Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes has again refused to meet with seven far East Gippsland timber contractors and save their jobs.
The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath said she was appalled at Minister Symes lack of compassion when she called on her to meet with haulage and harvest operators during question time.
“For months I have been calling on the Minister to meet with and listen to the plight of these workers.
“These contractors are locked in loans conditional with their government contracts but have been denied the resource and ability to work.
“The reality is 115 Gippsland families are directly impacted.
“With no income, these harvesters are forking out in excess of half a million dollars in repayments and $100,000 in insurance bills each month.”
When questioned, Minister Symes dismissed the harvesters’ dire financial position, stating, ‘they are no worse off’.
Ms Bath said, “Minister Symes is out of touch and her words were a kick in the guts.
“I am seriously concerned about the mental wellbeing of these harvesters, their workers and their families,” said Ms Bath.
“Only last week a distressed harvester wrote to me stating, ‘I am bleeding money and employees and do not know how much longer I can hang on.’
“At a time when the Victorian economy is slipping into recession and haemorrhaging jobs, Labor should be saving jobs not sacrificing people.
“Although burnt, the resource is available for harvest, yet Minister Symes is ring barking the industry.”
When Ms Bath challenged Minister Symes to meet with the seven harvesters, she responded, ‘you wouldn’t know how difficult it is….to be a Minister and other things.’
Ms Bath said Minister Symes needs to recognise how hard it is to be an out of work timber harvester, with a government contract delivering zero income.
“I will keep fighting for this sustainable industry and work to protect these regional jobs.”