MPs challenge lack of pine investment

Michelle Slater

Local members of parliament say the state government has let the Latrobe Valley down by failing to deliver on its promised investment in timber plantations.

Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath said it had been two years since Labor announced $100 million in the state budget to expand plantations in the Latrobe Valley but had done nothing in the meantime.

Ms Bath said Latrobe Valley jobs relied on the timber industry and this investment should occur as quickly as possible.

“We know that plantation expansion is critical for jobs in Latrobe Valley particularly for future resource supply at Australian paper,” Ms Bath said.

“We welcomed the government’s budget announcement in 2017 to expand the plantation area but we have always been concerned about where Labor’s actual plantations would go.”

Ms Bath described the announcement as “policy on the run” designed to “deal with a crisis in the timber industry at the time”.

“The problems in that industry are real and genuine and Labor has failed to act,” Ms Bath said.

“I have raised this matter in parliament a number of times and I continually get assurances that work is under way but thus far, nearly two years down the track nothing has actually happened”.

Independent Member for Morwell Russell Northe also said it was “simply incredulous” that, two years on, the state government had not revealed any details on the proposal.

“At the time the government’s announcement was welcomed by locals and industry alike, and rightly so, but one now has to wonder what has gone wrong,” Mr Northe said.

“The industry and its workers have been sorely tested through the closure of Carter Holt Harvey sawmill in Morwell and a number of fires certainly don’t help from a supply perspective.”

Mr Northe said local retailers and builders had also been impacted by a lack of resources which had led to high prices as timber had to be imported.

“A sustainable timber industry is absolutely critical to our region and the government’s silence … certainly does not help build confidence in the timber industry moving forward,” Mr Northe said.

A government spokesman said it would “continue to work towards a long-term solution that balances job protection with conservation and boosts the use of plantation timber”.

“Timber harvesting from Victoria’s native forests have more than halved over the last decade, primarily as a result of bushfires,” he said.

“We want to make sure this money is spent most effectively … and this includes proper strategic planning.”