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Friday Analysis: Between a rock and hard place VicForests takes off its gloves

Bunnings has indeed set VicForests an almost impossible goal. By demanding all Victorian native forest timber is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council of Australia, which includes three directors opposed to native timber harvesting, VicForests is left lodged between a solid rock and another hard place. Source: Bruce Mitchell

Of course, VicForests had to fight back. And fightback it has done.

By calling out three FSC directors for allegedly breaching FSC standards and damaging FSC’s reputation, VicForest has shown a strong hand.

It’s a brave move. But the letter signed by two of those directors to Opal/Australian Paper claiming environmentalists no longer accept the FSC Controlled Wood standard, and urging the company’s owner, Nippon Paper Group, to only use wood with full FSC certification could not go unanswered.

VicForests is being assessed for FSC Controlled Wood certification, which is regarded as a ‘half-way house’ towards full certification.

AFPA chief executive Ross Hampton joined in, pointing out that the investigation of the directors was urgent as there were 120 companies with FSC Controlled Wood certificates in Australia.

The chief executive of FSC Australia, Damian Paull, responded by saying that any complaints made to FSC regarding members of the board were dealt with using the FSC dispute resolution process.

That process needs to be immediate, swift and transparent. This issue of the three directors and their environmental leanings is not new; it has been bubbling along in the background for some time.

As the Weekly Times pointed out, those FSC Australia directors include MyEnvironment spokeswoman Sarah Rees, who has spent years campaigning against native forest logging and recently tweeted: “If it’s FSC certified it’s not native”.

What a load of sawdust.

In Europe, around 85% of timber harvested is native timber, and it is certified.

So, what makes Victorian native timber special in Ms Rees eyes?

All VicForests wants is a level playing field. But with the current stand by the State Government to end native timber harvesting by 2030, with Bunning putting in an unjustified pre-emptive strike and banning native timber sales, and three directors of the FSC clearly opposed to native timber harvesting, the playing field is far, far from level.

It’s great to see the campaign to retain native timber harvesting in Victoria beginning to garner some serious backing.

The newly formed Native Timber Taskforce (NTT) has begun planning its response to the State Government’s plans.

This is powerful boots-on-the-ground support. The NTT is chaired by Wellington Shire Council Mayor Alan Hall, with membership including East Gippsland Shire Council, Timber Towns Victoria, Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH), Radial Timbers and the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU).

Union support will of course be vital in this campaign. The CFMEU is one of the really big unions, and therefore one of the really big contributors to the Victorian branch of the Labor Party’s coffers come election time.

Given Victoria’s Premier Dan Andrews’ stocks have been slammed by his response to the CoVid-19 pandemic in that State chances are he will be looking for all the union support he can get come the next State election. Chances are he might find that support, while still there, will have one or two caveats on it.