LIKE politician Danny O’Brien, I’m angry about the Australian Sustainable Hardwoods sawmill debacle.
Very angry. This disaster should have been avoided. Successive governments, of all persuasions, have badly mismanaged timber resources.
A sawmill company is now gaming the system, demanding access to timber it knows is not there. Sawmill workers will be losers.
But so will Victorian taxpayers, who are being asked for a $40 million handout to prop up an industry that will never repay its debts.
It is a rescue package destined to fail, with ASH likely to soon put out its hand again.
ASH managers claim no prior knowledge of the timber shortfall from Victorian mountain ash forests.
On a field trip with the forest industry task force on April 11, 2016, a senior manager from ASH asked my staff and me to testify in court against VicForests over failing to supply timber. We declined because our research shows timber is not there. VicForests also knows this.
The forest is badly overcut — and has been for a long time. In the early 1990s, when I worked for Government, there were official memos about logging rates being too high. Even more staggering for some of the world’s most fire-prone forests is that cutting rates ignored the effects of fire on timber supply!
It gets worse. In April 2009, two months after Black Saturday when 72,000ha of forest was burned, senior Government officials told us they still would not reduce logging rates.
This guaranteed that timber supply from an already overcut forest would run out even faster.
Lack of timber for ASH is blamed on Leadbeater’s Possum.
This is absurd. Blame lies with governments allowing years of overcutting.
It also lies with ASH misleading its workers. It is wrong to promise jobs to workers when the resource isn’t there to sustain them.
Government handouts to a failing industry will not magically create enough timber for ASH to harvest, or undo decades of mismanagement.
It is time for action to help workers move to other jobs and ease the burden on taxpayers.
One solution is a rapid switch to plantation timber.
Another is investment in tourism, which employs many more people and contributes far more to the Victorian economy.
There are many examples of successful transitions — look no further than New Zealand. Victoria must do this, too.
• Professor David Lindenmayer is an Australian National University academic