Nats talk timber inelection lead-up

STATE Nationals leader and shadow agriculture minister Peter Walsh was in Sale last week hearing concerns from local businesses about the future of the timber industry and the local jobs that rely on it.

Mr Walsh was in Sale at the invitation of Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien and after recent reports the Labor government was considering a decision to end the native timber harvesting industry.

Mr Walsh and Mr O’Brien met with Mark Knowles of HydEng, a hydraulic engineering business that undertakes a significant portion of its work at local mills.

Mr O’Brien said the 14 jobs at HydEng were an example of how the timber industry supported communities far beyond those involved in direct harvesting and milling of native timber.

He said these jobs in Sale and many thousands of others in Gippsland were “threatened by the Labor government’s plans, driven by its desperation to ‘out-Green the Greens’ in inner city Melbourne”.

“The timber industry supports so many families in Gippsland and to see it shut down would be a travesty for our region,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Labor needs to rule out any deal with the Greens to shut down this valuable, sustainable Gippsland industry.”

Mr Walsh said the flow-on effects of any closure of native timber harvesting would be enormous for Gippsland and the north-east, including in towns like Sale.

“The Nationals understand and value the people who rely on this industry to make ends meet,” Mr Walsh said.

“Labor claims it’s a party for the workers, but then refuses to support a vital regional industry that provides 50,000 Victorians with good jobs, generating $7 billion a year for Victoria’s economy.

“It’s only a matter of time before Labor caves completely to its Greens coalition partners and seals the death of Victoria’s $7 billion timber industry and the loss of more jobs in Gippsland.”

During a recent event in Stratford, state Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio described suggestions the government had decided to end native timber harvesting as “speculation”.

“This is pure speculation, the fact is our government has been working with industry and environment groups for some time now to work through a way of a future of managing employment and environmental values, and that work’s continuing.

“I think what’s been reported is external speculation and we’re not going to be commenting on that.

“We continue to work with all key stakeholders.”

Meanwhile, Gippland MHR Darren Chester recently visited Australian Sustainable Hardwoods in Heyfield to discuss key issues of concern affecting the local business and the timber  industry.

“ASH remains a key employer for Heyfield and retains 150 permanent staff even after the recent restructure,” he said.

“The company is investing millions into new technologies to further its efforts into the manufacturing sector, including $1.2 million from the federal government’s Regional Jobs Investment Package.”

Mr Chester said he would continue to work with his parliamentary colleagues on supply issues to keep the Gippsland timber industry viable and support those jobs which it provided.