Tuesday, 20 December 2022

Questions without notice and ministers statements

Timber industry

Melina BATH, Gayle TIERNEY

Timber industry

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (16:30): (5) My question is to the Minister for Agriculture. Minister, in the absence of long log supply, the CFMMEU forestry division secretary Michael O’Connor recently tweeted:

Opal management are in negotiations with the Vic State government to turn proposed 200 stand downs into 200 permanent redundancies. Thats the so called transition plan. A disaster for the Latrobe Valley which the union warned the government about for the last 2 years.

Minister, is it the Andrews government’s policy to force these 200 workers and the potential 650 other workers at Opal’s Maryvale mill into permanent unemployment queues as part of your timber transition plan?

Gayle TIERNEY (Western Victoria – Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education, Minister for Agriculture) (16:31): I thank the member for her question, and the answer is no. What is happening is that there are active discussions underway between the government and Opal on pathways to minimising the job impact as a result of the timber shortage, defer any potential standdowns or redundancies for as long as possible to give workers additional certainty and to support the mill’s transition to sustainable long-term operations.

We are providing a new dedicated Opal worker support service. It is designed for Maryvale mill workers, with services that align to their site. The service will provide relevant information and mental health support, along with case management, training support and employment assistance services for any Maryvale workers impacted in the future. This is a new service, and it is being rapidly activated by the department. Can I say that the government is consulting with all stakeholders involved in this very challenging situation. We absolutely stand by all potentially impacted workers, including those that are represented by the CFMEU manufacturing division.

Opal management has issued a series of public statements indicating it is reviewing a range of its business decisions, and the government has responded in a proactive way to this uncertainty by supporting workers at the mill. We are not in the business of fuelling uncertainty for workers. We are making sure that there are services that will be there for workers. They are different services that are provided in terms of mill workers, because the mill worker services are about tailoring exit payments. This is not the objective at all in terms of the support services that we are setting up for Opal workers.

We stand side by side with those workers and we stand side by side with operators within the industry so that we can work through the very, very complex issues that are significant challenges to the industry now and into the future. We are not going to guess, we are not going to speculate, but we are making sure that workers in particular are supported.

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (16:34): I acknowledge the minister’s response. In terms of proactiveness, Minister, has the government identified any alternative timber sources, consistent with its legislative obligation to ensure these jobs are not actually lost?

Gayle TIERNEY (Western Victoria – Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education, Minister for Agriculture) (16:34): A number of activities have been undertaken by VicForests as a result of the fairly recent Supreme Court decision. Of course VicForests has already lodged an appeal in respect to that, but of course it did require VicForests to undertake a whole range of work that would then unlock the coupes. That work is being undertaken, and I look forward to receiving a report from VicForests in terms of an update on exactly where they have got to in respect to that. But, as I said, in the meantime we will ensure that there is support for the industry and for workers as we work through this very, very challenging time.