Forest Industry Taskforce gets under way

The VNPA’s Matt Ruchel reports on the State Government’s plan to reach community consensus on forest management.

A week before the Andrews Government celebrated its first year in office, the Premier released the Terms of Reference for the long-awaited Forest Industry Taskforce.
These Terms are the starter’s gun for discussions to begin on the future of state forests in Victoria’s east, and the future of the timber industry.
According to Premier Daniel Andrews: “The Taskforce will work to reach consensus about the future of the forests and wood products industry, jobs and the protection of some of Victoria’s most critical forests and species.”
The aims of the Taskforce are to:

  • create and sustain jobs and industry growth
  • conserve high value ecological assets
  • protect key species such as Leadbeater’s Possum
  • implement a durable plan for timber supply, for jobs, for nature conservation and for the good stewardship of Victoria’s forests that can be embraced by the Victorian community.

The government will consider the consensus recommendations and proposals of the Taskforce, following a commitment at the 2014 State election.
Over the last six months, conservation, industry and worker representatives, including the VNPA, have had a series of face-to-face meetings to develop proposed Terms of Reference. The government
has now officially adopted these without significant change.
The Taskforce comprises representatives from the CFMEU, Victorian Association of Forest Industries (VAFI) and the Wilderness Society, plus representatives from Australian Sustainable Hardwoods, Australian Paper, harvest and haulage contractors, MyEnvironment, VNPA and the Australian Conservation Foundation.
It is envisaged that there will also be a range of working groups with relevant expertise, including scientists and others, supported by a government secretariat based in the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The Taskforce will seek broad community support to address key challenges facing workers, forests, the wood and fibre industries, and Victoria’s environment. Tim Johnston, CEO of VAFI, welcomed the Taskforce, as did Jane Calvert, National President of the CFMEU Forestry and Furnishing Products Division.
Conservation groups including the VNPA and the Wilderness Society are also positive. “This is a unique opportunity for stakeholders to work together to recommend solutions that benefit all Victorians, conserve highvalue ecological assets, and deliver new investment and employment opportunities, especially in regional communities,” said Amelia Young, Victorian Campaigns Manager for the Wilderness Society.
According to the Terms of Reference, the Taskforce will give the Victorian Government recommendations on how best to ensure that Victoria conserves high-value ecological assets, maintains healthy forests and builds and maintains a vibrant world-leading forest, fibre and wood products industry, based on:

  • secure fibre and wood supplies, including from native forests and existing and new plantations
  • jobs maintenance and growth
  • protection of unique native flora and fauna and threatened species, specifically including Leadbeater’s Possum
  • creation of new conservation reserves and national parks
  • forest management which maintains forest health and supports the full range of economic, social and environmental values and benefits at state, regional and local levels.

Importantly, the focus will be on the future use and management of Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) state forests east of the Hume Highway, and will be informed by consideration of:

  • whole-of-community benefits including the full range of economic, social and environmental values
  • existing plantations and development of new private and/or public plantations
  • wood resources on private property
  • state-wide supply chains
  • industry economics and the competitive environment the industry operates in
  • conservation values in RFA areas, and in existing and new national parks and other reserves
  • landscape-wide biodiversity
  • fire and climate change impacts.

The taskforce will seek to report to government by June 2016.
The VNPA has welcomed the release of the Terms of Reference and will be participating in the Taskforce.
We acknowledge that the exercise may not be easy, but we will work hard to ensure that the unique natural values of our forests are protected, and that we move towards a timber industry that the overall Victorian community can support.

Originally Published at VNPA PARKWATCH • DECEMBER 2015 No 263 page 15

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