14 December, 2011

AM - Victorian government unveils new timber industry plan

ABC Radio, 14/12/2011 

TONY EASTLEY: A leading ecologist has described the Victorian Government's new plan for the timber industry as 'medieval'. And conservationists say it opens a way for logging in national parks.

However, the plan to open up parks and reserves to logging and extend the length of logging contracts has delighted the timber industry, which says it brings much needed security and certainty.

Simon Lauder reports.

SIMON LAUDER: Australian National University ecologist David Lindenmayer has spent 28 years studying Victorian forests.

Professor Lindenmayer says they've been over exploited for decades and the Victorian Government's new Timber Industry Action Plan could be their death knell.

DAVID LINDENMAYER: We're going to see the extinction of Leadbetter's Possum probably within 30 years. We're going to see forests made more fire prone. We're going to see major complications with Melbourne's water supply.

SIMON LAUDER: At the moment the state government's forestry arm, VicForests, can only give companies access to timber for five years.

Victoria's agriculture minister, Peter Walsh, says that doesn't give the timber industry enough certainty to invest in the future and the government plans to extend native timber contracts to 20 years.

PETER WALSH: We do have a sustainable timber industry here in Victoria. It creates significant employment, particularly in country Victoria. And we are, as a government, are committed to that being a well managed and sustainable industry into the future.

SIMON LAUDER: VicForests and the Victorian Association of Forest Industries say the government's plan helps secure the long-term future of the industry.

The government says it will consider compensating the industry if contracts can't be fulfilled in the future.

Forests campaigner with the Wilderness Society, Luke Chamberlain, says that has implications for taxpayers.

LUKE CHAMBERLAIN: In five years time when they realise, 'Oh, there's no wood there' because it's burnt or it's been logged before, the public is going to have to bail them out, and that is part of this package. And it makes absolutely no sense if this government thinks they are good economic managers.

SIMON LAUDER: The State government's plan includes ecological thinning in reserves, parks and water catchments.

Mr Chamberlain says that opens the door to logging in state parks, protection zones and even national parks.

LUKE CHAMBERLAIN: That more of our forests are going to be opened up to be logged is... (laughs) is just of great concern to us and great concern to Victorians.

SIMON LAUDER: The Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh says the state government won't allow logging in national parks.

PETER WALSH: This is about those areas that have already been set aside for timber production into the future being managed better so you increase the value of timber that is being produced.

SIMON LAUDER: What are the "parks" that are referred to in the plan?

PETER WALSH: Well, it is not national parks.

SIMON LAUDER: What is it then?

PETER WALSH: Well, it is those areas that have already been set aside in the public estate for timber harvesting into the future.

SIMON LAUDER: Could it mean national parks in the future?

PETER WALSH: It does not mean national parks. And those people who are trying to imply that it does are just making mischief.

TONY EASTLEY: Victoria's Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh speaking to AM's Simon Lauder.

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