Timber Industry – Motions

MELINA BATH (Eastern Victoria) (16:18): I am pleased to rise this afternoon and put my support behind motion 14 in the name of Mr Jeff Bourman on behalf of the Nationals and my colleagues in the Liberal Party. Before I go into the contents of motion 14 involving the native timber industry, I would like to give a tiny bit of background as to why Mr Bourman might have brought this forward to us today.

I will not wave it around, but I have before me a how-to-vote card for the Morwell district at the last election. This how-to-vote card is the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party how-to-vote card. At number one, naturally, if it is your how-to-vote card, it would have your candidate there, Mr David Snelling. I have met him, and by all accounts he is a very reasonable human being – a person in it for the right reasons. But number two on this how-to-vote card that the Shooters and Fishers were handing out was the Labor Party candidate. Morwell became, with the change of demographics with the change of VEC electoral boundaries, a nominally 4 per cent Labor seat, so Mr Bourman and his Shooters and Fishers would have known when they went to that election that they were not going to win. So they then made a decision, had a conversation, did a deal, whatever that might be, that it was either going to be – and the pundits were all talking about it, Antony Green as well, prior to the election – a Labor Party seat or a National Party seat, in effect.

So Mr Bourman decided that he would put his money on the Labor Party. The Labor Party’s policy, as we know, is to shut down the native timber industry, and that was announced in 2019. So there is no ambiguity around where – in putting down number two in the Morwell electorate – that vote would have gone and what would have happened. Now, I also happen to know that in some of the pre-poll the good people who were voting for Mr Bourman’s candidate actually left the ticket and voted either for the Nationals or in smaller numbers for the Liberals.

On the back of Mr Bourman’s how-to-vote card are 10 priorities – key priorities, important ones. I will not read them out, but none of them include the native timber industry. There are 10 things that the Shooters and Fishers want to focus on and not one of them is the native timber industry. Yet here we are today with the first opportunity in non-government business, and Mr Bourman and the Shooters and Fishers are transactional members of Parliament. He is very successful; this is now his third term in Parliament. He has made this whopping great decision: ‘I’m going to go and put down on the notice paper my support for the native timber industry and I will see if I can flick it around to my electorate and say, ‘How good is that?’. Well, he had the opportunity back when we were going to the polls. He could have not put the Labor Party as a direct preference. He could have supported the industry and the candidates that supported our native timber industry.

Let me tell you, as people who have heard me speak before will know, on last count I think on 126 separate occasions on separate bills, adjournment debates, questions and whatever I have spoken on the native timber industry and showed our support not only for the people that live in our region, not only for the communities that are underpinned by the native timber industry, a sustainable world class industry, but for the environment as well, because as Mr Bourman says – and I will move to his motion, and we will support this motion – it is a renewable strategic resource that captures carbon. A dry weight of hardwood will store approximately 35 per cent of carbon in it.

This government and previous governments have stopped logging old-growth forests. Now, the Greens have come up with their own version of what an old-growth forest is, but old-growth forest is anything that is pre-1939 harvesting of a certain diameter. Anything that is post the 1939 fires is not considered old growth. I have talked to many good timber harvesters who talk about their fathers and their fathers before them. They are harvesting and harvesting again the same areas, the same coupes that were harvested 40 years ago and 50 years before that. It is a sustainable resource. I have said it before: 95 per cent of all of our timber resources in this state, in our native estates, are locked away in timber reserves, in national parks, in state forests and in zoned waterways, and that is really important. We need to have those locked away and safe from – well, I was going to say fire, but of course we know that fire does not discriminate either on where it rips through and destroys forests, native flora and fauna. But it is a sustainable industry, and this government is crippling those communities, those families, those hardworking people who protect us during the fires as well.

We hear that ultimately this is a supply issue. The government have said 2030 and a step-down in 2024, but we know they are just allowing, they are enabling the crippling of our hardwood industry. VicForests is the body that oversees a very strict regulatory system. We have got regional forest agreements between the federal and state governments. We have timber release plans. We have exclusion zones, threatened species plans. There is the thing called the timber code of practice. That has contained within it a whole raft of prescriptions that tell the industry, inform and direct the industry, about what can be harvested and what cannot be. VicForests time and time again has adhered to surveys, evaluation and monitoring. For the Greens and others to go along saying that VicForests is some cavalier entity is just the height of frustration and inaccuracy.

What we are seeing here – and we would certainly work with the government on this; I am sure I speak for my colleagues – is that in order to have certainty for the industry, to stop these court litigations, what we are asking for and will positively work with the government for is for the government to insert a wider range of prescriptions into the timber code of practice. Give the industry certainty. Put the greater glider certainty in the timber code of practice. Then you will not have these third-party litigators that take industry to court. Then you will not have any ambiguity about the legal system interpreting them or erring on the side of absolute nth-degree caution. There will be clarity, and that is what we are asking for and that is what the organisation and these communities right across Victoria are asking for.

It is a supply issue. We have heard today a very sensible speech from the Lib Dems in relation to Opal, and it is an absolute tragedy that people in the Latrobe Valley are suffering an uncertain future. In truth it is not uncertain: they are going to go to the unemployment line. And why? Because the government has not shored up this timber code of practice and made certainty for industry. Again I heard Ms Terpstra, and we got 2 minutes in before we heard the failings of Mr Kennett. That was 2 minutes. I think that might be a record; she normally runs it out to about 3 minutes.

People who live in Eastern Victoria Region totally understand that the Victorian government’s forestry plan is flawed. It is a joke. They talk about, ‘All we need to do is upgrade our equipment. Pay some money and get them to change it.’ Well, that is true. Hardwood timber mills cannot be softwood timber mills. Hardwood excavations, haulage and harvest are not softwood, are not plantation. They are not going to work. But this market is already full. There is already a full, complete raft of people working in the plantation industry. You cannot stuff more people in and just say, ‘Here, go in there and conduct your business.’ It is a flawed plan. There are no more plantations in Victoria than there were three years ago. There are no more plants being planted in the ground. There is a recycle but there is no new net to cover off. I support Mr Bourman’s motion, and the government needs to come and address this very serious issue of the loss of our lives, communities and people in Victoria.