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Friday analysis: Victoria sourcing native timber from Tas highlights Andrews’ hypocrisy

Two things are certain about Victoria. The premier Dan Andrews plays a mean political game, and certain sections of the media in that State will do all they can – indeed everything they can – to bring him down.

This week it was the story that the Andrews government was being accused of plundering timber from Tasmania after announcing the closure of the Victorian industry.

The Herald Sun reported this week that the Heyfield Mill, 49% owned by the Victorian Government and operated by Australian Sustainable Hardwoods, has been importing logs from across the Bass Strait for several months.

All true. It was reported in 2021 that the private partners of the Heyfield Mill were pursuing the purchase of Artec’s Western Junction Sawmill in north Tasmania.

Outrage that the Andrews’ government was commercially killing local family-owned mills in Tasmania by offering above market price for timber logs ensued.

Well, it wasn’t actually the Andrews government, was it? It was Australian Sustainable Hardwood, or more precisely two of ASH’s most senior directors – managing director Vince Hurley and company secretary Ian Jones and their privately-owned company.

Mr Hurley told The Australian in 2021 that the purchase of Artec’s mill would be by a company he founded with Mr Jones for that purpose.

The deal would be at arm’s length from ASH, he said.

“Yes, we will sell some timber to ASH, but we will also be selling timber to some of the existing Artec customers as well,” he told The Australian.

He said the Victorian government had nothing to do with management of ASH and no link to Western Junction Sawmill, which company records suggest was set up with $2.

It was indeed a clever move by Mr Hurley and Mr Jones. With the end of the native timber industry in Victoria in sight they sorted a way of staying in business.

That’s simply good business sense.

Again, all true.

But deep down it’s the hypocrisy that rankles.

Victorian Nationals Leader Peter Walsh pointed out that while he was not opposed to commerce, it was “hypocritical that the Andrews Government would close the Victorian industry down but be a major shareholder in a business that’s now going to Tasmania to buy timber to bring back to Victoria”.

When asked about the importation of Tasmanian wood to Heyfield a Victorian Government spokesman said: “The Andrews Labor Government is supporting mill workers across the industry, including at Heyfield.”

The hypocrisy of that statement is outrageous.

But as Mr Andrews demonstrated this week with his Commonwealth Games manoeuvre, and with so many other actions, the label of hypocrite doesn’t seem to worry him one little bit.