Thursday, 9 February 2023

Questions without notice and ministers statements

Timber industry

Katherine COPSEY, Ingrid STITT

Timber industry

Katherine COPSEY (Southern Metropolitan) (12:40): (32) My question is to the Minister for Environment. VicForests are getting so desperate to log that they are currently logging in the Wombat State Forest, which the government has proposed to turn into a national park, and they have proposed logging in the Dandenong Ranges National Park and in the High Country. This is deeply concerning for the protection of our species and for biodiversity. I ask you, as the minister responsible for our state and national parks: how does the government justify the environmental destruction of logging in an area such as the Wombat State Forest, which clearly has sensitive biodiversity values as you are planning to make it into a national park?

Ingrid STITT (Western Metropolitan – Minister for Early Childhood and Pre-Prep, Minister for Environment) (12:41): Can I thank Ms Copsey for her first question and congratulate her on her inaugural. Obviously she has a passion for the Victorian environment, as do I. The Andrews Labor government are absolutely committed to protecting our environment, and we have actually shown this through the very strong work we have done in protecting some of our most precious forests across Victoria. We have added almost 96,000 hectares of land to the protection list. The immediate protection areas include East Gippsland, Central Highlands, Mirboo North and the Strathbogie Ranges, and that is incredibly important. In fact the Victorian Forestry Plan will see an area of native forest protected in Victoria that will be larger than the landmass of Tasmania. It is incredibly important to me that national parks are protected, and I would take issue with the characterisation that these areas are being logged. They are being protected.

As we all know, emergencies like the bushfires in 2019 and 2020 had such a devastating impact on not only the Victorian community but our natural environment, and the 2022 floods and the 2021 storms resulted in lots of hazardous debris and fallen trees across the Victorian landscape and we have a responsibility to manage the bushfire risk associated with that debris. The issues that you are raising are matters that my department manage based on the science and based on the best advice from our Forest Fire Management Victoria personnel, and can I give them a little shout-out because they do incredible work right across the state. Obviously we take our advice from them in respect to how they remove that debris, but it is all about making sure that we manage bushfire risk appropriately.

We also recognise the really important role of traditional owners in this area and their expertise in caring for country. That is why they are an important stakeholder in this space, and I am very passionate to see them play a much bigger role in how we manage our forests into the future. We know that fallen trees also provide obviously valuable habitat for our wildlife, so wherever possible we will leave that debris and those fallen logs in situ to protect our precious biodiversity.

Katherine COPSEY (Southern Metropolitan) (12:44): I thank the minister for her answer and her passion for our special places. I would note, though, that when it comes to the Wombat State Forrest the situation is not exactly as the minister describes. And in addition to this, salvage logging has been shown to be incredibly damaging to forests, so my follow-up question is: given VicForests’ stated intention to try and log in our national parks, what plans does the government have to ensure that there is in fact no logging in our national parks?

Ingrid STITT (Western Metropolitan – Minister for Early Childhood and Pre-Prep, Minister for Environment) (12:44): I thank Ms Copsey for her supplementary question. I have already indicated that I do not accept the premise that this is logging. Of course our national parks are protected, and our government is very proud of the increased protection that we are providing and the increased hectares across the state that will be in those immediate protection areas. VicForests, under the general order, do not sit with me as the Minister for Environment; Minister Tierney has carriage of the work of VicForests. But for storm debris removal it is not unusual for DEECA, my department, to contract VicForests to do that debris removal work. I am very happy to provide information about that process to the member, but I reject the characterisation that we are logging in our precious national parks.