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Bunnings’ reckless timber judgement will mean job losses

Bunnings decision to stop selling timber logged by VicForests has been widely condemned by industry bodies, with VicForests claiming up to 170 jobs in regional Victoria are now at risk. Bunnings on Wednesday announced it would stop selling timber logged by VicForests after a court found the state government-owned forestry agency breached conservation laws. Source: Timberbiz

“Bunnings has a zero-tolerance approach to illegally logged timber that dates back two decades, and our commitment is to only source timber products from legal and well managed forest operations,” Bunnings’ director of merchandise, Phil Bishop, said.

Mr Bishop said that in light of the recent federal court finding that VicForests breached the code of practice in its regional forestry agreement for the central highlands, Bunnings could no longer stock products that used its timber.

Bunnings, and Officeworks, previously announced in 2018 they would only stock Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified products by 2020, ruling out timber and paper from VicForests.

VicForests says it is disappointed and deeply concerned by Bunnings’ decision.

In a statement VicForests said the decision had put up to 170 regional jobs in jeopardy, many of which had already been impacted by this summer’s disastrous bushfires, Coronavirus (COVID-19) and illegal protest action.

Bunnings’ claims its decision is based on the initial ruling of the Federal Court on the Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum case. VicForests will appeal this verdict once final orders are issued by the court.

VicForests said that its management of native timber harvesting, in conjunction with Victoria’s strict environmental regulations, ensures that it meets the highest standards of forest management.

Bunnings’ claim that it is “working closely with affected suppliers on a transition plan” was disingenuous given the decision was effective immediately.

The Victorian Hardwood Sawmillers Association condemned Bunnings’ decision as a blow to Victorian manufacturing jobs that will do nothing for the environment.

VHSA spokesman Leonard Fenning said the decision was premature given VicForests had confirmed it will be appealing last month’s Federal Court decision.

“Bunnings should allow for the due legal process to conclude before making such a drastic and immediate decision that threatens thousands of local jobs that depend on Victoria’s sustainably managed native timber industry,” Mr Fenning said.

“Anti-forestry groups have been aggressively targeting Bunnings for years with misinformation campaigns about Victoria’s hardwood timber industry, and it is disappointing that Bunnings has succumbed to these extreme activist groups.

“This is a lose-lose result for Aussie workers and the environment. Bunnings knows all too well that the sustainably sourced Victorian timber currently on their shelves will be replaced with imported timber from countries with poor environmental records and poor working conditions.”

Mr Fenning said the Victorian and Commonwealth Governments must provide certainty to the Victorian timber industry and immediately secure future of the Victorian Regional Forest Agreements.

“Now is the time to back local manufacturing jobs in a sustainable, renewable industry – we urge all Australians to insist on Aussie grown and Aussie made. It’s good for jobs, the environment and our regional communities,” he said.

The Australian Forest Products Association described Bunnings’ decision as “short-sighted”. AFPA CEO Ross Hampton said the decision was “a knee-jerk reaction to pander to extremist activist groups that will only lead to more imported timber from less sustainably managed forests overseas’.

“This decision puts at risk tens of thousands of Australian manufacturing jobs at a time when our country can least afford to lose them, especially in regional communities,” Mr Hampton said.

He was disappointed that Bunnings had been duped by anti-forestry disinformation campaigns that misrepresented the sustainability of Victoria’s native hardwood timber industry and warned it would have the perverse consequence of driving more deforestation in South-East Asia.

“The truth is that Victoria has one of the most regulated, sustainably managed native forestry industries in the world, harvesting the equivalent of just 4 trees out of 10,000,” Mr Hampton said.

No old growth trees were used, and every area harvested was, by law, reseeded and regenerated.

“All Victorian native forest hardwood is harvested according to the highest standards under the world’s largest forestry certification scheme – PEFC, known in Australia as Responsible wood,” Mr Hampton said.

“Bunnings and its customers should be under no illusion that green groups will stop at Victoria – they are hell bent on ending all native forestry in Australia, which will mean even more imported timber from countries at high risk of deforestation and illegal logging, and it will be manufactured in countries with poor working conditions.”

Mr Bishop said that while Bunnings only sold a small portion of VicForests’ total harvest, the company acknowledged this decision might have an impact on the industry and it was working closely with affected suppliers on a transition plan.

That would include buying any timber already processed by the affected suppliers and discussing whether those suppliers could obtain timber from alternative sources.

“Ultimately, we believe that customers and team members have the right to expect that the timber they purchase is sourced from responsible and lawful forestry operations.’’

VicForests said it was deeply concerned by Bunnings’ decision and it would be appealing against the federal court judgment once final orders were made in the case.

The court found in May that because VicForests had breached the code of practice, its exemption from national environment laws did not apply. The court ruled the agency had breached laws protecting threatened species including the greater glider and the Leadbeater’s possum.

“We will be discontinuing all sourcing of timber from VicForests and will no longer be accepting raw material input into our supply chain from VicForests as of 30 June,” Mr Bishop said.