Urgent meeting sought over the future of native timber industry

Philip Hopkins

Wellington Shire Council to establish native timber taskforce

GIPPSLAND federal MPs are seeking a meeting this week with Environment Minister Sussan Ley, urging her to override a Federal Court decision which threatens the future of the native forestry industry.

Gippsland MHR Darren Chester, who has three ministerial portfolios, and Monash MHR Russell Broadbent, believe the Federal Court has no jurisdiction over the Regional Forest Agreements – the legislated agreement between the federal and state governments that govern native forest harvesting.

RFAs are exempt from the provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act that protect native species.

The Federal Court found last month that stateowned timber company VicForests breached Victoria’s Code of Practice by harvesting 26 logging coupes in the Central Highlands inhabited by the Leadbeater’s Possum, which is officially listed as critically endangered.

The ruling found that an additional 41 coupes were unlikely to comply.

All the coupes are also home to the greater glider. State shadow assistant forestry minister and Narracan MLA Gary Blackwood is also seeking a meeting with Premier Daniel Andrews over the issue.

The three MPs said the Federal Court judgement meant the RFAs did not give VicForests the right to manage its own environmental responsibilities.

“Unless this ruling is successfully appealed, it will lead to the immediate end of native forest harvesting in Victoria.

“It has ramifications for every state,” they said in a statement.

The MPs said the situation had come about because green groups had influenced government policy to change forest management of threatened species, from a landscape management regime to individual species management.

Effectively, for every Leadbeater sighting, 12 hectares was taken out of production and for every Greater Glider, an area within a radius of 200 metres.

“The Leadbeater’s Possum numbers are surging as DELWP (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) accept third party sightings and remove timber from production without even verifying their authenticity,” the MPs said.

“Sawmills and processors will not get their contracted volumes for this season and many will be out of timber by September.

“Australian Paper may also be affected.”

The MPs said the Institute of Foresters had produced a number of papers challenging the claims of green groups and ANU academics around threatened species, the impact of logging on bushfires, on sustainability and the ability of industry and species to co-exist.

Mr Blackwood said the Federal Court ruling would destroy the native forest sector, undermining even the Andrews government’s own policy on closing the native forest industry by 2030.

The state opposition opposes the Andrews government policy.

“Sawmillers, harvest and haul contractors and their employees don’t deserve to be left to ‘bleed to death’ in this way,” he said.

“It is morally incumbent on the government to ensure these hardworking families are treated with the respect they deserve.”