Victorian government brings native harvesting ban forward

Friday 26 May 2023

Native timber logging in Victoria is set to grind to a halt by the end of the year, with the state government using today's budget to bring forward the death of the industry.

Key points:

• The government will provide more than AU$200 million that will help transition workers out of the native timber industry
• Workers will be given opportunities to retrain for other sectors
• VicForests stopped harvesting in November last year after the Supreme Court ruled it had broken the law

The state's timber industry has been troubled for years, with bushfires, environmental no-logging zones and court decisions limiting the supply available to harvest every year. This week’s announcement accelerates plans announced in 2019 by the Andrews government to phase out native timber logging by 2030.

Treasurer Tim Pallas has announced a more than AU$200 million transition package for the industry in today's budget, and workers are being briefed this morning about the decision.

It will include support for workers and their families to exit the embattled industry by the end of the year. The package brings total support for the sector to $875 million, including existing worker-support services and funding to transition to plantation timber.

The pain from today's announcement will be felt across regional Victoria. The package will give workers options to retrain in sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, transport and construction through the government's Free TAFE program. Affected workers will be offered up to AU$8,000 in retraining vouchers for courses outside the TAFE sector. Native timber mills will be eligible for a voluntary transition package, whether they choose to stay in timber processing or switch to another sector.

Victorian Regional Development Minister Harriet Shing acknowledged today was difficult for the industry, but said bushfires and litigation were responsible for the decision. "We don't underestimate the challenges that this will create for workers for their families, for businesses and for communities who for generations have relied on timber harvesting to make a living and to craft their own identities," she said.

"Today's decision is about making sure that workers have a measure of certainty that businesses can plan and can continue the transition work that many of them have already begun." Victorian Association of Forestry Industries has estimated more than 21,000 people work in forestry and the wood products industry. The association said 4,000 people work across the native forestry supply chain. Other studies have placed the number at 2,200.

Devastating' for logging workers

Some of the industry's workers have been left reeling from the early closure announcement, despite the government's support package. Forestry consultant Garry Squires said around 25 per cent of the jobs in his town of Orbost in East Gippsland are in native logging.

"There's been a lot of work going into planning for the 2030 close down, trying to look at new options for the future," he told ABC Radio Victoria. "If this is actually brought forward… that will be devastating because we're just not ready."

He said for some workers and their families, the announcement will resolve uncertainty, but others have no alternative employment options. "The morale since November last year... with the court case, has been pretty low. It's hard when you don't know if you're going to have a job into the future."

More >>

As expected, the industry has been flawed by the decision. Forestry Australia says that they are dismayed by the announcement to stop native forest harvesting in Victoria at the end of the year, highlighting that the government has failed all Victorians in making this decision. The Victorian Government’s decision to end native forest harvesting at the end of the year is flawed and rather than being based on science, it is a decision motivated by ideology. More >>

Source: ABC, Forestry Australia

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