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Victorian Supreme Court allows restricted timber harvesting in central highlands

Victorian Supreme Court judge Melinda Richards has partially wound back court orders which prevented timber harvesting in the state’s central highlands. Source: Timberbiz

Court injunctions granted in December prevent VicForests harvesting timber in the Central Highlands, Tambo or Gippsland locking up to 90% of Victoria’s ash harvest zones.

The injunctions were put in place to protect a possible threat to greater gliders.

According to the Financial Review, Judge Richards heard evidence from VicForests last week that the injunctions could cost it up to $22.5 million in lost contracts and 16 crews had been stood down with the industry warning supplies are “catastrophically” short.

“There is evidence the injunction … has seriously constrained VicForests’ operations in a way that is affecting not just its revenue but the business of its contractors and customers and the livelihoods of their workers,” Judge Richard ruled.

The Financial Review said that the decision would allow VicForests to harvest a small area of 50 hectares across three sites in Victoria’s Central Highlands – around 2% of VicForests annual harvest area.

“All three coupes have been surveyed for greater gliders by both VicForests and Kinglake Friends of the Forest … no greater gliders have been detected,” Judge Richards said.

CEO of Victorian Forest Products Association, Deb Kerr, said while the decision was welcome that “it is a band-aid for the bigger problem facing these mills and contractors”.

Ms Kerr has warned of a “catastrophic” shortage of timber – about half the state’s 17 timber mills are without logs or with less than two weeks’ supply.

The Mectec Sawmill in the East Gippsland town of Newmerella is expected to close because of reduced access to native timber.

The Nationals leader Peter Walsh described the nine workers at the mill as “the latest casualties, the human face, of Daniel Andrews’ war on Victoria’s timber harvesting industry”.

Mr Walsh said that in a town of barely 300, nine jobs, nine families, nine incomes lost, is a bitter blow and ends 80 years of local business for Mectec Sawmill.

The CFMEU manufacturing division wants timber workers who have been stood down due to hardwood shortages caused by legal challenges in forests and government policy failure should be paid by the Victorian Government under a Jobkeeper style support plan.

National Secretary of the union, Michael O’Connor, said last week the Victorian Government had a moral obligation to provide financial support to the workers.

“Victorian Government inaction for two years on the injunctions that closed down operations has led to this situation,” he said.

“An increase in third party litigations in forestry operations has impacted timber supply, leading to hardwood shortages, and the slowing down and even closing of production at mills.

“The closure of the Mectec sawmill in East Gippsland yesterday will be the tip of the iceberg

“We need a JobKeeper for timber workers or more businesses will close.

“The Government has a moral obligation to support the workers in the same way forest contractors receive stand down rates and mills receive some compensation for under supply impacted by factors beyond their control.”