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Is Victorian Labor turning into an episode of Yes, Minister?

We have all become almost immune to government inertia at nearly every level. But some governments – well, one in particular – seem to have made an art form out of it. If you could call it art. To quote Yes, Minister it’s more the art of jiggery-pokery. Source: Bruce Mitchell

The Opposition and the timber industry in Victoria have become rightly frustrated over the State Government’s lack of action regarding the recommendations from the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council’s Central West Investigation final report.

More than 77,000 hectares of public land will be locked up if the Andrews Labor Government adopts recommendations.

Almost 60,000 hectares of national park and conservation reserves be created in the investigation area, comprising the Wombat, Wellsford Forest, Pyrenees Ranges Forest and Mount Cole Forest.

This would include a Wombat-Lerderderg National Park, which would be formed from 28,629 hectares of the Wombat State Forest and approximately 24,000 hectares of the existing Lerderderg State Park.

Supporters of the recommendations point out that regional parks would also be formed, to allow for a swathe of activities including four-wheel driving, trail, mountain bike and horse riding.

Don’t start putting bets on that. The Bush Users Group United aren’t having any part of it.

Its members claim quite the reverse; that bush users will eventually be restricted totally.

And more importantly there are the foresters who will be locked out of their income, and the communities that depend on them.

They have all been waiting for a decision since the VEAC report was very quietly released in September last year.

The Victorian Government was meant to respond in February. The Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio has told Parliament a response would come “at the most appropriate time”.

When will that be? When it can be smothered by other news? It’s surprising they haven’t done it during the current saturation news of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The State Opposition wants to know.

The Shadow Minister for Agriculture Peter Walsh says Labor’s decision threatens the existence of the State’s small timber communities – many of which he says are now under added stress after the summer’s catastrophic bushfires. He quite rightly says these communities deserve answers.

He’s right.

The Industry wants to know.

A joint letter signed by the Chief Executives of the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA), Australian Forest Contractors Association (AFCA), and the Victorian Association of Forest Industries Inc. (VAFI) on 12 November seeking a meeting with the Premier remains as far as we are aware unacknowledged.

They may not get the answers they want, but they should get – they all deserve – the answers as soon as possible and to end the uncertainty.

Meanwhile the number of industry conferences, exhibitions and awards presentations that have been cancelled or postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow.

June’s Timber Offsite Construction 2020 Conference in Melbourne and the Australian Woodworking Industry Suppliers Association’s (AWISA) exhibition planned for July in Sydney have been at best postponed.

In New Zealand the 2020 NZ Wood Resene Timber Design Awards next week and its associated Wood Processors and Manufacturers Association NZ Wood Design Guide Seminar have also been cancelled.

The industry’s ForestTECHX 2020 event scheduled for Vancouver this week has been postponed until early September.

The meeting of agriculture, horticulture and forestry tech developers (MobileTECH Ag 2020) scheduled to run in Rotorua, New Zealand on 7-8 April has been cancelled.

The two-yearly Forest Safety and Technology series scheduled to run in May has been rescheduled and will now run alongside the HarvestTECH 2020 series hopefully being run in both New Zealand and Australia in September.

The list will, unfortunately, grow.

It’s easy to dismiss these cancellations with an “Oh, well. That’s sad” and move one.

But these cancellations will have huge financial impacts not only for the organisers but also for those employed because of them.

And some organisers may never recover from the financial burden.

But these cancellations will have a wider impact and less obvious impact on those who usually attend these conferences and exhibitions.

This is not to downplay the wider disruption to people’s lives and the economy as a whole. Those disruptions in some cases will be devastating.

But conferences and exhibitions have an important role to play in any industry.

The value in these conferences comes from the human-to-human connections that occur.  People often cite the “hallway conversations” that they have with other attendees as the most valuable parts of attending an event.

Industry conferences provide a tremendous opportunity to network. Attendees from other companies and from other areas of the country can become valuable resources for referrals, new ways of thinking, solutions, and best practices.

They provide a blended learning environment with multiple opportunities for individuals to learn and engage in a wide array of formats.

The learning facet of a conference can expose attendees to new ways of operating and can help them discover ways to be even more productive.

Conferences are also a great way for employees to be inspired by fresh ideas, to start rethinking the status quo, and to hopefully leave ready to tackle business challenges in creative and innovative ways. Conferences also allow individuals to share their progress, hurdles they’ve come across, and techniques devised for solving them.

At a conference you have the opportunity to get feedback on your work from people who have never seen it before and may provide new insight.

We may not be aware of it yet, but the absence of these conferences and exhibitions may be more costly than we can possibly image.

On a positive note, Australian Sustainable Hardwoods commissioning of its new $3 million timber manufacturing plant in Heyfield is welcome news indeed.

The project supported 14 jobs during the construction phase and will secure another 140 on-going positions.

Given what Eastern Victoria has been through in recent months, and faces in the months and years to come, that is a significant boost.