The Andrews Labor Government’s announced closure of the Victorian native forest industry has unravelled further with the revelation that the support funding allocated must also cover the cost of buying bulldozers and excavators to fight bushfires once the harvest and haul contactors have been robbed of their jobs.

Leader of the Nationals in Victoria Peter Walsh asked Premier Andrews in Parliament yesterday:

Is the Government also going to buy the some 70 dozers and excavators owned by these contractors to replace the vital firefighting capacity lost as a result of the Premier’s decision to take the axe to Victoria’s sustainable native timber industry?

In his answer Premier Andrews said, “On the issue of equipment, there is provision within the $120 million package of support to deal with this very issue…”

CEO of the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) Ross Hampton said the Government’s commitment to purchase this equipment will run into tens of millions of dollars, significantly depleting the already inadequate support for businesses and workers.

“The Government’s ill-conceived plan to close a vibrant, sustainable and vital part of the regional Victorian economy is unravelling by the day.

“It was revealed already that the excuse of ‘stopping old growth harvesting’ was misleading at best as VicForests announced the cessation of this tiny part of the industry timber supply months ago,” Mr Hampton said.

“Questions are also being asked about just where the land for the supposed 50,000 hectares of plantations will come from and now the Premier has revealed that the package allocated for workers and businesses also has to fund bushfire fighting machinery.”

CEO of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries (VAFI) Tim Johnston said that the failure of the Premier to understand the consequences of his own policy to shut down the industry and the lack of subsequent detail only exacerbates the concern and frustration felt in impacted communities.

“The Victorian hardwood timber industry is sustainable and viable, and the only threat to its long-term existence is the Government’s decision to end the sustainable harvesting in State forests,” Mr Johnston said.

“Victorian native timber is local, recyclable, and stores carbon – it is the ultimate renewable, and the Andrews Government plans to throw that away.”

General manager of the Australia Forest Contractors Association (ACFA) Stacey Gardiner said these revelations only increase the uncertainty and concern for contractors who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in their machinery.

“Victoria’s native hardwood industry uses 4 trees out of every 10,000 and every tree used is regenerated and regrown by law,” Ms Gardiner said.

“This is the reason the Upper House inquiry which is being sought by the Coalition is so important. All of us call on the Upper House members to support this inquiry to uncover the facts,” AFPA CEO Ross Hampton concluded.