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Friday analysis: Plenty of work ahead with new hubs, AFCA and misleading media

Simon Gatt

Simon Gatt and his team at the new Gippsland Forest Industries Hub have a big job ahead of them. The new hub is one of 12 Regional Forestry Hubs announced by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison in February last year. Source: Bruce Mitchell

The others are in Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

While each has its own issues, none can be as daunting as Gippsland where the hub faces a State Government hell-bent on shutting down the region’s native timber industry by 2030.

The Gippsland Region is home to some 1.43 million hectares of productive forests, including 90,000 hectares of plantations as well as native forests.

The forest growing, harvesting, transport, processing and manufacturing sectors in Gippsland employ some 3400 people directly. Using established economic formula, that means a further 11,000 people are indirectly involved.

Chairman Mr Gatt and his Hub manager Lesia Smiley have members from the forest growing, timber processing, contracting, education and local government sectors to help them.

They are going to need all the help they can muster, and we wish them well.

Meanwhile the Australian Forest Contractors Association board is starting to look like a collection of some of the biggest hitters in the industry.

It’s two latest directors – elected at the AGM yesterday – are Theresa Lonergan from Lonergan Logging in NSW and Dale Cameron from C3 Australia in Western Australia and the two new directors.

They join Adan Taylor (GMT Logging), Chris Stafford (Stafford Logging), Michelle Corby (Mangan Logging), Phillip Dohnt (LV Dohnt & Co), Ricky Leeson (Leesons Logging and Cartage) and Wayne Shaw (Johnson ARTEC).

That is some formidable muscle.

Theresa Lonergan along with her husband Peter are managing directors of Lonergan Logging a Forest Contracting Business that operates out of Tumbarumba. She joined the forest industry after 12 years in the banking industry working in both the public and government sectors.  Her contribution to the industry includes stints as president of the Forest Industry Council between 2011-2014 and again in 2019-2020.

Dale Cameron has more than 20 years of forest management and forest contracting experience and is currently General Manager – Planning and Operations for C3 Australia.

Dale has completed a Bsc Forestry at the University of Stellenbosch (1994-97) and also a Master in Business Administration at Edith Cowan University (2011-16) and has held roles within industry including FIF-WA Plantation Division Chairman (2016-18) and FIFWA Council board member (2016-18).

With that sort of backing the AFCA has the potential to be a major force in the industry.

Pro-forestry articles written by industry experts are useful in countering the sometimes misleading or even inaccurate articles finding their way into special publications and increasingly mainstream media.

But the Forest & Wood Communities Australia is to be congratulated for taking the next step and lodging a complaint with the Australian Press Council.

It follows a story on the timber industry published in The Monthly which Vicforests has also registered its disappointment.

The FWCA’s submission to the Australian Press Council focuses on what it sees as a major breach of the standards of objective journalism.

The Press Council does have something of the reputation of a “toothless tiger”, but a complaint upheld by the council is still considered a win by the complainant and something that can be “used in evidence”.

Some of that misinformation has surrounded the fate of native flora and fauna following the bushfires in East Gippsland.

Generally speaking, conservation groups see a direct correlation between the timber industry, bushfires and the extinction of certain native animals.

Therefore, it was pleasing to see that camera monitoring of far East Gippsland’s forests after the fires has resulted in some great news about native wildlife survival.

Southern Ark Operations manager Andy Murray has had cameras out in the bush at 249 sites since April to check on the wildlife and their survival after the fires.

The result – the camera-trapping survey carried out from April to August revealed that there are still long-footed potoroos at 140 of the 249 sites, which is around 57% of the sites surveyed.

When Southern Ark surveyed in 2016/2017, the potoroos were detected at 64% of these sites.

So, in Southern Ark’s own words, fortunately there hasn’t been a catastrophic decline following the fires.

Interesting results that the industry’s critics would do well to absorb.

Or is that wishful thinking. Probably.