Gippsland logging industry dealt another blow

Friday 14 Feb 2020

Almost 100 loggers have returned from fighting fires to be told they no longer have a timber job, with contracts to harvest timber torn up in the wake of the fires reports the ABC.

Forty per cent of the area earmarked for native timber logging in East Gippsland has been burnt by this summer's bushfires, with officials still assessing the extent of the damage. Last week, 10 timber contractors were issued with force majeure notices by state-owned VicForests, voiding current contracts to harvest timber in East Gippsland.

Force majeure, meaning "superior force", is a common clause in contracts that frees both parties from liability in the event of an extraordinary circumstance beyond the control of both parties preventing one of both of them from fulfilling their obligations under the contract.

VicForests said it had advised 10 contractors the force majeure notices were issued because fires had affected logging in their harvest areas in the short term. "We feel for the predicament of contractors and are helping them in every way possible," a VicForests spokesman said.

"Over the mid-term, it will include additional haulage through VicForests selling timber out of storage or negotiating opportunities more broadly across the industry." Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes said the Government was talking to VicForests about work.

The contract termination is a further blow for the industry. The Supreme Court also recently halted logging in the central highlands after environmentalists argued the fires in Gippsland had destroyed sensitive habitat for threatened species, and as a result, their remaining habitats should be protected.

The Andrews Government is phasing out native timber logging by 2030, blaming dwindling sustainable supplies for the shutdown. The shortage is due to environmental protection for threatened species and the impact of bushfires, including Black Saturday.

In the wake of this summer's fires, some senior figures within the Government have privately warned that the 2030 timeline is no longer feasible. Some in the industry have also made the same warnings.

The CFMEU and the forestry industry have launched ads thanking the work of forestry workers in fighting the fires. The videos show the timber workers driving land-moving equipment through the heart of intense fires.

Stacey Gardner from the Australian Forest Contractors Association said it showed the hard work of timber workers during the fires. "They are the first to put their hands up to risk their lives to assist with cleaning up safely. We greatly appreciate their skills and use of equipment and it is vital that we realise the huge contribution that they make,'' she said.


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