Council call to release timber plan

Heidi Kraak

Latrobe City Council will call on the state government to release the timber release plan to provide certainty for the region’s native timber industry going forward.

The timber release plan outlines which native timber coupes harvesters are allowed to harvest.

The plan was due to be finalised in July last year, however, the state government has not yet released the plan.

Latrobe City councillor Dale Harriman raised the matter as urgent business at an ordinary council meeting on Monday night, stating “hundreds, if not thousands of jobs” in regional Victoria could be lost if the document was not released promptly.

Mayor Graeme Middlemiss will write the to state government requesting it release the TRP immediately and he will also write to the Municipal Association of Victoria to request they also advocate to the state government for the release of the plan.

It comes after Nationals Party leader Peter Walsh asked Premier Daniel Andrews in Parliament in February to sign off on the plan. The Premier told Parliament he would seek an update from the relevant ministers.

Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes told The Express in a statement the state government had asked VicForests for some additional time “so we can make sure the next allocation of timber gets the balance right between the needs of industry and environment”.

She said VicForests was working with industry to make sure there was adequate supply under the existing to TRP to meet contracts, however, did not comment on the impacts of the delayed release of the TRP on contractors.

Cr Harriman, who is also the president of the National Timber Councils Association, was concerned the delay in release of the TRP would be an “easy way” for the state government to “wind up the native timber industry”.

By not making a decision, he said, they are “making a decision to kill the native timber industry”.

“If they want to kill the industry, if they don’t want the native timber industry to continue, then come out with a plan to step away from it gradually,” he said.

“Unless we get a decision in the next few weeks, it will have a devastating effect on the native timber industry.

“There are contractors out there now that haven’t worked since Australia Day.”

Cr Harriman said there was an “enormous strain” on the mental health of workers and bosses in the industry due to uncertainty of future work.

Speaking to council Cr Brad Law said there would be “flow-on effects” if native timber contractors shut down.

“When we have bushfire season, all the [contractor’s] equipment is seconded by DELWP to fight the fires,” he said.

“We start wiping out all these contractors, there is going to be a point in time where there is not going to be enough machinery to fight fires.