‘Not a single extra tree in the ground’, says MP

A GIPPSLAND MP says it’s three years down the track and the state government’s “sham announcement” to expand timber plantations in Gippsland still has not delivered a single extra tree in the ground, but the government says he’s wrong.

Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien said the state government was “all sizzle and no sausage”, with numerous announcements now piling up and “absolutely no follow-through”.

“The people of Gippsland and the [Latrobe] Valley want secure jobs in the forestry sector, and they are angered by Labor’s decision to phase out the native hardwood industry,” he said.

“However back in May 2017, the government pledged $110 million in the state budget to expand plantations in the Latrobe Valley to notionally help our timber sector transition.

“We are now more than three years down the track from that announcement – and not a single extra tree has been planted.

“This makes a lie of both that announcement and the Andrews government’s supposed plan to transition the native hardwood sector into plantations by 2030.”

The claims are disputed by Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes, who said Mr O’Brien had “got his facts wrong – again”.

“We planted 250,000 seedlings last winter and have the same number going in the ground this winter,” she said.

“Five out of six trees harvested in Victoria already are taken from plantations.

“Mr O’Brien knows well that Victoria has a mature plantation industry, and this will continue to grow as we transition our forestry industries to a more sustainable footing.”

But Mr O’Brien said any trees planted would take decades before they were ready for harvesting.

“Not a single tree planted today will be ready to harvest in 2030,” he said.

“Latrobe Valley and Gippsland timber workers want certainty, but instead they get spin from the government.”

Mr O’Brien said the government last year claimed to be expanding the plantation estate as it planted blue gums, a pulpwood species, on land that had already been in plantation for years.

Eastern Victoria MLC Melina Bath said Labor was letting down timber workers and communities around Gippsland.

“We know that Australian Paper will need additional fibre supplies in coming years, not to mention the need for more hardwood plantations if Labor gets its way and shuts down harvesting in state forests,” she said.

“We have had enough of spin and if the government was at all interested in jobs in the Valley and across the region it would have done something, not just put a line in the budget papers and a headline on a press release.”

Mr O’Brien said the government’s announcement of a Gippsland Centre for Forest Product Innovation was a hollow offer.

“Our timber industry, both in the plantation and native sectors is already highly innovative and adaptive, but any future investments will amount to nothing if there is no timber supply coming through.

“I have spoken with timber industry players who have land available and opportunities to develop plantations and they’ve offered these to the government and had no response.

“There is no excuse for this level of inaction from the government.

“It’s had three years now and it’s continued to show it doesn’t have a plan for the timber industry other than to sacrifice it for green votes in Melbourne.”