State govt ‘playing with timber workers’ lives’

PEAK industry groups representing thousands of timber and forestry workers in Victoria have accused the state government of “playing with timber workers’ lives”.

The groups are demanding the state government immediately release an updated Timber Release Plan and deliver certainty regarding Regional Forest Agreements.

The Australian Forest Contractors Association, the Victorian Association of Forest Industries and the Australian Forest Products Association, have united to deliver a strong message to the state government.

Australian Forest Contractors Association chief executive Stacey Gardiner labelled the government’s actions “completely unconscionable behaviour”.

“The Timber Release Plan was due a year ago,” she said.

“The government appears to be drip feeding snippets of information to the media promising that some release is due sometime.

“This is playing with the lives of Victorians who expect more care and concern from their government.

“Native contractors in Gippsland are struggling to meet their contracted supply – have no money to pay the bills, and many are reporting a growing sense of despair.”

Victorian Association of Forest Industries chief executive Tim Johnston said politics should play no part in the security of people’s wellbeing.

“The government’s ongoing failure to approve a new Timber Release Plan is on the verge of bringing the hardwood industry to a standstill and is having a detrimental impact on the mental health of those affected,” he said.

“The Andrews government has turned its back on these timber workers.

“This has gone on for too long.

“More than 1600 directly affected regional workers are at desperation point.”

Australian Forest Products Association chief executive Ross Hampton said the failure to release the timber plan was part of a larger wrong the government was committing which was affecting regional workers and regional communities.

“The government claims it is in the process of modernising Regional Forest Agreements, which are the agreed management processes used across Australia to manage the environmental, social and economic balance in using our precious forest resources,” he said.

“Regional Forest Agreements have been signed between the Commonwealth government and the state governments of New South Wales, Tasmania and the Labor government of Western Australia.

“The industry is deeply suspicious that the behaviour of the Victorian government suggests that ‘modernising’ means that the Victorian government actually is planning a reduction of area available for harvest.

“This would be ridiculous, as only six per cent of the Victorian timber estate is available and suitable for harvest now and any further reduction beyond the thousands of hectares which have been added to national parks would potentially drive the industry and the regional jobs which rely on it into collapse.

“State and federal governments of all persuasions have understood for 20 years that Regional Forest Agreements provide certainty that environmental values will be maintained, and timber processing allowed at a very modest scale.

“The Victorian Andrews government may be the first to turn its back on that established practice and science,” Mr Hampton said.