Within days of finishing work that started with fire protection and ended with clearing our bushfire impacted roads, Gippsland East Nationals MP, Tim Bull, says the timber industry has been hung out to dry.
“Many timber contractors are now nervously assessing their livelihoods with the government’s previous guarantee of work through to 2024 being uncertain due to a range of factors that include:
- Environmental groups obtaining injunctions preventing logging in coupes they were to return to,
- VicForests dragging its feet to open up replacement coupes, and
- A lack of effort on the level of roadside clearing required to ensure we do not have more long-term road closures.
“On top of this, last week East Gippsland native timber harvesters were issued with the information of Daniel Andrews’ plan to close the industry. What insensitive timing.
“Then to protect is own backside, the government activates a force majeure (unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract) clause in its contract from the fires, to ensure it does not have to compensate contractors.
“Putting aside the fact that having a sustainable native timber industry makes sense, this fire season we have seen the other side of the benefits these workers provide.
“Establishing fire breaks to protect communities and clearing roads to reconnect communities and get business and tourism functioning again.
“The government says most of the contractors have alternative work, but this is misleading as in most cases it is not the full crew, meaning workers are out of employment when they don’t need to be.
“When the proverbial was hitting the fan, this Government needed the timber workers and their expertise, but as soon as the heat goes off with the roads open, the love is gone, just like a light switch.
“What is ridiculous is that while we have some still doing roadside clean up, there is so much more work to be done where they could be utilised.
“For starters there is much more Princes Highway clearing to be done to ensure it is not closed for lengthy periods again.
“Then there are the other roads like the Monaro Highway, Bemm River Road and Mallacoota road to name a few and forest roads that can be cleared for strategic fire breaks.
“With the right clearing there is no need for these communities to be isolated for so long in such an event.
“Then of course there is the salvage of this roadside timber which will provide valuable work for the timber industry while their VicForests contracts are on hold.
“It is about balance, we have some great National Parks in East Gippsland and these should be maintained but we cannot have roads closed and communities cut off for so long, so let’s give these contractors this work at least in the short term.
“The government says it is committed to providing work for the majority of the contractors affected by the force majeure notice. What it must do is guarantee work for all until 2024 as it promised.”
Eastern Victorian Upper House MP, Melina Bath said the timber harvesters have been blindsided by Labor.
“Daniel Andrews must reverse his decision and find an immediate solution for all of East Gippsland’s native timber harvest and haulage workers.”