East Gippsland Shire Council has slammed the Victorian Government’s decision to bring forward the end of native timber harvesting by six years, as announced in the State Budget on Tuesday.
The full closure of the industry by the end of this year, coupled with a mere $200 million statewide package to support workers and communities who underpin an industry that contributes $1.4 billion annually to Victoria, will have lasting impacts across the shire, according to Mayor Cr Mark Reeves.
“This decision tears at the fabric of our communities. The unrealistic change in timeframe means the impacts will be felt immediately and continue for years to come,” Cr Reeves said.
Referencing Council’s position paper on the native timber industry, adopted last August, Cr Reeves said the Government’s decision did not fully consider the implications for East Gippsland communities and the need for an ongoing supply of in-demand forest products.
“It completely flips East Gippsland upside down and does so without a logical explanation or a plan for the future,” Cr Reeves said.
Council has strongly advocated for a high quality, low volume native timber harvesting industry where communities can continue to thrive, forests have multiple uses, biodiversity is protected, and where harvested timber is used for the highest value purposes.
“While recognising there are a wide range of views in relation to native timber harvesting, Council has been focussed on the impact of the Victorian Government’s decision to cease native timber harvesting by 2030 on businesses, workers both directly employed and in support industries, and communities,” Cr Reeves said.
“Now that date has been bought forward to the end of this year – six years early. It is unfathomable.
“The Government says it has been upfront in delivering a managed transition. If the Government had been upfront with East Gippsland, it would not announce a 2030 transition only to surprise us all by bringing it forward six years with no regard to our communities.
“Six months is not a reasonable timeframe to transition. The decision disrespects East Gippsland communities and our economy.
“Retraining, job creation in other industries, health and wellbeing support programs and coverage for fire-fighting capacity will take much longer than six months to implement, let alone effectively support local people. Six years was even a stretch.
“We are now expecting that frontline timber industry and businesses will change overnight. Secondary industries will need to do the same. There has been no respect shown to the hard-working mum and dad businesses that are the backbone of our communities.”
Cr Reeves said that in August last year Council highlighted to the Government that East Gippsland communities have not been treated with the respect we would all expect in the 2030 phase-out plan.
“This week’s announcement amplifies that level of disrespect, and it feels like another abandoned commitment,” he said.
“Council’s balanced position on native timber harvesting, in advocating for all East Gippsland, has been based on supporting our communities. The Government’s decision does not. It has hit us all for six.”