Cessation of native hardwood timber industry in Victoria

May 23, 2023 | In Parliament, Latest News

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Shadow Minister for Forestry and Shadow Minister for Regional Development – Transcript

Senator the Hon Jonno Duniam – Shadow Minister for the Environment, Fisheries and Forestry
The Hon Darren Chester MP – Shadow Minister for Regional Education and Regional Development, Local Government and Territories


Parliament House, Canberra            WEDNESDAY 23 MAY 2023

E&OE …

JONNO DUNIAM: Today is a very dark day for Victoria’s regional economy and for our proud timber industry. True to form, the Labor Party in this country have done what they’ve always wanted to do now in Victoria, and that is shut down our sustainable and world leading native forest industry.

There are many Australians who depend on this industry to secure a living, and pay their bills at a time when we know cost of living is out of control. But Dan Andrews and the Labor Government in Victoria have gone and made life even harder for those people living in those communities to make ends meet.

What’s more, today’s decision undermines good environmental outcomes. We know that forestry done here in Australia is done to world’s best standards. If we don’t harvest it here, if we don’t process it here, you know what? People are still going to buy it, but it’s going to be coming from places like the Congo Basin where they don’t give a damn about the environment.

Today’s decision by Labor in Victoria is bad for the economy and bad for the environment. Finally, I think it’s time the Federal Government, under Anthony Albanese, stepped up and did what has probably needed to be done for quite some time, and that is to take Federal control of the forestry industry.

We’ve seen the Australian Forest Products Association call for a discussion at National Cabinet and that’s something we would support. This is a sovereign capability. It’s a resource we all depend on.

And State Labor governments across the country are shutting it down and strangling this industry. We need the resource; we need the jobs. So Albo and Minister Watt need to bring a conversation on at National Cabinet and make sure we regain control of this industry.

I’ll hand over to Darren Chester who, as a local Member, feels very strongly about this as well.

DARREN CHESTER: Thank you, Jonno. And make no mistake, this is a Dan-made disaster. This is a plan that will kill country towns, it’ll kill jobs in regional Victoria, and actually kill wildlife as well.

With the Black Summer bushfires, every one of those fires occurred on poorly maintained public land. Every one of those fires started in areas of land poorly managed by the Victorian State Government. We know, in Victoria, those that live in regional communities, just how important the native hardwood timber industry is.

The workers in the native hardwood timber industry are the same people who get on bulldozers, get on the harvest and haulage equipment, get out there during these natural disasters and help keep people safe.

What Dan Andrews has done today is send a message to regional Victoria. He does not give a stuff about you. He does not give a stuff about regional jobs. He’s quite happy to send you to the unemployment queues on an ideologically driven, mad, agenda put to him by the Greens and now delivered by a Labor government in Victoria.

One other point I would make is that, during last year’s election campaign, the Prime Minister now, Anthony Albanese, tweeted that he supported a sustainable, hardwood timber industry in Australia. Then he didn’t lift a finger in the next 12 months, despite repeated warnings about where Dan Andrews was going with his madness. Anthony Albanese needs to step up and look after the jobs of blue collar workers. What I would also say is where were Victorian Labor MPs in supporting these country people?

Old Labor used to have members of Parliament who had some guts. Old Labor had members of Parliament who stood up when it mattered to blue collar workers. New Labor, the Labor Victorian MPs in this place, are too gutless to work hard and fight for Victorian jobs.

I’m absolutely disgusted. I’ve been in this place for 15 years. I have never been more disgusted with a government decision than I am today. This is a Dan made disaster for regional Victorians.

Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Yeah. A question for you, Mr. Chester. What level of public support from the Victorian taxpayers is appropriate to continue the employment of native timber harvesters in the state?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, the level of public support required for a sustainable hardwood timber industry is actually putting legislation in place to protect timber workers’ jobs.

JOURNALIST: Can you put a monetary figure on it?

DARREN CHESTER: No, no, listen to what I’m saying. Protect them from green lawfare, protect them from activist judges. Put legislation in place to protect the sustainable world class industry. The demand for native hardwood timber is not going anywhere. The demand is still there. We’re still going to make furniture, we’re still going to make stairwells.

You know what this will also do for the Commonwealth Games? We’re going to put down hardwood timber floors. But where’s that timber going to come from? The next Commonwealth Games in Melbourne will be playing on flooring of imported timber under Dan Andrews’ plan to ban our hardwood timber industry in Victoria.

JOURNALIST: Are you opposed to the use of recycled timber?

DARREN CHESTER: Excuse me, what are you talking about?

JOURNALIST: Well, instead of hardwood, native hardwood, could you use an alternate product?

DARREN CHESTER: I think you need to understand the timber industry.

The timber industry has softwood, they have hardwood. So there’s plantation timber. There’s also hardwood timber required for certain industry uses. So feature floors, hardwood for basketball flooring, your staircases, your furniture that comes from hardwood.

Softwood you might be using for timber framing, for example, it might come from pine plantations. But you need a mix. You do need hardwood, you need softwood. And there is no hope that Victoria’s timber needs can be met from plantations. Just can’t be met.

JOURNALIST: So what level of monetary support? Because there’s tens of millions of dollars flowing out?

DARREN CHESTER: I think you’re missing my point. I’m not talking about an industry that needs monetary support to survive. It actually needs a government prepared to back it in with the legislative framework to stop them being tied up in the courts all the time on bogus claims. In Australia, we can be extraordinarily proud of the fact that we protect in conservation areas millions and millions and millions of hectares of our native forest, the most high conservation forest in Australia and Victoria are already protected.

We only harvest a tiny fraction on a sustainable yield basis. This is ideological madness. This has got nothing to do with the environment. This will cause more environmental damage than it will fix and it’s going to send people out of country communities, going to depopulate regional Victoria.

So when we do have a fire next time, those people with those skills in the bush will not be there to help us out.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

DARREN CHESTER: It’s almost impossible to tell right now exactly what the toll is going to be in terms of jobs. You’ve already seen about 200 jobs go from Australian paper with the white paper production ending. Then you look at the mills still in Gippsland. You’ve got to look at the downstream impacts of the harvesting and haulage sector, the drivers, furniture makers.

It’s almost impossible to tell. It’s in the thousands of jobs and look, there’s no compensation package for these people. I don’t care what the Premier is offering to them. They want the decency of a job they’ve given a regional community they love, they play footy, they play netball, they work in those communities.

They don’t want a handout from bloody Daniel Andrews. They want their jobs back.

JOURNALIST: What are the flow-on effects for those regional towns?

DARREN CHESTER: It’s devastating. It is devastating to think what’s going to happen to those regional communities.

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