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Friday Analysis: Nowa Nowa nursery was a media release not a reality

Tim Bull

Hindsight, it is said, is 20:20 vision. But it can also be extremely insightful.

Take the Victorian State Government’s decision this week to scrap the native seedling nursery at Nowa Nowa, East Gippsland.

The $2m nursery, announced in 2020, was to be built on the PR Adams sawmill site on the outskirts of the town as part of the Government’s response to expected timber supply shortage following the decision in 2019 to phase out native logging by 2030.

It was part of the State Government’s $110 investment in plantation timber.

By Wednesday morning it started to look as though the whole program was on very shaky ground with The Weekly Times reporting that the Victorian State Government has been finding it difficult to find investment partners to establish new plantations.

It said skyrocketing land prices, machinery and labour shortages have pushed establishment costs to at least $14,000/ha.

If that wasn’t bad enough, by Wednesday lunch time the State Government had announced the Nowa Nowa decision.

Who could possibly have seen that coming? Well, just about everyone as it turns out.

In August 2021, the Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath, raised concerns that 10 months after the State Government said it would create the ‘state owned’ seedling nursery at Nowa Nowa, the site continued to sit idle.

Ms Bath labelled the project announcement and inaction as farcical.

By December that same year Gippsland East Nationals MP, Tim Bull, went as far as to claim the project had been scrapped.

He claimed that in reality, it never got any further that a media release.

“This thought bubble at Nowa Nowa was to appease locals in response to the job losses that will result from the Government’s decision to close the timber industry. The community has been let down,” Tim Bull said at the time.

Both Tim Bull and Melina Bath saw what was coming, raised the issue loudly, and the State Government said … nothing.

Nationals Leader Peter Walsh this week said the scrapping of the Nowa Nowa project was proof the “transition plan’’ was “nothing more than a cruel hoax”.

Timber Towns Victoria president Karen Stephens said that at a time in history when the building industry was seeing record growth the forestry sector was being hamstrung by government bungling time and time again.

According to The Weekly Times the Government first committed $110m in the 2017 state Budget to establish 50,000ha of plantations – 10,000ha of hardwood and 40,000ha of pine plantations.

By October 2020 then agriculture minister Jaclyn Symes had wound back the target to an additional 30 million trees, equal to about 20,000ha to 25,000ha of new plantations.

The Weekly Times reports there are now doubts whether even this target can be delivered with $110m, and even as a subsidy to the private sector to invest in new land and trees.

Victoria is going to start running out of native hardwood very soon, and it could have been so easily avoided.

It still can.