End the uncertainty

End the uncertainty

Fenning Timbers is calling on the State Government to end timber supply uncertainty and create sustainability and perpetuity for the industry.

Fenning Timbers is among a group of six Victorian sawmillers that have released a bold plan to remove Victoria’s reliance on native forests by transitioning to plantation supply by 2040.

Frustrated by State Government stalling and inaction, the six sawmillers Fenning Timbers Pty Ltd of Bairnsdale; Ryan & McNulty Pty Ltd of Benalla; Dindi Sawmill Pty Ltd of Murrindindi; AG Brown Sawmill Pty Ltd of Drouin West; Kelly’s Timber Pty Ltd of Wesburn, known as the ‘G6’, earlier this week released an eight point plan to assist the $7.3 billion industry’s transition to a more secure and sustainable future.

The plan, outlined in an open letter to the Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, also seeks to immediately abolish clear-fell logging of native forest coups larger than 20 hectares.

Fenning Timbers resource manager, Brian Donchi, said the government must seriously consider an industry-bridging plan or risk condemning regional sawmills to extinction.

“We are not going to stand by while the government sleepwalks into the destruction of sustainable timber industry jobs, viable regional businesses and the hollowing-out of the communities that depend on it,” Mr Donchi said.

“To do this we need a willing and committed government that fully supports a sound forest policy that bridges the gap between where we are today and where we need to be.

“They’ve virtually gone to sleep at the wheel.

“They were supposed to do reviews into the RFAs (Regional Forest Agreement), they didn’t do those five-yearly reviews, now the government has thrown $36 million at that for the scientists to work on those RFAs over the next two years.

“They were supposed to have an allocation order this year, which they give to VicForest to operate under, and that tells them the area, the species of trees and the quantities of timber they can take out of the forest. They haven’t done the allocation order.

“From that, VicForest have a wood utilization plan they take back to government that says ‘these are the areas we’re going to harvest within the state forest,’ they haven’t been able to do that.

“We’re two weeks away from starting our new season... and there’s virtually nothing coming out of VicForests, nothing coming out of the government for the industry to operate going forward.

“This is the worst it has been.

“We are calling on the State Government to implement this plan for the sake of jobs, communities and families.

“In all honesty, there is a $7.3 billion industry there and it’s at risk because of the inaction from the Victorian Government. It’s just sad.

“This plan comes from people who live in, work in and care about our forests.

“The G6’s plan is to remove Victoria’s reliance on native forests by transitioning to plantation supply by 2040, and immediately abolish clear-fell logging of native forest coups larger than 20 hectares.

“The uncertainty needs to stop. Without the Timber Release Plan (TRP), harvesting and haulage contractors won’t be able to start work. This will not only impact contractors and their families but the flow-on effect will mean our mills won’t be adequately resourced and we won’t be able to keep our businesses operating.”

Fenning Timbers managing director, Leonard Fenning, said planning for the future of the timber industry is paramount, as it has been for decades, and believes the current inaction from the State Government is causing increased uncertainty.

“Planning in forestry is a big thing, the same as planning any crop, harvesting any crop, you’ve got to plan ahead and the planning has been very, very poor,” Mr Fenning said.

“We’re asking them to give us time to set up a plan for the future, not for this year, so that, I might be too old, but my grand children might see it and their children might see it, and there’s a plan out there for the best renewable source we have in Australia, which are trees.”

The G6’s plan calls on the State Government to immediately:
1. Invest in the modernisation of mills to enable the better use of available resources and minimise waste.
2. Invest in state-owned plantations.
3. Revegetate unproductive land in public and private hands
4. Legislate Timber Supply Agreements (TSAs) to ensure immediate and long-term investment, certainty and sustainability in the sector.
5. Provide assistance packages for worker re-skilling and relocation.
6. Provide exit packages for businesses handing back TSAs and contractors.
7. Adopt Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards to improve the industry’s social license to operate, including putting a ban on the export of unprocessed saw-logs.
8. Safeguard communities from bushfires by maintaining, not weakening, the capacity and capability of timber industry people, equipment and programs in high-risk areas.

“As a principle we need to be doing more with less as timber supply continues to contract in this state,” Mr Donchi said.

“We need urgent action to make Victoria the ‘Plantation State’ of Australia.

“This means getting fair dinkum about plantation policies and establishing and expanding plantations as the primary source of timber supply. This means urgently getting on with on-the-ground action by getting seedlings into the ground.

“It also means reducing the industry’s dependence on native supplies.

We need surety from the government that funds will be available to the industry so that we can invest in new equipment to accommodate for both native and plantation supplies.

“We are asking the State Government to offer exit packages for businesses that choose to hand back their TSAs and provide assistance for contractors that may be impacted by business exits.

“And, we implore the government to move away from a future looking more and more like the ‘Heyfield model’, where jobs, resources and the milling of timber are concentrated in one area.

“The timber industry must be decentralised to support and attract jobs across this great state.”

Mr Fenning said bridging the gap in divided opinion among politicians is essential and that is the aim of the G6.

He believes all parties can work together to sustain the timber industry, with international evidence supporting his argument.

“There’s a gap between the people that want nothing to happen and the people that want to have a sustainable forest area that is going to give us the things we require, whether it is timber or the paper you use to write on,” Mr Fenning said.

“The worst thing, on both sides, whether it be the people that don’t want anything to happen and the people that do want things to happen, we get further apart.

“We want to bring it together, let’s come together, let’s work our sustainable forests.

“Austria has had sustainable forests since 1640 and it’s still sustainable and they’re still exporting timber.
“In the library in Docklands, it’s Austrian timber, cross laminated timber.

“The Austrians say ‘we don’t need anybody to tell us how to do it because we’ve been doing it since 1640, we’re sustainable and we love it’.

“And what do we want to do here, we want to stay in business. If we haven’t got any trees we won’t stay in business.

“We’ve been sustainable in this country because we’ve had good resources. There are a lot of holes in the ground in towns they’ve dug gravel out of and left them, they didn’t repair themselves, but the forest did.” The plan to transition Victoria’s timber industry to a sustainable future comes after a petition of more than 2000 signatures was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, August 7.

Signatories to the petition called on the State Government to safeguard jobs in more than 20 regional communities. The government is yet to respond.

The Victorian timber industry employs around 20,000 people in Victoria in both regional and metropolitan businesses.

Approximately 40,000-50,000 additional jobs are supported by the industry through flow-on economic activity, including almost 10,000 people who make timber furniture, cabinetry and who are employed in joinery manufacture.

Townships which have an economic interest in the long-term viability of Victoria’s timber industry include: Benalla, Murrindindi, Yea, Yarra Glen, Healesville, Noojee, Neerim, Moe, Pakenham, Drouin, Narbethong, Mt Evelyn, Wesburn, Warburton, Bruthen, Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale, Alexandra, Sarsfield and Shepparton.