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Vic timber transition plan labelled a sham – not one hardwood tree planted

Melina Bath and Leonard Fenning

The Victorian Government’s native timber transition plan has been labelled a sham after Labor walked away from establishing hardwood plantations. During State Parliament this week the Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath pushed Minister for Agriculture, Jaclyn Symes for answers. Source: Timberbiz

Ms Bath cited the former HPV plantation at Maryvale which has only been replanted with blue gum, a pulp species.

“Since Labor’s $110 million announcement in 2017 to establish plantations, not one new hectare of land has been planted or an additional hardwood tree put in the ground,” Ms Bath said.

VicForests had recently confirmed the Andrews Government was only planting 250 hectares of blue gum during 2020.

Ms Bath said the industry was only 10 years away from the end of native timber harvesting and Labor’s ‘Victorian Forestry Plan’ was bogus and insulting.

“Hardwood trees take 60 years to mature. Simple maths shows there will be no available hardwood plantation timber in 10 years, risking Victoria’s high-grade timber sector in flooring, furniture and joinery markets,” Ms Bath said.

“The Andrews Government’s native timber transition plan will kill jobs and lead to increased imports at a time when every job is absolutely critical in regional Victoria, Labor is pushing timber workers further towards mental and financial ruin.”

The Victorian Hardwood Sawmillers Association spokesperson Leonard Fenning said they were committed to fighting the Victorian State Government’s decision to close the native timber industry.

Mr Fenning said the Andrews Government’s timber policy was wrong and must change.

“Only four trees out of every 10,000 are harvested annually in Victoria, with every tree replaced and regrown by law, while sawmillers operate modern innovative businesses using high-tech equipment manufacturing goods for all Victorians,” Mr Fenning said.

“There is no need to acquire agriculture land to establish plantations, the physical location is inconsequential.”

Ms Bath said the Victorian native timber industry was highly regulated and sustainably managed compared to overseas industry models.

“Under the Andrews Government planned closure of Victoria’s native timber industry, Victorians will be using unregulated imported rainforest timber,” Ms Bath said.

“Labor must admit its timber transition plan has failed and won’t deliver a suitable alternative for our sustainable native timber industry.

“The Nationals are calling on Daniel Andrews to abandon his diabolical native timber transition plan.”

The Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) Ross Hampton commended Ms Bath for uncovering that the Andrews Government has only planted a very small area and is not using the species which the hardwood timber sawmills rely on.

“Ms Bath revealed that the 250 hectares of plantation seedlings are all fast growing bluegums. Bluegums provide important pulpwood for paper and packaging – but not the timber the sawmills need,” Mr Hampton said.

“Plantations are a vital part of forest industries in Australia.

“The pine species provide our house frames and there are several sorts of fast-growing eucalypts which supply the type of timber which can be woodchipped to go into the important work of replacing plastics with recyclable packaging and paper products,” he said.

“These trees, however, cannot provide the sawlogs for the hard and beautiful, appearance-grade timbers Melbournians love. This timber we obtain from slow growing Australian native forests.

“If the Victorian Government was fair dinkum about ‘transitioning sawmills to plantations’ they would need about 60 years to grow the right trees and many tens of thousands of hectares to accommodate them. The cost to achieve this is many times more than the $110 million the Andrews Government has committed for new plantations.”

Mr Hampton said that the State Government’s plan, if it remained unchanged, would actually amount to Victoria ‘transitioning’ to 100% imported appearance-grade hardwood.

Some of this would almost certainly come from areas being deforested for palm oil and other land uses in south east Asia.

“It is scarcely believable that the Victorian Government believes this is a better approach than creating these products at home where we use just four trees out of 10,000 and every tree used is regenerated and the areas regrown,” he said.

“In a post-COVID 19 climate when every job will be precious, there is still time for the Andrews Government to change course and discuss with the industry a plan which will ensure a supply of home grown, sustainable, architectural timber products, keep regional communities employed and address any environmental concerns,” Mr Hampton said.