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Friday analysis: Short-sighted Labor is short changing left, right and centre

The wheels seem to be falling off the Labor Party’s end of the native logging bus.

Take Western Australia first.

In September 2021 the then-premier Mark McGowan announced that native forest logging in Western Australia will end at the start of 2024.

Foresters said they were blindsided by the announcement. Fear not, the government said, we will make certain commitments to the industry.

Those commitments include supplying businesses with the timber they have been contracted to receive, as per former Premier Mark McGowan’s promise that current contracts would be honoured to the end of 2023.

In July Forest Industries Federation WA Chief Executive Officer Adele Farina pointed out that the Forest Products Commission was prioritising the harvesting of firewood over sawlog for the remainder of 2023, leaving businesses expecting their contracted sawlog high and dry.

Ms Farina’s concerns have been recently echoed by Gavin Butcher, a former director of the WA Forest Products Commission.

He believes that the responsible minister, Jackie Jarvis, has started to panic, reportedly ordering 120,000 tonnes of firewood to be produced, and in the process is sacrificing supplies to sawmills.

Clearly, this policy in WA – while appeasing the conservation activists – did not take into account the supply of firewood this winter, and beyond.

Who would have thought Western Australians might need firewood.

Clearly not the WA government
Now take Victoria.

In May this year it was announced native forest logging in Victoria will end at the end of this year six years earlier than scheduled.

Foresters said they were blindsided by the announcement. Fear not, the government said, we will make certain commitments to the industry.

But now the State’s leading forest flowering and seeding expert says Victoria’s Ash forests are on the brink of ecosystem collapse.

Ecologist Owen Bassett, who has continuously monitored flowering and seed crops in Victoria’s Ash forests since 1994, says that for the first time in 28 years, flowering did not occur as predicted this year, greatly impacting the natural regeneration ability and hampering seed collection efforts.

“What this means for Victoria’s Ash forests is that they are at serious risk of ecosystem collapse, because they will not have the capacity to naturally regenerate themselves come the next fire season,” he said.

Compounding this problem, Forestry Australia is warning the seed collection services provided by VicForests may be lost following the native timber sector shutdown in Victoria.

“With the closure of native forest harvesting and recent announcement that seed collection contractors are now considered part of that transition package, who will save our forests when the next bushfire comes?” Forestry Australia President Dr Michelle Freeman asked.

Who indeed.

And then there is Opal which in May announced that based on the failure of supply from VicForests following the Supreme Court decision late last year, Opal had already made the difficult decision to permanently close the white paper manufacturing component at its Maryvale Mill operations.

Now, all photocopying paper used in Australia is imported.

And then this week Opal announced that it could not find a buyer for its stationery business and therefore would cease production from the end of this year.

Opal again cited the unplanned stoppage of wood supply from VicForests as the mitigating factor in coming to its decision.

Short-sightedness seems to be something of a habit when it comes to Labor governments and the native timber industry.