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Friday analysis: Federal Budget didn’t see the forest for the trees

Prime Minister Scott Morrison

There did not appear a lot for Australia’s timber industry to get excited about in this week’s Federal Budget.

Confirmation of $86 million to establish new timber plantations was of course welcome.

But it was simply a repeat of an announcement made in February.

The Australian Forest Contractors Association was also happy with the fuel excise cut and the commitment to skills and training for small business owners.

But the association quite rightly pointed out that the availability of qualified trainers and assessors is known broadly as the main skills shortage in Australia. This, the association said, is where the funding needs to go.

In contrast, the Opposition didn’t really offer anything at all.

Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries Senator Jonno Duniam said simply that there was “no plan and no substance”.

“These industries and the communities they support deserve better from the party seeking to win the next election,” he said.

“This is the last budget before the election and the lack of policy proves that Labor will sell out regional communities and primary industries to win inner-city votes.

“Far from protecting and growing these industries, Labor will shut them down as they have in the past.”

Strong words, and with the Prime Minister Scott Morrison widely tipped to visit the Governor General this weekend to call for a May 14 poll, expect the words to get even stronger.

Labor Senator Raff Ciccone – a strong and vocal supporter of the nation’s timber industry – this week fired an early shot across the bows of the Government with claims in the Senate that the Morrison Government had failed to show support or direction for the forestry industry.

In particular, he criticised the government’s perceived failure to follow through on its promise last election to plant one billion trees.

But he also saved some ammunition to fire at activists who “who wouldn’t know the first thing about how the industry operates”.

He is, of course, correct, but such activists continue to make life difficult for the timber industry.

Police in Tasmania meanwhile this week withdrew trespass charges against Bob Brown and three others following protests in that state in 2020.

Dr Brown was arrested twice in two days during a protest action at a forestry site in the Eastern Tiers between Lake Leake and Swansea on December 15 and 16, 2020.

Other protesters Lucy Langdon-Lane, Gabbi Knox and Kevin Vaughan were also arrested, and their charges ultimately withdrawn.

A spokesperson for Tasmania Police said the charges were withdrawn as it was not seen in the public interest to proceed.

A Tasmanian Government spokesperson said it was a matter for Tasmania Police.