Wednesday, 8 February 2023

Questions without notice and ministers statements

Native forest logging


Native forest logging

Ellen SANDELL (Melbourne) (14:24): My question is to the Premier. Premier, over the last few years Victoria’s state-owned logging company, VicForests, has been found to be illegally logging in many areas. So many in fact that the courts have now prevented them from logging across most of the state. In response, VicForests has begun logging in new areas like the Wombat State Forest, which the government promised to turn into a national park, and has even proposed logging in the Dandenong Ranges National Park and around our premier bushwalking trail in the High Country. The question is: does the government believe it is appropriate to log in national parks or areas that are supposed to become national parks?

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Berwick will leave the chamber for 1 hour.

Member for Berwick withdrew from chamber.

Daniel ANDREWS (Mulgrave – Premier) (14:25): I thank the member for Melbourne for her question. First of all, the member is right to say that VicForests have been prevented from logging in a number of settings because of legal action, and I will make no comment about that legal action, given that some of it may well be the subject of further court time. There may be appeals, there may be other processes, and I would not want to cut across those even in this place. It is not appropriate to do that.

In terms of the assertions that the honourable member makes in relation to logging in national parks, there are a number of protections as a function of statute, and we expect they are observed by all. As a political party that in government has added to our forest network, properly protecting both biodiversity and assets that are owned by every single Victorian today, tomorrow and into the future, I can proudly say that where there are structures, where there are rules, where there are protections, then it is the government’s expectation that they are observed by all at all times. I do not want to quarrel with the member for Melbourne, but I think her characterisation of what has or has not occurred in the Wombat State Forest is not accurate, and there are many, including some traditional owners, that would take a very different view of what is occurring in that beautiful, pristine part of our state. It is somewhat disappointing. I am not for a moment questioning the honourable member for Melbourne’s interest and passion about these issues, but it is incumbent on all of us to at least attempt to describe what is going on in accurate terms, particularly when we are talking about a partnership with First Nations Victorians that ought to be singled out for praise, not to be the subject of mischaracterisation. That may well be for many particularly offensive.

The legal action that the member refers to ought not be the subject of debate, but it is material and it is obvious that native timber supplies are under significant pressure, logging activity is under significant pressure, this industry is under pressure. We as a government instead of pretending otherwise were very clear with timber communities and indeed all Victorians when we laid down a comprehensive 10-year plan to transition out of native timber logging, because we knew then and we know now that this industry from a supply point of view is not sustainable. Now, I do not expect everyone in this chamber to agree with me in that, and I have nothing but respect for those timber communities. That is why we are standing with them through what is an incredibly difficult transition. It is only made harder by misinformation and people who ignore realities and make easy decisions instead of providing leadership.

Ellen SANDELL (Melbourne) (14:28): As the Premier knows, most native forest logging in Victoria is done simply to make cheap photocopy paper. Logging is subsidised by the state government, and last year the industry lost over $50 million. The Premier mentioned in his answer that the industry is clearly unsustainable. Shouldn’t we now admit that we should not be making paper out of endangered species’ habitat, and is it not time to bring forward the transition out of native forest logging?

Daniel ANDREWS (Mulgrave – Premier) (14:28): I do thank the member for Melbourne for her supplementary question. I am not sure whether she was reading off some hemp Sanskrit or something, but I think your –

Ellen Sandell interjected.

Daniel ANDREWS: Well, I am not sure what you were reading off, but regardless of what you wrote it on, it is simply incorrect. I do not want to misquote her, but I think the member for Melbourne insinuated that most native timber logging is simply for the purposes of making paper. That is simply wrong. It is a by-product of sawlogs that are used for a good deal of other materials. The Green contingent up there can laugh, but the facts are very, very clear. You have got the bottom of the tree and you have got the top. You have got the by-product and you have got the principal sawlog. If the member for Melbourne would like a briefing on these matters in the hope, albeit maybe a vain hope, that we might all have a more accurate picture of what is actually going on in coupes and mills and timber communities, I am more than happy to facilitate that and perhaps elevate this debate to facts instead of fiction.