Pesutto visits Heyfield

State opposition leader, John Pesutto (pictured centre) was in Heyfield this week, meeting with timber industry representatives, National MPs and Wellington Shire Council. The native timber closure is now just two weeks away.

Liam Durkin

STATE opposition leader John Pesutto visited Heyfield last week, meeting those closest affected from the impending native timber closure.

The closure is only two weeks away, with the official end date on January 1, 2024.
As one of Gippsland’s many timber towns, Heyfield has vowed to fight on, although the social impacts of the closure are still expected to be felt for generations to come.

The town’s main employer, Australian Sustainable Hardwoods, has plans to diversify operations, while Yarram-based Radial Timber will concentrate on its new peeling plant and bioenergy plant.

While Mr Pesutto applauded the efforts of timber mills to continue, he said it would be “no thanks to the government”.

“It seems the government is turning the other cheek to the industry,” he said.
“It’s great to see them (mills) diversifying. I think a lot of them are going to have to do it, but more broadly we need a plan from the government about how our vital timber industry can be helped so that we can source the timber we need for all the houses we have to build.

“We feel the home ownership and housing affordability crisis here in Victoria more than anyone else right across the country.

“Our waiting lists are longer, the costs of building a new home are greater, the taxes on every new home are greater which makes it even harder for young people in particular to buy new homes.”

With the end date looming, Mr Pesutto said the opposition wasn’t holding out any hope for a last-minute reversal.

“They (timber towns) feel betrayed by the Allan Labor government and its predecessor. They were given a deadline of 2030, and then the government at very short notice changed that, they are feeling let down by that, but they are also crying out for a plan from the Allan Labor government and they’re not getting it, a plan for how people can be better supported, a plan for how we can manage the assets in terms of fire management of our forestry assets and also a plan for how the industry can help meet the real needs, we need to provide housing and home ownership for Victorians right across our state,” he said.

“People are in the dark about what’s available and what the government really wants to provide and will provide.

“What we really want is the government to come clean on what it’s plan is, especially for the transition – not many people know from the government.

“As for fire management – there’s no plan, it’s almost like the government has its head in the sand and is not giving any details away about how the industry and its resources and its knowledge can be deployed to make sure we can preserve these assets from fires, especially as we are coming into bushfire season.

Mr Pesutto, who grew up in Traralgon, was joined by Nationals and Liberal MPs, as well as Wellington Shire Council representatives including Mayor Ian Bye and chief executive David Morcom.

The forum was attended by harvest and haulage operators, industry representatives and forestry scientists.

Member for Eastern Victoria, and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Public Land Use, Melina Bath organised the event, and said timber towns were still struggling after the decision to bring forward the industry closure was announced in May.

“The social and economic impacts of Labor’s ruinous decision will reverberate throughout regional communities for decades unless Victoria takes a new approach to public land management,” she said.

“THE forum focused on gaps in the miserable compensation package, future bushfire mitigation and opportunities for communities to benefit from active management of forest systems,” Ms Bath said.

State opposition leader, John Pesutto in Traralgon on Tuesday. Mr Pesutto is calling on greater transparency from the state government as the native timber harvesting end date draws near. Photo: Liam Durkin

“Workers, their families and local communities deserve hope for their future and it’s important to send a collective and strong message to Premier Jacinta Allan on a better way forward.

“The forum proved that the wealth of knowledge and expertise of locals and forest scientist hold the solutions that the city based, ideologically driven Labor party ignore.

“It is environmentally and morally irresponsible for Labor to force Victoria to become so heavily reliant on imported timber for its future construction needs.

“The Labor Government went to the last election saying it would govern for all Victorians – it lied.

“The Nationals who are opposed to the closure, reiterate our commitment for the betterment of the lives and livelihoods of our timber communities.”

Shockwaves reverberated around the community last May after the state government announced native timber harvesting in Victoria would come to a close at the end of the year.

The state government pointed to ongoing litigation and bushfires for the early closure, claiming there was no alternative timber supply.

Native timber harvesting was put on hold in November last year after a Supreme Court ruling against VicForests.

The court ruled VicForests did not do enough to protect two possum species – greater and yellow-bellied gliders.

When the decision to end native timber harvesting was handed down, Federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester labelled it the most outrageous decision by a government in his more than decade-long career in politics.

“In my 15 years as a Member of Parliament, I’ve never been more disgusted with a government decision than today’s announcement that Victoria will ban all native timber harvesting from January 1 next year,” he said at the time.

The state government says will be working with Regional Development Victoria and the Latrobe Valley Authority as part of the transition, to look at ways to provide skills and training in other spaces for timber workers.

Redeployment into public land management has been identified as the most likely space.