December 14th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY A myriad transformations effected by one birth

VICTORIAN POLITICS Andrews hacks away at another way of life and source of jobs

CANBERRA OBSERVED Labor must own up to why it took the thrashing it got

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Hong Kong voters reject Beijing and its proxies

LIFE AND FAMILY On the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, how are we doing?

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Brexit: Quintessentially British party politics

OBITUARY Fr Paul Stenhouse: The thoughtful editor for the 'ordinary' reader

OBITUARY Vale David Milne, paragon of loyalty and perseverance

ASIAN AFFAIRS Taiwan and Hong Kong: Pawns in a bigger game

U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS How and why the U.S. should stop financing China's bad actors

HUMOUR You can't stop the music, Paddy

MUSIC 2020 foresight: A musical odyssey

CLASSIC CINEMA North by Northwest: The immaculately produced nightmare

BOOK REVIEW Truncated truths for post-truth times

BOOK REVIEW Food for a summer immersion program



THE QUEEN V PELL: A blight on the whole of the criminal justice system

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Johnson to take UK out of the EU on January 31

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Andrews hacks away at another way of life and source of jobs

by Chris McCormack

News Weekly, December 14, 2019


  • Victorian Government bans native timber logging after 2030
  • Queensland Premier says “basically the hardwood plantation scheme has failed”
  • 21,000 jobs at risk as latest ideologically driven policy from both major parties bites

Traditionally, one of the ALP’s biggest cheer squads, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) has labelled the Andrews’ Victorian Government’s decision to end native timber harvesting as a “stupid, heartless decision”.

The Victorian ALP has announced an immediate halt to logging in 96,000 hectares of native forest, with “a gradual phaseout of all logging in native forests by 2030, … reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by 1.71 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent each year for 25 years”.

Never mind that carbon dioxide is what gives these forests life. But does the Government’s phobia of carbon dioxide take into account the increased carbon dioxide released from uncontrollable bushfires burning for possibly weeks on end as a result of locking up all native timber areas? Logging creates invaluable firebreaks that can stop fires in their tracks. Not only that, the carbon dioxide locked up in timber stays there even after its harvested and turned into timber products.

Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH) managing director Vince Hurley said the immediate ban on logging of old-growth forests (OGF) was irrelevant as none of these had been logged for the last three years, and ASH had not utilised OGF since 2003.

ASH owns 51 per cent of the Heyfield Mill in eastern Victoria (it sold 49 per cent to the Victorian Government in order to stay in business after VicForests halved its native timber allocation in 2017) and is the largest manufacturer of timber products in Australia. ASH produces wooden staircases, window frames and doors, high-strength structural timber and furniture and kitchen components made predominantly from Mountain ash.

Mr Hurley said the Government had indicated that current contracts would be extended until June 2024 and then reduced allocations via a tender process would apply until wood allocations were reduced to zero in 2030, but the absence of any detail meant the future was uncertain.

For ASH to survive, it may mean importing the bulk of its timber, adding to the already large national annual trade deficit in wood products of around $2 billion. Mr Hurley said ASH “was effectively a manufacturing plant that competes against imports”.

A 2017 survey of ASH timber products distributers found that it supported 10,000 direct and indirect jobs in Melbourne alone. Added to these are jobs from at least seven other smaller Victorian mills processing native timber, and the communities they support. This makes for a total of 21,000 direct and indirect jobs that could be lost as a result of the ban in yet another government policy that sabotages a local industry and sends jobs overseas.

A Deloitte Access Economics report in 2017 found revenue generated from the native timber industry in Victoria to be worth $770 million annually. In Morwell, the native timber industry accounts for 19 per cent of full-time equivalent jobs and for 11 per cent of jobs in Orbost.

Mr Hurley said that VicForests was planting timber now to cater to the pulpwood (paper) mills after 2030 but this was not going to help timber manufacturers like ASH and other value-added native timber producers as the time it took for native timber to mature for these applications was 20 to 25 years for low-grade timber and 40 years for higher grade, meaning local plantation native timber could not be harvested in some cases until 2060. It’s difficult to envisage a continuity of full employment in the native timber industry in light of this.

