Tuesday, 21 February 2023

Questions without notice and ministers statements

Timber industry

Samantha RATNAM, Gayle TIERNEY

Timber industry

Samantha RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (12:08): (34) My question is to the Minister for Agriculture. Minister, since we were last in this place Japanese paper giant Nippon has announced it is closing its Maryvale mill for white paper production. This mill uses around 80 per cent of the timber logged from Victoria’s native forests. This decision, along with VicForests finding it difficult to log within the law and the importance of our native forests in combating climate change and providing clean air, water and habitat for threatened species, highlights once again that there is no excuse to keep logging our precious forests. So I ask again, Minister: will the government end native forest logging in Victoria this year?

Gayle TIERNEY (Western Victoria – Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education, Minister for Agriculture) (12:09): I thank Dr Ratnam for her question, and indeed my answer is no different to the answer that I provided on the last occasion, and that is that this government is very much committed to ensuring that we have a managed approach to the situation that we find the timber industry in. We want it to be stabilised, and of course we want to ensure that those that are connected directly and indirectly have the proper supports and the mechanisms available to them so that there is, as I said, a managed approach to the industry.

I have got to say, Dr Ratnam, I am a little bit surprised that you have actually called for the immediate cessation of the timber industry today, in light of the decision of Nippon to shut down the white paper production. I think it is a tad insensitive, to say the least, and I can assure the house that we are working overtime in discussions and negotiations with a whole range of stakeholders to try and ensure that we have got a number of options available for the industry for now and into the future.

Samantha RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan) (12:11): Thank you, Minister, for your response. I am pleased to hear you reference a managed approach and having people at the centre of that decision. I am very happy to talk about sensitivities – sensitivities to people and the need for the transition and also sensitivities to our environment and the detrimental state that it is in. The logging of Victoria’s native forests for pulp and paper was always wrong, and it is now completely untenable. The government has failed to plan for the inevitable, and it is the workers, their families and the Latrobe Valley community who are now hurting, let alone the issue that a massive overseas company has reaped the profits from our forests but it is Victorians who will pay for the government’s mismanagement of the industry. Having said that, will the government now bring forward its transition plan for workers and the community in light of Nippon’s decision?

Gayle TIERNEY (Western Victoria – Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education, Minister for Agriculture) (12:12): Again I thank Dr Ratnam for the question. The decision that Nippon has made is in relation to white paper production, and that is one section of the Maryvale mill, not the entire mill, and in fact the majority of workers are in the other brown packaging area. So in terms of the answer to your question, again my answer is the same. We are very much on the balls of our feet in terms of dealing with the complexities of the timber industry. We are making sure that a whole range of conversations and options and deliberations and negotiations are absolutely underway. I can advise you that it is taking up a significant amount of my time. We are alive to the many issues that are confronting, one, the industry, but in particular the workers and their families.

The PRESIDENT: We have a former member of this chamber in the gallery: Dr Cumming.