and economically for all of Victoria, particularly Heyfield and the Latrobe Valley.
VAFI chief executive Tim Johnston said the proposed park would mean shutting down the native timber industry, resulting in the loss of thousand of jobs and businesses, not only in the immediate area but across the state.
“A recent Deloitte Access Economic Report, economic assessment of the native timber industry in the Central Highlands, showed that $573 million in revenue was generated annually by industry in the region, resulting in the direct employment of 2117 full time equivalent workers.
“I note that the report into the proposed GFNP claimed that for an investment of $45 million from government and private enterprise, it could deliver around $70 million annually and create 760 full-time jobs, however, this is not adequate to cover the loss the state would see from the devastating effect the park would have on the forest, fibre and wood products industry in Victoria,” Mr Johnston said.
“The numbers simply don’t add up.”
“This is backed up by a separate report commissioned by the Yarra Ranges Council, one of the main local government areas in the proposed park area, which shows that the resulting loss of employment from the ending of timber harvesting would have a particularly negative economic and social impact on the smaller towns within the local government area.
“Industry is committed, and will continue to be, to working constructively with all stakeholders, including ENGOs and governments to maintain the balance between environmental considerations and the sustainable forest, fibre and wood products industry in Victoria.
“However what we need to remember is that overall, the timber industry in Victoria is a $7 billion industry that employs 21,000 Victorians and supports another 40,000 to 50,000 local jobs, many of these in regional Victoria.
“Alternative industries such as nature tourism might provide some jobs but it should not be a case of either-or. The estimated figure of $70m from the proposed GNFP is dependent on hypothetical private investments in new tourist attractions. I would welcome an analysis of the benefits these investments would bring to the existing parks system.
“We need forestry, tourism, and any other small industries to ensure a resilient and vibrant future for these communities and all Victorians,” Mr Johnston said.