Local Gippsland councils taking the timber fight national

Big wigs: Latrobe City Council Mayor Kellie O'Callaghan, East Gippsland Mayor Mark Reeves, Wellington Shire Mayor Ian Bye and Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester MP met with Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton (centre) in Canberra last week. Photograph: Wellington Shire Council



COUNCILS affected by the shutdown of native timber harvesting took their fight to Canberra.

Representatives from Latrobe City, Wellington Shire, and East Gippsland Shire Councils were in Parliament House last week to meet with federal politicians and advocate for the local timber industry.

Discussions began on Tuesday, June 13 with meetings facilitated by Federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester and mayors from each of the three councils – Kellie O’Callaghan (Latrobe) Ian Bye (Wellington) and Mark Reeves (East Gippsland).

The meetings primarily focused on the state government’s decision to bring forward the end of native hardwood timber harvesting by six years to January 1, 2024.

Among the figures to engage in discussions was Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Murray Watt.

Mr Chester said the meetings were “respectful and courteous” but expressed his disappointment at the government’s unwillingness to overturn the state government’s decision.

“We met with Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt and a representative of the Prime Minister’s office, who made it clear that the federal government supports the native hardwood timber industry,” Mr Chester said.

“While I welcomed their support, the fact is they have no plans to get involved in the debate in Victoria and no intention of standing up for blue-collar workers in our community.”

Speaking to ABC Gippsland, Cr Bye described his conversation with Mr Watt as “positive”.

“He definitely (came) out and said the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese wants the native timber (industry) to keep going in Australia,” Cr Bye said.

He also revealed that council had “pressured” the government to provide an answer on whether or not they support the industry.

“They wouldn’t give us a definitive answer (on) what they’re going to do; they said they will not get involved in state decisions,” Cr Bye said.

“But this is a federal decision now – everyone’s timber prices are going to go up, because we will be a net importer of timber in the not-too-distant future.”

Those remarks were echoed by Mr Chester.

“This is now an issue of national importance because the demand for timber products isn’t decreasing and Victoria will simply raid other states for timber or import from other countries with poorer environmental standards,” he said.

“There will be price impacts on Australians wanting to build or renovate a home, supply chain insecurities, and poorer global environmental outcomes if Australia keeps locking up its native timber industry.”

A meeting was also held on the Tuesday with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Shadow Minister for the Environment, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Jonathon Duniam, who expressed their support for the native timber industry.

Discussions between the three councils and federal representatives took place concurrently during the National General Assembly of Local Government (NGA), an event which saw representatives from Australia’s 537 councils converge on Canberra to discuss issues of importance.

Cr Bye said he welcomed the invitation to attend the event and valued the opportunity to meet with representatives from all sides of federal Parliament.

“Council is committed to ongoing advocacy on behalf of local communities, whether that be transition of key industries, renewable energy investment, or encouraging funding for significant infrastructure projects,” Cr Bye said.

“We are pleased to be part of these important conversations, ensuring Gippsland’s transition is being considered at a national level.”