The timber industry has been hung out to dry within days of finishing work that started with fire protection and ended with clearing bushfire-impacted roads.
That’s the opinion of local MP, Tim Bull, who said many timber contractors were now nervously assessing their livelihoods due to a range of factors.
“Those factors 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,” Mr Bull said.
“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 his 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.”
Mr Bull praised the timber industry workers for their efforts in clearing roads and the Princes Highway following the devastating bushfires and said that was evidence their roles extended to more than felling of trees.
“Establishing fire breaks to protect communities and clearing roads to reconnect communities and get business and tourism functioning again,” Mr Bull said of the roles timber industry workers have played over recent weeks.
“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 went off with the roads open, the love was 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.”
Mr Bull said with the correct clearing, towns and communities would not become isolated in future fire events.
“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,” he said.
Brian Donchi, of Fennings Timbers in Bairnsdale, said salvaging timber was important.
“We need to convince VicForests there’s wood in there that needs to get out,” Mr Donchi said.
“It’s only going to die, fall over and create the next fire hazard. The industry wants the wood, it will keep mills running.
“Not salvaging it is ridiculous, we’re waiting for clarity from VicForests on that.”
Mr Bull said it was 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 until 2024 as it promised.”
Upper House member for Eastern Victoria, Melina Bath, said the timber harvesters had been blindsided.
“Daniel Andrews must reverse his decision and find an immediate solution for all of East Gippsland’s native timber harvest and haulage workers,” Ms Bath said.
IMAGE: Timber industry workers have played a huge role in clearing roadsides and the Princes Highway during the bushfire crisis, however local MP, Tim Bull, said the industry has been hung out to dry by the State Government. (Photo: Department of Defence)