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Friday Analysis: The Victorian Government in a spin over forestry

Jaclyn Symes

Just about everyone will be, at some stage, the victim of “spin”.

It’s a given.

Not all spin is bad, if the benefits described by the sender of the message are real and truly add value to the receiver of the message. Source: Bruce Mitchell

Spinning becomes dysfunctional when the sender of the message knowingly bends the message to convince the receiver of something that may be untrue.

And, of course, sometimes the spin is simply there to sell a positive message where nothing positive exists.

Over-egging the message can, at times, show that the sender really doesn’t have a grip on the message.

Take the Victorian Government’s Press Release this week “selling” the “good” news that a Centre of the National Institute for Forest Products Innovation will be established in Gippsland.

This is indeed good news.

The National Institute for Forest Products Innovation is committed to promoting and encouraging innovation in Australia’s forest and wood products industry.

The centre will be the third established in Australia funded jointly by State Governments in South Australia, Tasmania and now Victoria with additional funding from the Federal Government.

Hmmm. Funding. Now, it may have been simply a poor choice of words, but for a start the announcement read as though the Victorian Government was putting up the entire $4m.

“…announced that the Victorian Government, in collaboration with the Commonwealth, will provide $4 million…”.

Take away the words contained within the commas and we have the State Government providing the $4m.

Picky? Maybe. Probably.

But then the next bit comes under the over-egging category.

“Projects funded under the NIFPI are expected to cover areas such as plantation management, timber processing, wood fibre recovery …”

That caused the newly formed Victorian Hardwood Sawmillers Association to sit up and take notice.

The VHSA said all of these required wood fibre that is not available.

“The Centre could play a significant role in advancing these achievements except the Victorian Government is closing the industry down,” spokesman Leonard Fenning said.

And there is the great rub.

Industry leaders and politicians lined up to point out the biggest flaw in the announcement – the Victorian Government is hell-bent on shutting down the native timber industry in Gippsland.

Melina Bath, the Member for Eastern Victoria, nailed it.

“This is a thinly veiled attempt by (Ms Symes) to show support to an industry the Andrews Government is hell bent on tearing down,’’ she said.

“Minister Symes’ words are nothing more than media spin.”

There was a good message there. The creation of a National Institute for Forest Products Innovation in Gippsland is wonderful news.

But it takes a certain amount of gall to sell a good news story to an industry while at the same time actively pursuing a policy that includes shutting a fair bit of the industry down.

And the Victorian Government is certainly pursuing that strategy, both actively, and it seems inactively.

News today that VicForests has suffered more than 50 illegal protests at 31 coupes in the past eight months, resulting in 119 production days lost, while the State Government effectively stands by and does nothing is appaling.

Locked-down Victorians will be fined $1652 for travelling out of their neighbourhood to exercise under current CoVid-19 restrictions.

But there seems to be no penalty in store for the protestors at an ongoing protest of more than 50 days at Pats Corner coupe near Warburton.

Virus or no virus, it is illegal to enter a working timber coupe. Any non-authorised person found inside a Timber Harvest Safety Zone is committing an offence under the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 (The Act) and offenders may be fined and prosecuted.

About 60 penalty notices were issued to coupe protesters in the first six months of the year, but it is unclear what punishments were imposed.

In May this year the general manager of the Australian Forest Contractors Association Stacey Gardiner expressed her frustration when she pointed out that harvest contractors, abiding by social distancing and workplace safety, were being halted by protestors who appear to think the same rules do not apply to them.

An equally frustrated chief executive of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries Tim Johnston added that these are the same forest contractors that are asked by the State Government to risk their lives and fight bushfires.

“They should be allowed to go about their livelihoods, and simply deserve better,” he said.

They certainly do.