Report reveals about 1110 jobs in Wellington and East Gippsland shire are at risk from the closure of the native timber industry

Pressure on to protect timber communities

ABOUT 1110 jobs would be lost if native forest logging ceased immediately in Wellington and East Gippsland shires.

The figure comes from a specialist economic impact consultant engaged by the Wellington and East Gippsland shire councils.

This number includes direct and indirect jobs, ranging from forestry contractors to transport company workers, through to employees at shops where timber workers spend their money.

In Wellington Shire alone this could have a devastating effect on the local economy, as forestry is a major employer.

In particular, Heyfield and Yarram would bear the brunt of the impact, and it presents a significant challenge for local government to make the best of a difficult situation.

Wellington Shire Council has requested the state government share the data and scientific basis on which the native timber phase-out decision was made.

The council's Native Timber Taskforce has lodged two Freedom of Information requests to the Agriculture, Resources and Regional Development Minister and the Premier requesting information about the scientific basis for its decision.

The request has twice been refused.

The taskforce has since lodged complaints to the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner about the refusals.

Wellington Shire Council says it awaits a "considered response" from the government, saying local communities "have a right to know and understand the basis for the decisions which affect their lives".

Wellington Shire mayor and taskforce chairman Garry Stephens said council expected better of the government out of respect for local communities.

"Wellington Shire Council supports Timber Towns Victoria and the CMFEU in wanting to retain the jobs of timber workers," he said.

East Gippsland council also wants to ensure that any industry restructure places communities at the centre of decision-making, that resources are adequate, and that no one is left behind.

"Timber workers have unique forestry skills, expertise, knowledge, and equipment that is often used in a first response to fire events," Cr Stephens said.

"If timber jobs are lost, it is hoped that their skills and machinery are able to be retained and used under such circumstances, and that contractors are afforded other meaningful work within the forest industry sector."

Wellington Shire Council has also sought greater detail from state government officials about the transition from the harvesting of native hardwood forests to hardwood plantations.

"Council is not convinced that there is sufficient supply of hardwood or softwood to enable a smooth transition, especially with the recent impacts of massive bushfires," Cr Stephens said.

The taskforce wants the government to ensure more hardwood plantations are established with suitable species, to ensure long-term wood supply needs are met and jobs are maintained.

It also wants adequate government support for communities affected by the decision to end native timber harvesting, and wants the government to work with communities to identify and implement job creation schemes in new and existing industries.

The taskforce has added it "does not support the import of hardwood from non-certified overseas sources that generally have lower compliance standards".

The state government plans to end timber harvesting in native forests in Victoria by 2030, and has announced a $120 million package which it says will support workers, businesses and communities during the transition.

For workers, it will include training and re-training programs; case management and employment help; additional support through the Back to Work program; and top-ups to redundancy payments.

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