Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (17:34): I would like to speak on budget papers 2023–24 and specifically speak about the Victorian forestry plan. Now, there is so much to say, but I will keep my contribution tight today in relation to two aspects.
One of those aspects is the plantation industry and the so-called transition to plantation. What this government has failed to do for more than five years is to actually use that lead time to put plantation trees, replacement trees, into the ground. Indeed Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics – and these are not my statistics, these are from ABARES – has clearly stated that over the last few years plantation estate in Victoria has shrunk by 50,000 hectares. That is 50,000 less than there was some period of time ago. That is made up of softwood and hardwood as well. On top of that, again from ABARES, we see that there will be around 3600 workers who will now lose their jobs because of the closure of the native timber industry that the government is closing on January 2024.
Indeed the government is spruiking and making comments around the $200 million to support worker’s transition. It is absolutely insufficient for this government to put that out. I understand that it could well be reprioritised as soon as it hits the table, but the transition packaging, in relative terms, equates to somewhere around $50,000 per worker. Now, these are not just workers. Many of these people are the small business operators, the contract harvesters, who have millions of dollars worth of debt, because they had to tool up in order to get the new contracts for the hardwood timber industry.
Now, I would like to let my colleague have a short period of time, so I am going to just reflect for a moment on a contribution from a member of this house, Ms Terpstra, on 8 February 2023. Her words were, and I am quoting directly from her contribution on a debate on Mr Bourman’s timber motion. It says:
Again I will note what was mentioned earlier, that the government has spent a lot of time working on and creating the forestry plan, which is a 20-year plan that is aimed at helping the industry …
My next quote is:
… that when an industry transitions there are people who work in that industry and they have jobs, you cannot just flick a switch and turn those jobs off, because that has real-world consequences for people who work in those industries.
So here we have seen last Tuesday the flicking off of the switch seven years before it was destined to under this government. This is an absolute outrage that this government would take away their livelihoods, their commitment, their productivity and their towns.