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Friday analysis: Dan Andrews’ legacy will not easily be forgotten

Dan Andrews’ departure from the top job in Victoria this week probably deserves some form of reflection.

After all, this is the one man who did more damage to Victoria’s timber industry than any storm or bushfire.

He is the one man who destroyed the livelihoods of a countless number of timber industry workers across the State, as well as the livelihoods of an equally countless number of businesses which relied on those timber industry workers.

Timber Towns Victoria says the native timber industry contributes $1.4B annually to Victoria and underpins the economic viability of many regional towns across Victoria.

But Mr Andrews announced in 2019 that the native timber industry would be phased out by 2030.

That was bad enough. Job losses in the industry began almost immediately. Businesses began the heartbreaking job of having to decide how and when to get out.

And employees started leaving the industry, understandably, in search of other work.

“The loss of jobs in these rural Victorian communities are huge and they are very real,” Timber Towns Victoria President, Karen Stephens said.

“Haulage operators, timber harvesters, industry contractors, mill workers – these are real people, and this is their livelihoods. They don’t know what to do, where to turn.

“In the town of Orbost for example, we know that almost a quarter of their jobs are going to be directly hit by the immediate lack of timber supply and the indirect jobs hit will be many more. These communities are facing a bleak future and they are enduring unnecessary stress and worry for themselves and their families.”

Then it got worse. In May this year Mr Andrews, as we know, decided to renege on the 2030 date.

He decided to bring the closure date forward, to be effective from the end of this year.

Why did he do it? Why did he do it in the first place?

The popular belief trotted out in 2019 was that the move was made to appease the Greens which helped him get elected. He “owed” them.

Probably right.

The Nationals Leader Peter Walsh believes Mr Andrews signed off on the industry’s closure, based on sham focus groups, social media analytics, and a radical green ideological agenda.

Again, probably right.

As late as October 2019, then Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes was publicly claiming State Labor supported the “sustainable” timber industry.”

Timber workers and contractors were blindsided by Labor’s ban just a month later, with the Minister claiming “the native timber industry isn’t sustainable” and “we do not have enough native forest to meet demand”.

Did Ms Symes truly believe what she said in October 2019?

James Campbell, national weekend political editor for Saturday and Sunday News Corporation newspapers, implies that maybe she did.

He commented this week that Cabinet meetings under Mr Andrews were not occasions for discussion, they were held to rubberstamp decisions that already been taken.

He wrote that the centralisation of power in the hands of the Premier was something no one had been prepared for.

“The joke among journalists in Spring St became that it was a waste of time cultivating ministers for information because in many cases they were ignorant of the measures being announced in their names,” he wrote.

Timber Towns Victoria says Job losses are expected to be substantial, with approximately 2650 jobs (both direct and indirect) slated to disappear based on independent 2021 TTV modelling. The regional economic output is also expected to take a hit, likely declining by an estimated $714 million.

This in a State which has a public sector gross debt which has been forecast to blow out to $239 billion by 2026-27

The damage has been done not just in Victoria but across the country.

The activist arm of the environmental lobby having tasted blood in Victoria now wants more.

Western Australia followed Mr Andrews’ lead and has also shut down its native timber industry.

The industry in New South Wales is facing a torrid time in its battle to prevent a shutdown through the creation of the Great Koala National Park which would lock up native timber harvesting in that State.

And there is a degree of understandable nervousness in Tasmania.

Mr Andrews has left the building. There is some things he got right, and much he got wrong.

But his legacy, particularly in Eastern Victoria, will remain for generations to come.