In recent days the State and Commonwealth Governments have begun to announce plans for a phased relaxation of the restrictions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. This welcome news has come after many weeks of uncertainty and anxiety for Victorians, and I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that that worst is behind us.
However, despite the current cautious optimism, we cannot become complacent. If we do not adhere to public health advice, we may see a worsened second wave of infections, and then a longer period of business restrictions and associated financial hardship.
Throughout these difficult times, the Victorian timber and forest industry has continued to provide essential products and has been at the forefront of establishing best-practice workplace distancing and hygiene procedures. As we begin the long process of regaining normal operations, I have every faith that our industry will continue its proactive attitude to maintaining operations and protecting staff.
If properly implemented, a controlled and steady return to normal operations could help put Victoria and Australia ahead of the game globally, leaving us well placed to offer COVID-19 safe products. We would then have the opportunity to maintain Victoria’s position as a world-class supplier of timber products.
It seems likely that global supply chains will see extended disruption as the pandemic runs its course. In this case, maintaining and boosting our local growing, processing and manufacturing capacity will become increasingly important.
We must also remember that our industry has felt severe impacts from the recent bushfires that could last for decades. I was therefore pleased to see the Federal Government’s recent commitment to assist with the higher costs of timber harvesting in fire-affected areas. I look forward to seeing more details on this package in coming weeks.
With political support through these short-term pressures, our industry has the potential to help support resilient regional economies based on a renewable, recyclable and sustainable resource.
Tim Johnston is CEO of The Victorian Association of Forest Industries.