VicForests to cease operations on June 30

Vicforests announces cessation date will be June 30. Photo: File

VICFORESTS will cease operations on June 30, the end date was revealed last Wednesday during a court hearing involving VicForests and environmental group Wombat Forestcare, Timberbiz reported.

The winding-up of the body is part of the Victorian government’s decision to end native forest harvesting, which took effect on January 1. Stand-down payments to VicForests contractors are due to end on June 30.

Last September, the government paved the way for the organisation’s closure, altering its status as a state business corporation and making it a “reorganising body”, which allows its functions and staff to be moved around.

VicForests employs 140 staff. Of these, 60 will be made redundant while the remaining 80 will get new roles in the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action. Functions including forest planning, spatial mapping, seed collection, bushfire management and forest regeneration will transfer to DEECA.

VicForests harvest contractors have previously been offered secure five-year Forest and Fire Management Services Agreements, starting from 1 July, 2024. Negotiations continue with these businesses.

Nationals’ leader Peter Walsh told Timberbiz that VicForests was being treated deplorably. The state government had not offered a single positive word, effectively ignoring its existence.

“This June 30 end date is painful enough, but VicForests are being kicked on the way out the door without an ounce of respect,” Mr Walsh said.

The Allan Labor government had refused to publicly defend its own logging company.

“This is a cruel, unfair ending for an organisation that has done so much for regional communities and made a huge contribution to Victoria. It has always done its best despite severe harassment from illegal protesters,” he said.

Mr Walsh said the work of VicForests should be applauded given so much of its work supporting the industry was amid continual litigation by extremists.

“VicForests had to use taxpayers’ money to defend itself from carrying out government policy,” Mr Walsh said.

He said the end of VicForests would also leave a gaping hole in fire management.

“The risk of mega-fires will increase. There won’t be tracks maintained by the timber industry and there won’t be control lines to burn back from,” Mr Walsh said.

“There won’t be the heavy equipment and timber industry workers to go in and help fight fires.

“The Greens, so critical of the industry, will be hiding in inner Melbourne and nowhere to be seen as regional communities face the inevitable bushfires without the support of the timber industry to help fight them.”

The Community and Public Sector Union industrial organiser, Kassey Dickie, said VicForests’ 100 employees were aware the company would close on June 30.

She said workers were able to apply for about 80 other government jobs, including five-year contracts with Forest Fire Management Victoria.

Ms Dickie told AAP many workers were stressed and finding new roles had been a “very fast process” for them. ”

They’re sad I think, to sum it up, many of them have worked together for a very long time,” she said.

“They have been rushed through a process made by government in a hurry that has been pretty stressful.”

A government spokesperson told the Gippsland Times that the government valued the work that VicForests staff had contributed to the management of native forests.

“We’ve been working closely with employees since the end of last year regarding the closure of the organisation and to support them to transition into new roles or take a redundancy. A range of support services are available to staff including counselling and career advice,” they said.

As part of the transition from native timber harvesting, the government will deliver a program of land management works to manage the 1.8 million hectares of public land previously available for timber harvesting.

The Victorian Government will establish an advisory panel to consider and make recommendations on forest areas that qualify for protection as National Parks, would be suitable for recreational activities and present opportunities for Traditional Owners to manage public land.