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Friday analysis: The highs and lows of working in forestry

Gayle Tierney putting livelihoods on hold

It has been a week of highs, and lows.

On the upside the largely ineffective and controversial “water rule” has been scrapped.

The rule prevented plantation and farm forestry projects from access to the carbon market, held up much-needed investment in new plantations, and discouraged replanting trees sending the total estate into decline.

Removing the “water rule” creates certainty for forestry to better contribute to emissions reduction through increased participation in carbon farming and investment in new timber plantations.

The amendment clears the way for planting up to 100 million trees Australia-wide by 2030.

Victorian Forest Products Association CEO Deb Kerr pointed out that the regulation treated forestry unfairly compared to environmental and carbon plantings at a time when it is crucial to plant trees to supply our future housing needs.

She said that in Victoria’s case access to the carbon market will grow Victoria’s plantation and farm forestry estate and improve our sovereign timber supplies, which are urgently needed to satisfy future timber and wood fibre demand while making a significant contribution to Victoria’s emissions reduction targets.

Put simply, it will get trees in the ground.

But on the downside the Weekly Times’ report this week that almost 900 Victorians have lost or face losing their timber industry jobs by January.

And that 900 could probably conservatively blow out to thousands as businesses that rely on the timber industry pay packets start laying off staff or worse, shutting down.

It reported that a third wave of timber industry job losses looms over regional Victoria, with VicForests’ 163 staff left in limbo, not knowing if they will have a job after January 1.

All but 40 of VicForests’ 163 staff work in its 14 regional offices, from Hamilton to Orbost and north to Ovens and Bendoc on the NSW border.

More than 155 jobs have already been lost at Australian Paper mill at Maryville, with another 560 timber harvesting, haulage and mill workers due to lose their jobs in the new year.

What is truly offensive is the Victorian State Government’s attitude.

Agriculture Minister Gayle Tierney’s office said “no decision has been made about the long-term future of VicForests at this point in time, but we thank VicForests staff for their understanding…”

That must make VicForest staff sleep so much better at night knowing that the Minister has thanked them.