A LEADING Australian forestry expert has resigned from Bendigo Bank over its policy not to support the harvesting of native forest.

Rob de Fegely, who has had many senior roles in his 40-year career in forestry, has resigned from the board of his local Community Bank due to its parent Bendigo Bank’s policy of not supporting native forest harvesting.

Mr de Fegely, a director of Margules Groome Consulting, chair of Sustainable Timber Tasmania and a non-executive director of Forestry Corporation of NSW, emphasised these were his personal views and not those of any of the organisations he works for.

“Despite numerous exchanges with the chief executive, Marnie Baker, and the head of corporate affairs and ESG, they have not provided any justification for their policy, which is contrary to the United Nationals International Panel on Climate Change recommendations for managed forests,” he said.

“I respect anyone’s right to have an opinion but if it affects others then it must be well researched and reasoned.”

Mr de Fegely said he joined the local Community Bank in Pambula because he felt they had a great model for local banking and had supported the local community “which I hope they will continue to do”.

“However, the parent company is trashing their community brand as the forest industry has been operating on the far south coast of New South Wales since the early settlers arrived in the 1830s and thanks to the efforts of our early foresters, the bulk of our forests especially on public land still exist today,” he said.

“What is poorly understood is that harvesting contractors provide the skills and equipment to fight bushfires, and without them, more of our precious flora and fauna will be destroyed. We all know the Black Summer bushfire killed more wildlife and released more carbon into the atmosphere than any other event in our recent history.

“It astounds me that a bank whose origins are in rural and regional Victoria could take a policy position without consulting its community bank directors or even formally notifying them. In my opinion it is unethical.

“Refusing loans to harvesting contractors while offering support to processors is simply hypocritical.”

Mr de Fegeley said he had told the chief executive that finger pointing or cancel culture was an inappropriate way to resolve the complex challenges of sustainably managing Australia’s natural forests.

“Timber harvesting not only provides needed wood products but also funds much of the management of our multiple use forests,” he said.

“I don’t know if the Bendigo Bank policy had any impact on the Victorian government’s decision to end harvesting in its natural forests, but I hope their board and senior management reflect this Christmas on the future for the estimated 2.5 thousand plus people who have lost their jobs because of the decision. Most have no prospect of finding alternative employment in their home communities like Heyfield, Swifts Creek and Orbost.

“I cannot see how this meets Bendigo’s goal of sustainable and resilient communities.”

Mr de Fegely said the senior management team of Bendigo also seemed oblivious to the fact that Australia is the sixth most forested country in world.

“We have over 10 times the world average area of forest per person, yet we are not self-sufficient with a current import bill of $6 billion per year which could increase to $10 billion within a decade,” he said.

“Other countries could easily regard us as arrogantly selfish by being indifferent to the harm we cause forests in other countries and not skilfully utilising and protecting our own forest resources.”