Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (17:34): My statement is on the budget papers 2023–24, and it relates to timber worker and industry support, referencing page 31 of budget paper 3. Native timber harvesters have had their industry pulled out from under them. They were slated under this government to close by 2030, something that the Nationals and the Liberals certainly opposed in the strongest of terms. But earlier this year the government said, ‘No, no, we’ve decided to cut you off at the knees. We’re shutting you down come the end of this year.’ A draft package has been presented to them and their stakeholder group, Australian Forest Contractors Association, AFCA. There are a number of different pathways that these haulage and harvest contractors can look into or adopt. But they are appalling – all of them.
Pathway 1 is that you can novate your VicForests contract, and contractors can move over into five-year contracts to undertake forest and fire management works for the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action. That sounds reasonable in theory, but there is no detail on arrangements. They do not know what their remuneration is. They do not know what the work is. These are experienced professionals with particularly expensive and technical machinery. They do not know if they are going to be blowing leaf blowers along the pavement or whether they are going to be out on the Princes Highway, cutting large trees down to make sure that there is a buffer along the Princes Highway, for example. They do not know where they are going to work. They have to apply for their contract, but they do not know about the suitability or viability of it. They will be flying blind.
Pathway 2 is for haulage and harvest compensation. They will be compensated for the loss of income, but it is unjust, unfair and lacking. For machinery compensation, the government will pay the difference between the 2020 market value and the auction value today. However – and this is the kicker – the department has the right in this proposed draft to decide that if they do not want to meet that difference, they just will not. The bottom line is this draft compensation is about budget, not fair compensation. If they do not want to pay that difference, the government has the right not to. It is capped and it is unfair.
In relation to redundant employees – so those people who work for the contractors who are now going to go onto the unemployment line – the government has said that these redundant employees will receive 10 days of training. I think I may have even heard the former Minister for Agriculture talk about this 10 days of training. But who would pay for that? Who do you think should pay for that? Well, we think the government should pay for it, but in actual fact the government is lumping that responsibility back onto the contractors, the employers, who are now being made redundant themselves – so, yes to training but no to the forest contractors, who are now going to have to pick up the tab. This government is forcing the closure of the native timber industry, but this is an appalling document, and it needs to be reworked.
Pathway 3 is the stand down rate. They have continued on with their VicForests stand down rate until June 2024, but there are more questions than there are answers. There are contradictions about that whole document.
During Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearings recently on this budget, then Premier Daniel Andrews said to Danny O’Brien:
My commitment to you is –
I am quoting PAEC –
if we have to go further beyond this $200 million and beyond that $875 million, then we will.
Daniel Andrews, again, said:
Wrap around these communities auto industry transition-type support, like the car industry stuff we did.
These people have served us over decades in times of bushfires. These people have invested millions of dollars to support an industry that kept communities alive and hardwood timber not only in our state but internationally, and this government is closing them down. It needs to rework this draft compensation package.