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Janet speaks in Parliament on Victoria's forests

Janet Rice 18 Apr 2017

Minister Canavan and the government in general are living in a fantasy land when it comes to the impacts of native forest logging, where, just because you say something is sustainable, it therefore becomes sustainable. The reality is that intensive, industrial scale, clear-fell logging is as sustainable and long term as whaling and sealing were in their day.

The minister was totally ignoring the facts that are at play here when we are considering the future of our forests. The facts are that in the Victorian Central Highlands there is much less forest available for logging, because of the huge areas that were lost in the 2009 fires. The Victorian government has responded by recognising that, if we are going to have an industry reliant on those native forests, we need to cut back the rate substantially. And, if you cut back the rate to a sustainable level of what is currently available, that makes that level commercially unviable, and that is what is playing out now. On the other hand, if you keep on logging at the current rates, that timber will be all gone within just a few years. That is not long term. That is not sustainable. That is not going to be what saves the jobs of the Heyfield mill workers or is in the long-term interests of the Heyfield community.

The other critical factor, of course, is that the forests that are currently being logged at an unsustainable rate are the same forests that the critically endangered Leadbeater's possum requires to survive. If we log all of those forests, what is inevitable is that that will be the death knell for Leadbeater's possums. Now the mountain ash forests are recognised as a critically endangered ecosystem. The Leadbeater's possum is critically endangered. Unless we protect enough of that forest, that will be goodbye. The Leadbeater's possum will be gone on our watch.

So it was a huge concern that the only proposal that the minister provided in his answer to my question as to what to do about this situation is to bring forward extra years supply and to log protected areas. This is not sustainable. This is not in the interests of either the wood products industry or the environment. It is not going to save the Heyfield jobs; it is just going to be putting off the inevitable. Basically, it is like giving the whaling fleet open-slather access to whale sanctuaries.

The minister totally ignored the nub of my question, which was about the transition that is underway in the wood products industry in Australia, which needs to be supported, needs to be encouraged and needs to be completed. That is the transition out of that outdated, old, 'dig it up, log it, chop it down' mentality and the shift to plantations.

We are now in the situation where 85 per cent of the wood products being produced in Australia are coming from plantations. That is the future of the industry. Any forward-thinking government would be recognising that and saying, 'Okay, how do we shift now that remaining last bit of the industry to plantations?' They would not be propping up that damaging, outdated industry that is based on native forests.

The other critical factor is that, by completing that transition to plantations and protecting native forests, from a jobs perspective that is a win-win because you can then facilitate and allow the jobs in the recreation industries and the tourism industries to flourish. There is so much potential employment in those areas. We can have ongoing jobs in the wood products industry being based on plantations by increasing that 85 per cent to 100 per cent, and we can then unlock the tourism potential of our native forests.

It is a total furphy to say that if we do not log our forests we are going to import more. In fact, we are exporting hardwood sawlogs from our native forests. In Victoria there were 24,000 cubic metres of hardwood logs that were exported from our forests. This is not a matter of protecting international forests. This is just the industry going on a rampage. It is possible to end the forest wars. By transitioning the timber industry to plantations completely, we can be saving timber jobs; we can be protecting our forests for their wildlife and for their water and as carbon stores soaking up and storing that carbon, as we need to do; and we can be protecting our jobs for everyone—all Australians and all Melburnians—to enjoy.

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