National wood strategy needed, Gippsland MR Darren Chester says

A round table forum with Gippsland forestry professionals and Nationals MPs has reaffirmed support for Victoria’s sustainable native and plantation timber industry. Photo: Contributed

Philip Hopkins

THE state government’s decision to close the native forest industry highlights the need for a national fibre strategy to ensure a strategic wood supply, according to Gippsland MHR Darren Chester.

Mr Chester said the lack of a long-term strategy around fibre supply — “a real problem” — had been made clear during the pandemic.

He was speaking after a forum at the Gippsland Forestry Hub in Churchill, which was attended by local forestry professionals, the Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie and Eastern Victoria MLC Melina Bath.

Mr Chester said the federal government had a role in explaining the national security implications of having a national fibre supply.

“We can’t rely on global supply chains as we discovered during the pandemic,” he said.

“The federal government’s role here is to explain to Australians how important the timber industry is.

“It’s well managed and it’s in our national interest to ensure it survives in the long term.

“The environmental groups have targeted individual regions and managed to shut down supply in many cases.

“No one has taken a broader, national understanding of our future needs.

“We have seen through the coronavirus crisis as international supplies have dwindled, the price of local products has gone through the roof and now Australian consumers are paying the price when they come to build a home.

“Educating the public about the implications of not having a sustainable secure fibre supply in own country is tremendously important and has been brought home in the past 18 months.”

Mr Chester said the Australian government should show “what the Andrews government is jeopardising with its plan to shut down the native timber industry”.

“The Victorian government is misleading Victorians if they think they can supply this fibre from other than native timber,” he said.

“It’s misleading to suggest the industry is not sustainable in this state.

“We have taken enormous steps over the past 30-40 years to put the industry on a sustainable footing.

“To shut it down now is an insult to Victorians and all the hard work that has been done already.”

Mr Chester said his role as a federal MP and minister was to ensure his colleagues in Canberra understood the implications of the Victorian decision.

“The information I’ve got from industry and the forestry hub — I’ll take those points to Canberra,” he said.

Senator McKenzie told to the forum how her intended amendment and changes to the Environment Protection Biodiversity Act and Regional Forest Agreements would give industry certainty.

However, the federal government could not influence its state counterpart.

“The only way to change the Andrews government decision to shut down the native industry is to change the government. That is a great tragedy,” Senator McKenzie said.

“As I found out through the inquiry to the Senate bill, the CFMEU’s Michael O’Connor supports these changes.

“To let the RFA system run and to keep native forest harvesting going.

“It’s not just about left versus right. There are plenty of people in the Labor Party and those who support Labor who support the forest industry because they know it’s a sustainable industry,” she said.

“We’ve got to change the hearts and minds of the average voter who does not know the tough environmental standards under which this industry operates and how sustainable it is.

“If we want to see our towns grow and prosper rather than face a slow decline, we have to back the side of politics that will make it happen.

“We need a social awareness campaign to get the facts on the table and show what the industry is really about, and how proud we can be of it.”