SOME of Gippsland’s forestry workers displaced by the state government’s forced closure of the native forest industry have had their redundancy payments frozen.

Jeff Coster is one such local who has yet to receive $198,000 in compensation.

Mr Coster envisaged that life after logging would look like retirement. But after losing the choice to end his 30-year career as a subcontractor on his terms when native timber harvesting ended on January 1 this year, the Heyfield local faced another blow when the redundancy compensation he spent months jumping through bureaucratic hoops to secure never arrived in his bank account.

Mr Coster applied for the compensation as part of the state government’s Forestry Worker Support Program, which provides redundancy top-up payments of up to $200,000 to native timber workers. The not-for-profit organisation ForestWorks is delivering the state-funded program until June 30, 2026.

As part of transitioning out of the timber industry, the program provides eligible subcontractors and employees top-up payments and funded training. Mr Coster said some training had been paid for by the state government and delivered by ForestWorks.

However, after a lengthy application process, Mr Coster’s top-up payment was stalled despite the state government issuing a test payment of 20 cents into his bank account earlier this year.

Recently, the Member for Eastern Victoria, Melina Bath, joined Mr Coster in Traralgon, where he revealed the bank transfer on a printed piece of paper to WIN News Gippsland.

Mr Coster said he was told after the 20 cent payment was issued on February 27 that the rest would take five to 10 business days to come through. But he has not seen a cent.

Mr Coster told the Gippsland Times that the 20 cent payment is “virtually a deposit”.
“I almost consider that a binding contract,” he said.

One way Mr Coster described the process was like ‘chasing a carrot on a string that only gets further and further away’.

As part of the application process, Mr Coster needed to obtain 25 years of tax returns. Although initially unsure if this was possible, he fulfilled this requirement, albeit at a cost of $1000.

“They had every piece of information that they need, and I’ve got an email that says – from ForestWorks – ‘Thank you very much you’ve been right through the entire process’, and then we got approved, 20 cents in the bank account and then nothing… crickets,” Mr Coster said.

Mr Coster said the payment was stalled due to a “taxation issue”.

“Now the tax reason is (that) I didn’t resign myself as a director of my small business,” he said.

“You gotta remember, I’m not Twiggy Forrest, and I’m not Gina Rinehart; I’m just out there making a living.”

When the Gippsland Times asked the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action for a response, a government spokesperson said: “To receive a redundancy top-up payment, individuals who own native timber businesses need to prove that their businesses are no longer operating to ensure compliance with requirements of the Fair Work Act and Australian Taxation Office that relate to a genuine redundancy,” the spokesperson said.
“We recognise that the end of native timber harvesting has been a challenging time for native timber workers, businesses and communities.

“The Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action is assisting business owners to meet the requirements of the Fair Work Act and Australian Taxation Office so they can access available government support – applicants can expect to receive payments swiftly once the requirements are satisfied.”

However, Mr Coster finds it hypocritical that his compensation has yet to be issued, especially since he said he knows of other subcontractors in the industry who have received payouts while still serving as shareholders or directors of their small businesses.

“MY question to them (state government) is how come I’m different to other people that have already been paid?”

Seeking a resolution, Ms Bath called on Labor in state parliament to honour its commitment and pay the compensation without delay.

“After working in the industry for 30 years, Jeff lost his livelihood as a direct result of Labor’s appalling decision to close the timber industry – a solution must be found,” she said.

Out of frustration, Mr Coster visited state parliament alongside Ms Bath.

“Over the past month, I and The Nationals, along with the Costers have had discussions in good faith with the Minister for Agriculture and her Forestry Adviser, despite sympathetic noises, no payment is forthcoming,” Ms Bath said.

The MP said the stalled payment was a bitter pill for Mr Coster to swallow, given he has used his expertise to fight every major bushfire over the past 30 years.

“Jeff spent decades protecting forests, properties, and lives from the ravages of bushfire – it’s time the Labor government delivered support to him and his family,” Ms Bath said.

“The Allan Labor government agreed in writing to pay due compensation to all forestry workers – it must end the stalling and create a pathway to provide the money owed to impacted subcontractors.”

Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath with Jeff and Kristy Coster at state parliament seeking a resolution to their promised forestry worker compensation payout.

For someone who says timber has been his life since entering the industry at age 21, Mr Coster was “gutted” by the closure of native Victorian timber harvesting.

Mr Coster said the “unknown” contributed to the stressful times afterwards. While he said he is lucky to have found other work, he said, “It’s not up in the forest where I spent my whole life.”

“You have to remember… this isn’t something that I wanted to happen; number one, that choice was taken away from me. Number two, if I had to line up and go through all these hoops and then get shafted at the end by this compensation package from the government and ForestWorks, if I knew this was going to happen, you just wouldn’t have signed up for any of it,” he said.

Displaced and disconnected from the forests, Mr Coster said he knows other people are doing it hard.

Ms Bath said at least 20 other people are in Mr Coster’s position – waiting for compensation.

Mr Coster said he is going to keep fighting the issue.

“What they’re hanging their whole thing on is a technicality, which is morally bankrupt.”