The Victorian Liberal Party has declared it will overturn the native timber ban if it wins government at the next election. Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath said in Parliament. “This is the rhetoric of Daniel Andrews to shut this down, cause pain within our communities, right across Victoria, and put it on that the plantation timber is going to be a cure-all.”

She quoted Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who said, “basically the hardwood plantation scheme has failed” and “some of those hardwood plantations didn’t work in the areas they were designated to … They have had to go back to the drawing board on this one.”

The decision to end the native timber industry reeks of similar ideologically driven government decisions that have destroyed or are destroying entire industries. In January 2017, as if we needed any more confirmation of the Victorian Premier’s hatred of fossil fuels, he increased coal royalties 300 per cent, which had the effect of making Hazelwood power station uneconomical to run and it closed three months later.

At the time, the Premier said: “Power companies can easily absorb this change, and there is no reason for it to be passed onto consumers …Victoria also has the cheapest household electricity prices in Australia … and this change will not affect that.”

The average annual spot price for electricity in Victoria in 2016 was $46.14. By 2019, that had increased to $109.81, overtaking South Australia to record the highest power prices in the National Electricity Market. So, assurances from Daniel Andrews that “we are going to replace those jobs currently employed with native timber, with jobs in planting, cutting down and hauling and processing plantation timber” are worthless.

Just as Andrews’ socialist-green ideology is driving government policies that will hit timber workers, we can also expect more coal-fired power stations to close. Add to that many more industries and businesses that rely on affordable, reliable power. How long will Alcoa’s smelter last? All this as the Victorian Government’s 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 bites. Not to mention that the ban on conventional and unconventional gas exploration continues to push gas and electricity prices higher.

Similarly, radical free-trade ideology led the Federal government in 2014 to withdraw $900 million of assistance to the automotive industry, which facilitated the end of Australian-made cars and, according to Holden, cost up to 270,000 direct and indirect jobs.

A South Australian State Government-funded survey by the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union of former Holden workers revealed just 5 per cent had found equal or better working conditions since Holden’s closure in 2017, making a lie of claims by governments that a smooth transition awaits workers in industries destroyed by government policy.

Green and radical free-trade ideology motivates the Federal Government’s unwillingness to change the disastrous Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which has cost thousands of jobs in rural and regional Australia as “environmental flows” rob water from farmers, decimating home-grown food, and water trading sends water prices out of reach, favouring the large corporate agribusinesses.

With this latest decision, unions, timber industry workers, small businesses in towns reliant on logging, and all those directly and indirectly benefitting from the hardwood timber and related furniture, construction and housing industries, should be up in arms about a supposed “workers” party dumping them in the proverbial brown substance.

CFMMEU national secretary Michael O’Connor said the decision had broken faith with the union, blue-collar workers and regional communities and was an “embarrassing, motley, half-baked, rag-tagged, mishmash of talking points”.

Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio, said the policy struck “the right balance between the environment and jobs”. If her idea of balance involves destroying the native timber industry by 2030, she’s not fit to be in Parliament. Nor are those supporting the illusion that banning native logging is a cure-all, and that animals in these forests won’t be at greater risk of death from juggernaut-like fires.

“By ending the destruction of our old growth forests immediately, we’re protecting the habitat of our greater gliders, Leadbeater’s possums, and many other threatened species,” D’Ambrosio said.

However, no OGF logging occurs now. Only 6 per cent of Victoria’s forests are currently available for logging and surveys of Leadbeater possum numbers have only been conducted within that 6 per cent of forest. Actually, only four out of every 10,000 trees are harvested in the forest estate annually.

With sustainable logging practices, wildlife can easily relocate to nearby areas, whereas rapidly moving bushfires can wipe out local animal populations. The 2009 bushfires are thought to have obliterated 43 per cent of the Leadbeater’s possums’ known habitat.

Controlled burns and more timber harvesting could have arrested these fires before they went on to destroy everything in their path. Heavy machinery used by timber workers is also used to create and keep clear access roads within native forests, thereby helping fire-fighting efforts.

The Andrews Government is boasting that the native timber ban will prevent logging in an area larger than the state of Tasmania. Locking up all native forests will only endanger the very survival of the OGFs and their fauna and possibly render extinct jobs in the native timber industry in Victoria. It’s a lose: lose on all counts.

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