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Opinion: Peter Rutherford – Mr Bastiaan doesn’t know forestry or the ALP

Peter Rutherford

I am writing to make some comment on the opinion piece published in the Daily Timber News on 5 May 2024. After reading the first two paragraphs, I thought I was reading an opinion piece from one of The Age newspaper’s “environmental” reporters, so stopped reading and closed the article and deleted the DTN email.

After receiving calls and emails over the weekend from SETA members and others, I forced myself to pull the email out of the trash and read the rest of the article. The first question that occurred to me was, who is Mr Bastiaan?

Having had some connection with the native forest industry over several decades, including four years as general manager of Forestry Victoria, the predecessor of VicForests, his name drew a blank.

I could not remember Mr Bastiaan pushing back against any of the activist and ALP political bastardry, that has affected the industry since former ALP senator Graeme Richardson used the workers and timber communities of East Gippsland to progress ALP political interests.

Unlike Mr Bastiaan, I have an understanding of how the Labour Environment Action Network, headed by a former Wilderness Society employee has used the ALP to implement Wilderness Society policy of a total closure of the native forest industries in WA and Victoria, with more to come.

In 2002, the Steve Bracks and Sherryl Garbutt inspired Our Forest No Future policy, cast the die to close the native forest industry in western Victoria. It was left to the debt-ridden Andrews’ Labor government to kill off the industry. You don’t have to be a cynic to know that a Green-Labor government was more than happy to make the industry vanish.

After more than 20 years of multimillion activist charity campaigns targeting the native forest industry there was lots of anti-forest political milage in ill-informed city electorates.

The ALP was happy use this tool to destroy the industry and help stem the flow of ALP left voters to the greens, in four critical and once safe Labor seats in inner city Melbourne.

With a tape measure regulatory system misused by activists and their media supporters and a political party with no desire to rectify the flaws in the system, the government deliberately left VicForests to fail. If I was working for VicForests, I would find Mr Bastiaan’s

opinion to be insensitive and insulting.

When a minister is prepared to stop VicForests collecting a $1.2 million debt for a failed activist lawsuit, it gives a glimpse into the political bastardy that has impacted VicForests and staff for more than a decade. This debt has ballooned to more than $2 million over time.

One of the reasons why the native forest industry has been subject to so much political destruction is that too many participants in the value chain have stayed silent while forests managers, harvest contractors and primary processors have copped the brunt of nonviolent direct-action protests.

Anyone who has even a passing understanding of the industry would know that the no Labor government will ever go back to the drawing board. The wilderness mentality, which is silently undermining the reserve system, is about to be inflicted on hundreds of thousands of hectares of state forests. After a sham consultation process the Great Big National Park will be announced before the next election.

Mr Bastiaan’s suggestion of a forest management framework under FSC also shows a lack of understanding. The FSC has been used in Australia, to a greater or lesser extent, as part of the lock up native forests campaign.

While forcing myself to read Mr Bastiaan’s opinion, I was reminded of a saying about those that come in after the battle is over to bayonet the wounded. Aside from political bastardry, the biggest threat to the native forests in Victoria is high intensity bushfires. Given the pending closure of VicForests, a significant hole will be left in the firefighting ranks.

Given the views Mr Bastiaan has expressed about VicForests, I am sure VicForests staff will be happy to not have to risk life and limb in future fire seasons.

Mr Bastiaan, if you haven’t already done so, please join the Country Fire Authority, train up over winter and see how much of a difference you can make to filling the gap.

Peter Rutherford is secretary South East Timber Association