Review announced for Victoria’s forestry industry

Friday 31 Jul 2020

The Victorian Government has commissioned a broad-ranging review to safeguard the Victorian Forestry Plan – and the regional jobs and environmental protections it will deliver. The 30-year plan sets out a long-term and sustainable future for Victoria’s forestry industry. As part of the plan announced last year, VicForests will extend existing timber supply agreements until 2024, after which native timber supply will be stepped down before ending in 2030. Logging of old-growth forests is now banned.

The plan includes immediate exemptions from logging for 96,000 hectares of forest across Victoria to protect the future of the Greater Glider alongside the Leadbeater’s Possum and more than 35 other threatened species.

Opal Australian Paper will also be supported to transition to a full plantation-based supply, ensuring it operates until at least 2050 – providing support to its almost 1,000-strong workforce and stability to its customers. The plan is backed by AU$120 million in industry support – including re-employment and re-training services for impacted workers, and funding for community projects that support local businesses and help create local jobs.

However, recent legal challenges have highlighted a range of issues that put the future of the plan at risk, by potentially limiting the ability of VicForests to deliver on the supply commitments set out in it.

The Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014 (the Code), is a key instrument containing important rules that govern timber harvesting and was introduced by the previous Liberal-National Government. While the Code has been in operation there have been numerous legal challenges and uncertainty for conservationists and the forestry industry about their operating environment.

A clear, accurate and enforceable Code is needed, supported by strong enforcement powers for Victoria’s Conservation Regulator. As a result, the Government has initiated a review of the Code to:

• minimise the risk to short-term supply obligations arising from third-party litigation
• ensure it remains fit for purpose and facilitates the implementation of the Victorian Forestry Plan
• strengthen the regulatory powers available to the Conservation Regulator
• identify regulatory reforms informed by the 2019-20 bushfires.

The review’s work will inform the upcoming comprehensive review of the Code required under Victoria’s Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs).

In response to the announcement, the Australian Forest Products Association has cautiously welcomed the Victorian Government’s announcement of a review of the Code of Practice for Timber Production to address the relentless tide of vexatious litigation waged by anti-forestry groups.

AFPA CEO Mr Ross Hampton said the Victorian Government must act urgently to address the uncertainty created by last month’s Federal Court decision against VicForests. “While VicForests has confirmed it will appeal the judgment, the court case has highlighted the need to reaffirm the intent of the regulatory framework and to avoid the endless lawfare that anti-forestry activist groups have waged in recent years to disrupt lawful timber harvesting operations,” Mr Hampton said.

“We urge the Victorian Government to progress the necessary changes to the Code and to work with the Federal Government on providing certainty to the RFA framework and for Victorian timber industry workers.”

However, Mr Hampton condemned Premier Daniel Andrews for persisting with his flawed plan to shut down the Victorian hardwood timber industry. “If the Victorian Government is serious about protecting timber jobs in Victoria then it would abandon its disastrous plan to shut down the industry by 2030,” Mr Hampton said.

Source: Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, AFPA

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