STATE Opposition leader John Pesutto visited Heyfield last week.

Mr Pesutto hit the road on Tuesday, December 12, travelling out to Heyfield for a timber forum.

The forum was organised by Member for Eastern Victoria, and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Public Land Use, Melina Bath.

Mr Pesutto, who grew up in Traralgon, was joined in Heyfield by Nationals and Liberal MPs, as well as Wellington Shire Council representatives and harvest and haulage operators, industry representatives and forestry scientists.

With the closure of native timber less than two weeks away, Mr Pesutto said it was an emotional time for those in timber towns.

“They feel betrayed by the Allan Labor government and its predecessor. They were given a deadline of 2030, and then the government at very short notice changed that. They are feeling let down by that, but they are also crying out for a (transition) plan from the Allan Labor government and they’re not getting it,” he said.

“A plan for how people can be better supported, a plan for how we can manage the assets in terms of fire management of our forestry assets and also a plan for how the industry can help meet the real needs, we need to provide housing and home ownership for Victorians right across our state.

“People are in the dark about what’s available and what the government really wants to provide and will provide.

“What we really want is the government to come clean on what its plan is, especially for the transition – not many people know from the government.

“As for fire management – there’s no plan, it’s almost like the government has its head in the sand and is not giving any details away about how the industry and its resources and its knowledge can be deployed to make sure we can preserve these assets from fires, especially as we are coming into bushfire season.”

The state government has said it will work with Regional Development Victoria and the Latrobe Valley Authority as part of the transition, to look at ways to provide skills and training in other spaces for timber workers.

Redeployment into public land management has been identified as the most likely space.

Despite the impending closure, towns such as Heyfield and Yarram have vowed to fight on, with mills planning to diversify operations.

Yarram-based Radial Timber will concentrate on its new peeling plant and bioenergy plant.

While Mr Pesutto applauded the efforts of timber mills to continue, he said it would be “no thanks to the government”.

“It seems the government is turning the other cheek to the industry,” he said.

“It’s great to see them (mills) diversifying. I think a lot of them are going to have to do it, but more broadly we need a plan from the government about how our vital timber industry can be helped so that we can source the timber we need for all the houses we have to build.

“We feel the home ownership and housing affordability crisis here in Victoria more than anyone else right across the country.

“Our waiting lists are longer, the costs of building a new home are greater, the taxes on every new home are greater, which makes it even harder for young people in particular to buy new homes.”

As the end date is looming, Mr Pesutto said the Opposition wasn’t holding out any hope for a last-minute reversal.