A LOCAL politician has praised Wellington Shire Council and condemned East Gippsland Shire Council for their respective responses to the findings of a report into the economic repercussions banning the native timber industry would have.
The report, commissioned by East Gippsland and Wellington shire councils, found more than 1100 jobs would be lost and more than $300 million in economic output per annum removed from the local economy if the industry closed, as per the state government’s plan to phase it out by 2030.
Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull said the two councils had two different responses to the report, labelling East Gippsland Shire’s “as inadequate and extremely disappointing”.
“These are staggering figures and do not include the flow-on effects that will simply destroy communities like Orbost and Heyfield and impact heavily on many others,” Mr Bull said.
“Wellington came out very strongly the day after the report was released and said it expected better of the state government out of respect for local communities and it supported the retention of the industry – no ifs or buts there.
“Wellington is also challenging the state government to provide the data and scientific research to back up this decision (which has not been forthcoming) and is questioning the ‘transition’ when there are no hardwood plantations to transition to.
“That council is really going into bat for these workers, their families and their timber communities.
“East Gippsland, on the other hand, took two weeks to issue a response saying the study ‘will help inform decision making about the native timber harvesting phase-out’.
“This is accepting of the phase-out and therefore massive job losses.
“My point is, East Gippsland Council on one hand says the jobs are important, but then separately acknowledges the phase out of the industry and contractors should be afforded work in other sectors.
“To me, these are in stark contradiction, and council appears to be trying to ‘rove to two ruckmen’.
“Wellington is in for the fight to save the industry and have it continue, while East Gippsland accepts the phase-out and therefore job losses that will have major impacts on our communities.
“Full credit to Wellington for standing up for the retention of these local jobs and our industry.”
Mr Bull said the Liberal Nationals would overturn this decision if elected next year.
“East Gippsland has a lot of explaining to do to these timber workers and communities in the firing line,” he said.
“It needs to state why it is not fighting as Wellington is to save these timber jobs and these towns.”
Mr Bull described the state government’s “transition of the timber industry” as “a complete falsity”, pointing to a lack of mature hardwood plantation coupes in the ground to “transition” to.
“The demand for hardwood is increasing, and in fact Planet Ark is telling us to use it, as wood is a renewable environmentally friendly resource, but here we are closing it down with no replacement,” he said.
“It will only drive up hardwood imports from jurisdictions with less oversight.
“The industry harvests four trees in every 10,000 per year in Victoria and only has access to five per cent of the forest, of which, only 0.16 per cent of that five per cent is harvested each year, with these trees replanted to ensure the sustainability of the industry for future generations.”