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Friday analysis: Victoria’s forestry conundrum as government gives and takes

Government is the business of give and take. It’s as simple as that, and the Victorian Government seems to be a master of it. But it can look so clumsy while doing it. At a time when it is trying to look good and do the right thing by the timber industry in Eastern Victoria while at the same time being hell-bent on shutting it down, the Anzac Metro station decision is puzzling.

The station under St Kilda Road is part of the $14 billion-plus Metro Tunnel project. Cost of the Anzac station alone is hard to pin down.

Needless to say, though, it won’t be cheap.

The decision to make timber a major part of the station design – it will have a 90-metre-long floating timber canopy – is to be applauded. But the State Government is being criticized that the job was given to a European company which will use European-sourced timber.

The successful company – Hess Timber – knows its stuff and will no doubt do a magnificent job. Its work on the Bunjil Place project at Narre Warren in Melbourne’s south-east is first class.

But why was Australian Sustainable Hardwoods at Heyfield in Gippsland overlooked for the job?

To be fair, the contract was awarded by the Cross Yarra Partnership which brings together three of Australia’s leading construction partners, Lendlease Engineering, John Holland and Bouygues Construction, and operates at arms-length to the State Government.

But the State Opposition claims that ASH was unfairly treated in the tender process, and the CFMEU’s manufacturing division wants a probity investigation into the procurement decision.

It couldn’t hurt; a probity investigation can result in the Government refusing to approve a subcontract.

But while ASH missed out on the Anzac project – well, so far – it has picked up what could be seen as something of a consolation prize.

ASH has received, and deservedly so, $1.6 million to install a new manufacturing line to produce engineered flooring made from plantation shining gum and radiata pine plywood.

It could also be seen as the State Government deliberately putting up funding to steer a hardwood-reliant industry toward softwood.

Yes, the State Government is in the business of giving and taking, but this seems a little lopsided.