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Andrews Government voices pre-election support for timber and forestry

Philip Dalidakis

A leading Andrews Government minister, Philip Dalidakis, vowed to the Victorian forestry industry on Friday night that he would boycott Bunnings and Officeworks if they refused to sell Victorian forestry products. Source: Philip Hopkins for Timberbiz

“As far as I am aware, I’m the only MP in Australia who has said ‘I will not go to Officeworks and I will not go to Bunnings if they stop selling Victorian timber in either of their premises’,” he told the annual dinner of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries in Melbourne.

“No one else has done that. I challenge my parliamentary colleagues regardless of their politics, that they will not even go to Bunnings to buy a sausage sizzle if they refuse to sell VicForest-supplied timber. It’s not on – certainly not today or tomorrow.”

Mr Dalidakis, the Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade, is a former chief executive of VAFI. Bunnings and Officeworks have publicly said they will only sell FSC-certified timber from 2020.

VicForests has Responsible Wood/PEFC certification and is seeking FSC certification, which is favoured by Green groups. PEFC is the dominant certification scheme in the world, particularly in Europe.

Mr Dalidakis told the hundreds at the dinner that it was “nice to be back up here at the microphone”and welcomed the return of Tasmanian Liberal Senator, Richard Colbeck, as forestry minister in the Federal Government.

“Our industry is better for Richard Colbeck to be back in Parliament and to look after the timber industry across the country,” he said.

Mr Dalidakis said the Andrews Government had not yet released its forestry policy, but the issues “we are talking about tonight are serious”.

They were the same as they were 10, 20, 30 years ago.

“I ran as hard on them when I was CEO. Maybe, that indicates that industry still has not managed how to deal with them, and government also does not know how to deal with them,” he said.

“We are still here in 2018. Despite these issues, there is reason for us to be optimistic about this industry.”

Mr Dalidakis said the industry needed to help itself. It had a good CEO in Tim Johnston.

“Give him the support to represent the industry, so that when he speaks to government, he speaks with one voice,” he said.

Some time ago, there was a media release by the G6 Victorian, which became the G5 and then G4 (the Murrindindi sawmill closed on Friday due to lack of timber supply).

“It’s not good enough,” he said, as they were giving a different message than Tim. “Don’t allow a mixed message from this sector, this family.”

A group of six Victorian sawmilling companies had bypassed VAFI and urged action from the Andrews Government.

Mr Dalidakis said the State Government had done a lot of things to help the forestry industry even if business was unaware of it.

“If you work in rural and regional Victoria, you will be benefiting today from a payroll tax cut from what it was when we came to government. There had been no payroll tax cut anywhere in Victoria since 2002, not enough to move the threshold – we cut the rate,” he said.

“If you operate a business in rural and regional Victoria with 85% of your payroll in regional Victoria, you now pay the lowest payroll tax rate in this country.

“That’s more money in your pocket rather than ours, that you can invest in your business –  2.245%, that’s what the payroll tax rate is today in rural and regional Victoria.”

Mr Dalidakis said also controversial was the decision to “put our hands in our pockets, some say unfairly so” to support Australian Sustainable Hardwoods in Heyfield.

“It’s not the Government’s desire to be part owners in a timber business – there are people in this room who would probably preferred for ASH to die so that they could have taken that timber supply – but let me tell you, for the families who work in Heyfield and who work in the mill, it was the right thing to do,” he said.

“What it does is provide size and scale to this industry so that it still has a future in terms of its procurement of good supply.”

Mr Dalidakis stressed that three different ministers were responsible for forestry – Ben Carroll (Industry and Employment), Jaala Pulford (timber supply) and Tim Pallas (Treasurer and responsible for VicForests).

“This is to ensure the poacher and the gamekeeper are not one and the same. You can have confidence that ministers are responsible for separate policy areas, different departments … you can have confidence that we as a government are dealing with those issues appropriately,” he said.

“Now, no one is prouder to have been a CEO of this industry, to fight for this industry. This is what you get with me and this government after November 24.”

Questioned about what had happened to the Andrew’s Government’s pledge to spend $110 million on plantations in the Latrobe Valley, Mr Dalidakis said: “My understanding is, we are not too far away in fact, to make a statement.”

Mr Dalidakis said he was recently in Portland, where the port was busy and full. There was thus no need for plantations in central and west Victoria.

“I hope the Government will be able to make that (plantation) announcement before we go into caretaker mode. A lot of work has into that,” he said, as it had an impact on other agricultural sectors such as dairy or beef cattle.

“For those in the plantation sector, I think it (the announcement) will be one they will welcome,” he said.