The Age, June 11, 2011
|Harvested from Victoria's bushfire-damaged native forests, these valuable logs have been stored in a Brooklyn timber yard.|
A TIMBER merchant has been accused of putting Victorian jobs at risk by sending thousands of tonnes of wood salvaged after the deadly Black Saturday fires overseas for processing.
The state government's commercial forestry arm, VicForests, confirmed yesterday it was investigating Robert Brudenell, of Pinex Logging, over a suspected breach of contract.
VicForests initially agreed to supply Mr Brudenell 145,000 tonnes of bushfire-affected timber on its standard contract condition that the logs be processed in Victoria to protect the state's timber industry, which is battling softening demand from manufacturing and construction, and the high Australian dollar.
VicForests spokesman David Walsh said yesterday Mr Brudenell's contract had been slashed to fewer than 50,000 tonnes by ''mutual agreement''.
''The implication potentially is that we've caught this guy out doing the wrong thing and we have stopped supplying him the volume of timber that we said we'd do in the first place,'' Mr Walsh said. ''But I can assure you that this was not the case.''
Mr Walsh declined to reveal the exact reason why the contract was reduced, citing confidentiality.
Mr Brudenell could not be reached for comment.
He will be asked to prove that he is processing the logs in Victoria when he faces representatives from VicForests on Tuesday.
Mr Walsh said VicForests received evidence of a potential contract breach on Thursday after having earlier visited Mr Brudenell's operations.
The logs have been sawed to length in a timber yard behind a woolshed in Brooklyn before being loaded into shipping containers.
Wilderness Society spokesman Richard Hughes claimed Mr Brudenell was shipping the logs overseas, probably to China.
''To have thousands of tonnes of logs out of native forests being exported is a disaster for the environment, it's a disaster for the timber industry and jobs, and it's a disaster for the local communities,'' he said.
''All it's doing is creating a quick buck for a few people trading in logging. There is no value-adding; there is no real Australian employment being created.''
Under VicForests' contract rules, timber harvested from native forests must be processed in Victoria by being peeled, sliced, chipped or sawed on four sides.
The timber supplied to Mr Brudenell is for high-end use, such as quality laminate timber for furniture or flooring, which attracts a high price.
If he is found to have breached his contract, VicForests will cease supply to Mr Brudenell.
Mr Walsh said the 50,000 tonnes supplied represents 2 per cent of VicForests' annual production.
He said the wood would have otherwise been left to rot, from trees that were killed or severely damaged by the 2009 fires.
''These operations have taken place in approximately 3000 hectares of the 400,000 hectares burnt by the fires,'' he said.