WELLINGTON Shire Council's newly-formed Native Timber Taskforce has held its first meeting, and has begun planning its response to the state government decision to cease native timber harvesting.
The taskforce is chaired by Wellington Shire mayor Alan Hall, with membership including East Gippsland Shire Council, Timber Towns Victoria, Australian Sustainable Hardwoods, Radial Timbers and the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union.
Cr Hall said its first meeting agreed on a terms of reference and began with discussing strategies to continue the pursuit of information from the government which underpinned its decision.
He said Wellington and East Gippsland councils had approached the government and asked for details of the information it used as a basis of making the decision to phase out native timber harvesting, but those requests had fallen on deaf ears.
"This decision impacts not only Gippsland communities that are dependent upon forestry and related activities, but also downstream employment and trades throughout Victoria," Cr Hall said.
"In addition to this state government decision, the recent action taken by Bunnings to stop sourcing native timbers from our local timber mills is likely to see an increase in imports that are clearly not subject to the same protocols and processes that exist here in Victoria, putting at risk some of the world's most vulnerable species.
"To understand this decision, we need to know what information the state government used in its decision-making process to kill off an industry that is so important to our region."
Cr Hall said the Native Timber Taskforce would not let the issue go, and would work hard to get answers from the government.
"In this current economic environment, you can't simply destroy a viable industry and replace it with something nebulous overnight," he said.
"On the back of the drought, the bushfires, and the impact of the pandemic, we need to sustain and grow existing business.
"This is not a time to destroy, and think there are ready made replacements hanging on the rack."
Cr Hall said the Native Timber Taskforce welcomed the recent announcement that the state and federal governments would invest $4 million over four years to establish the Gippsland Centre of the National Institute for Forest Products Innovation, and noted that the impetus of the federal government and the take up by the state government was a move in the right direction.
"Importantly, we are well placed to assist, as we have within our municipalities of Wellington and East Gippsland the very best innovative operators," he said.
"Clearly we don't intend to let this vital local and national industry go, it is more important than ever to ensure that we have a balanced, sustainable economy for the future."