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Victorian Government erects more hurdles for timber workers

Pic: Victorian National Parks Association

Victorian Government bureaucrats have thrown yet another hurdle in front of timber workers trying to salvage up to 500,000 tonnes of windblown fallen timber from the Wombat Forest, following the June 2021 storms. Source: Weekly Times

Harvest and haulage contractor Jim Greenwood, who is salvaging timber from five coupes in the forest, has been ordered by Victoria’s Conservation Regulator to produce hundreds of pages of documents or face a penalty of $18,174.

Mr Greenwood began salvaging fallen trees in mid-April, after the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning repeatedly blocked VicForests’s attempts to broker an agreement with the Dja Dja Wurrung traditional owners of the forest to harvest the windblown timber.

It is understood Premier Daniel Andrews intervened in the end after the risk of leaving an estimated 500,000 tonnes of fallen trees on the forest floor during the fire season was highlighted last month in The Weekly Times.

Since then, Mr Greenwood has been forced to deal with activists wandering into the salvage coupes, forcing him to stop work.

Now he is wondering how to respond to the Conservation Regulator Kate Gaven and her officers’ orders, all of whom work for DELWP.

The orders demand Mr Greenwood and his wife, Chris, who run their small company JD Logging with three harvest workers and four to five truck drivers, provide the Conservation Regulator with everything from truck routes, drivers names and addresses, workers’ time sheets to all business records and contracts linked to salvaging the Wombat Forest coupes.

“I only came up here to clear storm damage and I get this shit,” Mr Greenwood said. “If it’s not the greens it’s them (Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning).”

In an email dated June 16 the Conservation Regulator’s timber harvesting compliance unit senior forest and wildlife officer Sarah Bellhouse demanded Mr Greenwood produce:

  • COUPE attendance and sign-in sheets for all workers
  • ALL business records of dates and hours of work of employees
  • LISTS of all activities undertaken by employees relevant to each day of work
  • DETAILS of haulage operators if subcontracted outside JD Logging Pty Ltd
  • DATES and times of all haulage activities such as arrival and departure
  • DETAILS of vehicle types used, e.g. semi or B-double
  • VOLUMES of timber removed from the coupes
  • ROUTES by which timber haulage vehicles accessed the coupes
  • COPIES of all pages of the coupe diaries
  • ALL documents relating to any lease, licence, permit, agreement, arrangement or authorisation that authorised or authorises active or planned timber harvesting operations at coupes
  • DOCUMENTS pursuant to any contract or subcontract agreement for the conduct of timber harvesting operations at coupes

Ms Bellhouse warned “if you fail to comply with this production notice you may be guilty of an offence and liable to pay a penalty of up to 20 penalty units ($3634 for an individual) or 100 penalty units ($18,174 for a body corporate)”.

The letter also states the Conservation Regulator’s authorised officers attended the Wombat coupes on two occasions and made the “following observations of concern” in regard to soil and water management at the Wombat coupes, plus “whether JD Logging Pty Ltd holds a valid licence, permit, agreement, or other authority to undertake timber harvesting operations”.

Mr Greenwood said he had put in all appropriate drains and that soil disturbance was inevitable when salvaging trees that last year’s storms had uprooted.

The Conservation Regulator is using new powers conferred under the Forests Legislation Amendment (Compliance and Enforcement) Bill, passed by Parliament late last year, which enable DELWP to issue harvest contractors with notices to produce documents and impose hefty penalties for refusing to comply.