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Native timber forestry to end January 1, 2024

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May 23, 2023

THE Victorian Government has announced that native timber forestry will cease in Victoria on January 1, 2024, with additional transition support for timber workers, sawmill operators and their communities announced in the state budget.

The additional $200 million in support for workers and their families to transition away from native timber logging brings the government’s total support for the forestry transition to more than $875 million, including existing worker support services and investments to support the transition to plantation timber.

In a press release, the government said, “In 2019, the government moved to secure a long-term and sustainable future for Victoria’s forestry industry, and for the Victorian workers and communities who rely on it.

“We put forward a plan to support the sector as it transitioned, backing long-term, sustainable jobs and giving local workers confidence about their future.

“But since then, native forestry has been hit with increasingly severe bushfires, prolonged legal action and court decisions. There are no alternative timber supply sources available domestically or internationally which can offset the current disruptions to supply to Victorian mills and there are no options for regulatory reform which can prevent further legal injunctions continuing to disrupt native timber harvesting operations.

“All of that has drastically cut the timber supply we can actually use. And that’s left workers in complete limbo. Hundreds of workers, across Victoria, haven’t been able to work a day in recent months. They’ve got no certainty over their jobs. They don’t even know when they’ll be able to get back to work.

“We have been right there with impacted communities, providing support payments to keep workers in their jobs and paid – but the uncertainty has taken a toll on communities, families and mental health. It simply cannot continue.

“Native timber harvesting in state forests will end in 2024, with existing supports being brought forward and scaled up, which will mean every single timber worker will be directly supported to find a new job.

“Forest contractor workers will be secured with contracts for forest management works, enabling them to continue to work in the forests they know so well and contribute to bushfire risk reduction.

“The government’s Free TAFE program will retrain workers, helping them get jobs in growing regional industries like construction, agriculture, transport, and manufacturing through TAFE Gippsland and other key TAFE campuses in timber communities. This will be supported by up to $8000 in retraining vouchers for courses inside and outside the TAFE Network.

“We’ll continue to back workers and their families with financial and mental health support, by connecting them to specialist mental health service providers in their local area and covering out-of-pocket costs. Industry support payments will also continue as needed until the transition is finalised.

“We’re being upfront with the industry, and continuing to deliver a managed transition to support every worker and every business. Because we’ll never leave them to go it alone.

“Timber communities have worked with us to identify the jobs and growth sectors that will drive a sustainable future in their local economies. We’ll continue to invest in these opportunities to support and create jobs through the Community Development Fund.

“We’ll continue the discussions we’ve been having with Opal to support their transition to plantation supply and recycled products. The dedicated Opal Worker Support Service will support every impacted worker at Maryvale.

“All other native timber mills will be eligible for a voluntary transition package, whether they choose to stay in timber processing or switch to other industry sectors. Mills that stay will be able to access investment support through the Timber Innovation Fund.

“The government is also providing support to local businesses reliant on Victorian hardwood supply to manage the transition process. The Supply Chain Resilience package will support business continuity and provide assistance to help manufacturing and other businesses make the transition to future opportunities.

“As part of the transition, the government will be required to deliver a program of land management works to manage the 1.8 million hectares of public land currently subject to the timber harvesting allocation order. This will see us deliver the largest expansion to our public forests in our state’s history.

“The government will establish an advisory panel to consider and make recommendations to government on the areas of our forests that qualify for protection as National Parks, the areas of our forests that would be suitable for recreation opportunities, including camping, hunting, hiking, mountain biking and four-wheel driving, and opportunities for management of public land by Traditional Owners.”

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