The Andrews government has failed to outline how it will deliver on its promise to employ 30 harvest and haulage crews to fight major bushfires and build strategic fuel breaks to protect communities. Source: Weekly Times
On budget day, Treasurer Tim Pallas said 30 crews would be employed in land and fire management but gave no details of how or when that would happen.
Meanwhile crews are sitting idle, waiting for detail on a forest contractor strategy, which Victoria’s Inspector General for Emergency Management first called for more than two years ago, in the wake of the government’s initial decision to phase out native forest logging by 2030.
Last month Mr Pallas and Agriculture Minister Gayle Tierney announced the government would axe the industry by January 1, without delivering any specifics on a contractor strategy.
Australian Forest Contractors Association general manager Carlie Porteous said the lack of a detailed strategy left crews in limbo and threatened future capacity to fight major bushfires.
“There’s just not the work of 30 crews,” Ms Porteous said.
“What are they supposed to do for the rest of the year (outside the fire season)? Basically, are they going to be lawnmowers with really expensive machinery?”
She said contractors held significant debt and would need long-term agreements to remain on standby.
During the 2019-20 fire season, Forest Fire Management Victoria called on 34 contractors and their 284 workers to use 190 pieces of machinery, from bulldozers to excavators, to fight the Black Summer fires, build emergency fuel breaks and clear roads of fallen timber and dangerous standing trees.
The government has stated its total support for the forestry transition is more than $875 million.
Agriculture Minister Gayle Tierney also said: “we will back local communities with the financial support, secure jobs and training, and one-on-one case management they need”.
But Ms Tierney’s office failed to supply details on how at least $355 million of the $875 million would be spent, simply stating the figure includes:
- $200 million in the original Victorian Forestry Plan, plus another $200 million committed in the budget.
- $120 million to the Gippsland Plantation Investment Program, which has gone to Hancock Victorian Plantations to establish 14,000ha of pines.
- Funding provided through industry support payments to stabilise mills and forest contractors and keep workers retained and paid (no dollar figure).
- Support for the Opal Maryvale Mill workers (no dollar figure).
- Timber salvage operations in state forests following the 2019-20 bushfires, and amendments to timber harvesting regulations (no dollar figure).