I thank the Member for Kooyong for bringing forward this very important motion for debate this evening.
In the North-East of Victoria, in my electorate of Indi, we have some of Australia’s most precious native forest landscapes – the stunning Eucalyptus regnans mountain ash forests of the Central Highlands, the Eucalyptus pauciflora snow gums of the High Country, and the Eucalyptus sideroxylon, the beautiful ironbark forests around Chiltern.
These beautiful forests are part of the fabric of our land.
At the same time, forestry is a major part of the culture and economy of Indi, including both native forest logging and plantation logging.
Many of my constituents are employed directly in logging, and even more jobs are supported indirectly by the industry.
As I rise to speak on this motion this evening I am thinking both of the critically important native forests, the way in which they must be protected, but also of the communities who rely on those forests, and their connection to the bush that in many cases is generations-deep.
I believe we must manage the sector carefully to both respect the many people in our region who derive their livelihood from native forest logging whilst recognising that that the industry must and will be phased out.
I must state – I believe in a thriving, sustainable Australian forestry sector. Australia has the land, the workforce, the resources, the science and the experience to sustain forestry as a major primary commodity industry, and a major export industry.
The question is how we do this among the many challenges ahead, recognising that the value of our native forests – both environmentally and economically, is when those forests stay standing.
The State of the Environment Report released earlier this year painted an alarming picture of environmental decline – and land clearing was singled out as a primary driver. We will not have a thriving forestry or a thriving agriculture sector if we continue to eradicate our forests and native vegetation at such rates.
Logging native forests poses many risks to our natural environment, increases our carbon emissions and destroys habitats of endangered species. And I am deeply troubled by court rulings that find that VicForests, which manages our native forestry sector, is failing in its responsibilities to protect native wildlife.
And while Victoria is failing to implement its commitments under the regional forest agreements (RFAs), the Commonwealth is failing to withhold accreditation of Victoria’s forests management regime, thereby allowing failure to continue.
Research has persuasively demonstrated that, by replacing older and wetter forests with younger and drier forests, native logging contributed to the extent and severity of the terrible bushfires our region experienced in 2019-20.
The Victorian Government is phasing out native logging by 2030, which will drive an increase in plantation forestry and a transition in the processing sector from native timbers to pine and other species. It is vital that we get this transition right – both for the environment, and for our local economies.
Plantation forestry, mostly of radiata pine, is a significant employer in Indi, supporting thousands of jobs in towns like Benalla, Wangaratta, Myrtleford and across the Upper Murray. After the plantation sector was hard-hit by the 2019-20 fires, I worked hard to secure $10.4 million in recovery funding to protect thousands of jobs across these towns.
I support the plantation-based forestry sector, and I believe that the transition from native to a fully plantation-based industry, if properly managed, will therefore be good news for Indi, delivering both greater environmental protection, as well as an economic boost for our region.
A plan should be in place before we cease native forest logging activities to enable those workers to transition to meaningful work, with options to remain associated with the Australian bush in new ways. Those who work in forestry have skills we will need into the future. Forest management will be needed to regenerate logging coups and unused tracks, firefighting, feral animal and plant control, measuring carbon stocks, outreach programs for farmers to plant trees and provide carbon sinks and supporting new tourism infrastructure to showcase the uniqueness of the bush to visitors at home and abroad, to name just a few things.
Because we need to do all of these things – keep our forests healthy, sustain both the forestry and agriculture sectors into the future, and do this all in a way that strengthens our natural landscapes and protects our forests. The challenges are many and will require everyone working together.