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Friday analysis: Fed Labor backs native forestry but can’t influence the states

Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Senator Murray Watt

It was pleasing to hear the value of the timber industry to the economy applauded by the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Senator Murray Watt this week.

In particular, it was pleasing to hear the Senator acknowledge that keeping timber jobs in the regions meant that “families stay in regions, and that supports the shops, the schools and the sporting clubs right across our country.”

He referred to the jobs and the value of production – 64,000 jobs across the country and $2.3 billion in gross value of production – as well as the challenges the industry has faced in recent years, including bushfires, trade interruptions, the global pandemic, and the impacts of climate change.

Sadly, he did not mention the impending closure of the native timber industry in two Labor-held States: WA by 2024, Victoria by 2030.

This is despite Senator Watt saying that one of the government’s commitments in the lead up to the election was to the continued sustainable management of the native timber industry.

It is worth acknowledging that under Australia’s system of government – fortunately – a federal government can’t meddle too much in State-based issues.

But it can be an impediment to common sense.

This was made crystal clear during the 2019/20 bushfires when the situation cried out for a co-ordinated national approach. This of course never happened. Some argue that certain premiers were reluctant to call in Federal Government assistance for all sorts of reasons.

The result was, some hold, far worse than it should have been.

The various State governments didn’t listen then, and it is very doubtful neither Victoria’s Dan Andrews nor WA’s Mark McGowan will listen now when it comes to the dreadful cost the closure of the native timber industries will have in their respective states.

In Victoria, at least the people have a chance to reverse the decision. Victorians go to the polls on 26 November.