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Friday analysis: cracks in the $120m investment to shore up Vic timber supplies

Gary Blackwood

So, the State Government in Victoria plans to invest $120 million to help “shore up Victoria’s timber supply and supporting the forestry sector’s transition away from native timber”.

Lots of pretty numbers in the announcement; 2000 new jobs, plantations covering an area the size of 7000 MCGs, 14,000ha, 16 million trees.

That message will possibly go down well in city electorates as the State heads to an election on 26 November.

But it doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. Wiser heads can see the cracks in the plan.

For a start, as Nationals leader Peter Walsh points out, the $120 million is little more than a rehash of the 2020 Gippsland Plantations Investment Program.

That program, a $110 million announcement, resulted in zero trees being planted.

And where does the land come from?

Apparently, it can’t be existing forested areas as it will not be certified. And land in Gippsland is selling for record values largely fed because of the value of beef cattle and wool.

HVP says the land will be obtained through purchases, lease agreements and farm forestry agreement over the next five to 10 years.

And with mills in Gippsland already running out of timber, what will they survive on over the next 14 years it will take to get a pulp log?

So, it looks very much like the State Government is using an old pre-election trick of re-packaging a prior announcement as a new announcement.

And while announcing this “good news”, the potentially bad news – that there may be further reduction in supply of native timber under VicForests’ Timber Release Plan and therefore more jobs lost from the industry – gets delayed until after the election.

As Mr Walsh put it, the Andrews government just does not want people to know the truth about what they’re doing to jobs in regional Victoria.

Meanwhile the Member for Narracan Gary Blackwood this week said farewell to the Victorian State Parliament.

After 16 years in State Parliament – he was first elected to the Legislative Assembly in 2006 – Gary has decided to not seek re-election in the 26 November State poll.

It has been a distinguished parliamentary career – Shadow Secretary for Health Services, Parliamentary Secretary for Forestry and Fisheries, Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Shadow Assistant Minister for Forestry.

In particular Gary has been a proud, and loud, supporter of the forestry industries of East Gippsland.

He has used his position and Parliament to call out and name those inside and outside parliament who he saw as unfairly targeting – directly or indirectly – what he saw as the lives and livelihoods of hardworking timber families and country communities.

In his farewell speech to Parliament this week, Gary again took the opportunity to “stick up for the Victorian native timber industry”.

“To every person involved from stump to market and their families, I salute you all.

“We must continue to fight to protect our precious values and lifestyle that so many have fought for and for which too many have made the ultimate sacrifice. We must encourage good people to become champions in their communities and bring that experience to Parliament,” he told Parliament.

The country deserves more politicians of Gary’s ilk.