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Vic Government says it is modernizing RFAs

Lily D’Ambrosio

According to the Andrews Labor Government it is modernising the state’s Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) to support jobs and improve the long-term management of Victoria’s forests. Source: Timberbiz

The Labor Government announced on 27 March 2018 that the East Gippsland, Central Highlands and North East RFAs will be extended until 2020, when the West Victoria RFA and Gippsland RFAs are due to expire. While the Federal Government was of a mind to roll over the RFAs for another 20 years the Victorian Government rejected that.

“We’re providing certainty for workers, while we protect Victoria’s forests and modernise the way they are managed,” said Lily D’Ambrosio, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change.

“Our RFAs are more than 20 years old, and don’t reflect modern forest science or the needs of local communities – that’s why it’s so important to modernise these agreements and get them right.

“This is about protecting more old growth forests like the Kuark Forest and protecting threatened species so future generations can appreciate them.”

The Victorian government has said it will set aside 2500 hectares of the Kuark Forest near Orbost as a protected zone banning any logging, eventually the government wants to make it a permanently protected part of the Errinundra National Park.

“Today we saw an additional 2500 hectares of forest locked up, which will inevitably have an impact on wood supply to industry,” Ross Hampton CEO of Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) said.

“The Victorian Government must recognise that any reduction in Australia’s world class forest industry will likely increase imports of hardwood timber from countries with weaker environmental regulations, including those where tropical rainforests are logged unsustainably and illegally.”

Also protected are all large, old growth trees larger than 2.5 metres in diameter in Victoria.

The Government claims this two-year extension will provide certainty for current timber harvesting operations, and the workers they support.

AFPA and the Victorian Association of Forest Industries (VAFI) that represent Victoria’s sustainably managed timber industry have cautiously welcomed the Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) announcement, but say that much more needs to be done to secure the long-term future for the thousands of Victorian jobs dependent on secure resource supply.

The VAFI and AFPA have called on the Victorian Government to work with industry on the 20-year extension needed to provide certainty and drive investment and innovation in the sector.

“Victoria’s highly regulated timber industry strongly supports the RFA framework, which provides 20-year plans for the sustainable management and conservation of Australia’s publicly owned forests,” Tim Johnston CEO of VAFI said.

“RFAs are essential to provide certainty for our members as key regional employers, to invest, create jobs and support their local communities. Going forward, the extended RFAs must include guaranteed volume and quality of timber supply to allow for further long-term investment in value adding technology.

“Our state forests provide a sustainable resource that not only supports thousands of jobs directly and in downstream industries, but also generates beautiful appearance grade timbers for furniture manufacturing and structural timber for our vital housing industry.

“We’re keen to see the detail and program timelines for the next two years, but these extensions are a positive signal that both governments are committed to the future of Victoria’s responsibly managed timber industry.”

The Victorian Government says it wants to have extensive consultation with scientific bodies, industry and the community to modernise the state’s RFA framework and better manage Victoria’s forests.

A program of landscape, and pre-harvest surveys will be introduced, to provide greater operational certainty to VicForests and improve the management and protection of threatened species in timber harvesting coupes.

Victoria’s RFAs were developed in the 1990s. Since then, there have since been major advances in forest science since, including the role forests play in water security and the emerging impacts of climate change, and a greater recognition of the rights of Traditional Owners.

Mr Ross Hampton said the RFAs nationally had delivered on all the environmental objectives, striking the right balance between environmental, social and economic considerations in the management of Australia’s state forests.

“RFAs are required by law to be independently reviewed every five years, and all reviews conducted have found that they are meeting or exceeding all environmental objectives,” Mr Hampton said.

“In fact, as a direct result of the RFAs and public land use decisions since the early 1990s, over 13.6 million hectares have been added to Australia’s forest conservation reserve system.”

The Labor Government will now engage with Victorian communities – including Traditional Owners and industry – to ensure the next set of RFAs provide for the long-term sustainable management of Victoria’s forests.

Quick facts:

  • Victoria’s sustainable forest industries generate $7.3 billion of economic activity annually and directly employ around 20,000 people and indirectly support a further 40,000 to 50,000 jobs across regional and metropolitan Victoria.
  • Australia currently imports $5.5 billion of wood products from overseas, much of which comes from the tropical forests of developing nations.
  • Currently less than 6% of Victoria’s 7.9 million-hectares of native forest is available or suitable for certified timber production. Around 3,000 hectares of forest is harvested and regrown each year which is only 0.04% of Victoria’s total area of forest.
  • All harvested areas are sustainably regrown allowing biodiversity to be maintained over time.