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Friday analysis: Victoria delays timber salvage but grants program steps in

The Victorian State Government has been rightly condemned for taking so long to release timber burned in January’s bushfires in north-east Victoria and Gippsland. Yes, the burnt timber will be saved from going to waste through a grants program funded by the Federal Government and the Victorian State Government. Source: Bruce Mitchell

Good news. The grants will be available Victorian timber and forestry businesses which apply for funding to support the storage of the salvaged timber.

Eligible businesses can apply for grants of up to $500,000 to support the costs associated with storing timber above their usual volumes from 1 January 2020 to 30 June 2021 and will cover a range of activities including rental or leasing costs, equipment hire and additional costs for water.

But why has it taken so long? Why wasn’t this decision taken months ago?

In February, the Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath, called on Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes to prioritise the burned timber for salvage log harvesting in East Gippsland.

Despite calls from industry to release coupes as assessments were finalised through the year, Ms Symes apparently simply withheld the release of harvestable timber.

Timber workers were ready to roll, but Ms Symes delayed, and delayed.

Why? No reason has been given.

Shadow Minister for Agriculture and for Bushfire Recovery Peter Walsh said that families and small communities in Gippsland and north-east Victoria that rely on the timber industry to survive will never forgive Premier Daniel Andrews and Jaclyn Symes for the carnage Labor’s policies have inflicted.

As Ms Bath quite rightly points out, these workers who were desperate for work in February, have been starved of income and under enormous financial and mental pressure.

And it is that mental pressure – an issue that Ms Bath to her credit has been quite rightly campaigning all year – that the CFMEU addressed this week.

In Healesville and Heyfield this week the timber workers union held a meeting where forestry contractors and their crews described the financial pain, physical danger and mental strain of ongoing forest protests and dangerous workplace invasions.

It has been said before but those contractors and their crews who face unacceptable tactics from forest protesters need protection.

The union is backing calls for swifter action by the police, authorised officers, and WorkSafe when protesters are detected encroaching on forestry coupes and real penalties to deter this sort of behaviour.

Maybe, just maybe, the CFMEU can convince the Labor Government in Victoria to take some action.

Surely the old adage that he who pays the piper calls the tune applies here.

The Labor Party, nationally as well as in Victoria, owes the CFMEU that much at least.

Which leads us to a major celebration of timber, the 2020 Australian 2020 Timber Design Award, presented on Wednesday night at a virtual ceremony hosted by Julian Brenchley from Brenchley Architects.

This year’s winner – the Marrickville Library project – is a remarkable example of how an old building, in this case a hospital, can be repurposed through the imaginative and thoughtful use to become a community landmark.

This was not achieved simply by using timber as a decorative addition.

It is crafted inside and out with more than 10km of timber, which is used for its columns, façade, screening, internal walls, window/door frames, tiered seating, joinery, ceilings and furniture employing Glulam columns, mullions and transoms, plywood, Sculptform blackbutt acoustic baffling, Supawood Tasmanian oak acoustic panel ceilings, batten balustrading and screens. Species used include jarrah, red and white mahogany, spruce, tallow wood, hoop and radiata pine and New Guinea rosewood, all from certified sources.

The library has also earned BVN the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture as well as the David Oppenheim Award for Sustainable Architecture at the Australian Institute of Architects’ National Architecture Awards.

The awards are a remarkable showcase of how timber can be used in commercial and domestic settings, and the winners are to be congratulated for setting an amazingly high standard for the building industry as a whole to aspire.