Machinery sitting idle

Machinery sitting idle

Last week, State Leader of The Nationals, Peter Walsh, visited the far east of the state with local members, Tim Bull and Melina Bath.

A major focus of the visit was to speak to those affected by government decisions regarding forestry.

Timber workers, businesses and communities feel let down by the government’s decision last November to ban all native timber logging by 2030.

At Orbost, the trio caught up with three timber harvest and haul contractors, Rob Brunt, Warren Fenner and Andy Westaway.

“They are very simple numbers there – of the seven harvest and haul contractors there’s 100 people out of work due to lack of timber,” Mr Walsh said.

“The risk for them is that they will lose some of their good staff to other areas and might not be able to get them back. There are 80 machines parked up at the moment, trucks, harvesting machinery, skidders, sitting there doing nothing. And there’s$500,000 a month in finance payments on that machinery.

“One of Rob Brunt’s new trucks that he bought late last year has only done 5000k, it’s specced up for native timber carting, it can’t do pine because it needs a different length, and he can’t put it on the interstate because it has the heavy haulage axles and what have you. It’s a specialist bit of machinery that cost in excess of$500,000 a month and it’s parked up, just sitting there doing nothing.

“We are talking to the contractors about what can be done to get timber back into the system.

“The first one is that they should still be doing fire salvage along the edge of the Princes Highway. Where they have cleared it back, it looks really good, but there’s a lot more that should be done along the highway. It should effectively be cleared back to equal the height of the trees so we don’t find the situation again that if there is a fire there are not trees falling across the road and having it closed like it was for so long after the recent fires.

“There’s immediate work there that the harvesters could be doing.

“More importantly, Vic-Forests and the department (DELWP) need to get the assessments of the coupes done so they can actually get back in and start harvesting. It is absolutely ridiculous that there aren’t going to be any decisions made until November.

“At the moment they have been told they can only go into coupes that are fire rating one and two. There’s very little valuable timber in those coupes because they are the most burnt ones. They should have access to coupes that are rated three, four and five,” Mr Walsh said.

“I think the department is deliberately holding up the release of coupes because the Andrews Government wants to affectively shut the industry down sooner than they said.”

“We talk about economic stimulus and jobs, but the priority should be saving the jobs we’ve got,” Mr Bull said.

“Those timber industry jobs should be saved. Yes, we need to create new jobs, but before we even look at creating jobs let’s keep the jobs  we’ve got.

“They can save these jobs. At the moment we need help and they’re trying to end another one of our industries.”

“It’s criminal what they’re doing,” Ms Bath said.

“It’s unjustified. These people were at the very front line when the fires were on. They were protecting our towns and our communities. They’ve had no thanks from the government and the thanks they’ve received is that they’ve shut off their resource. They’re ring barking them without any decency at all.

“The thing that really frustrates me is we talk about mental health - these people are highly stressed. They have the livelihoods of their staff that they care about, and they also have these huge debts that they’ve had to go into to purchase equipment to get the good contracts to maximise the resource. The government is absolutely walking away from its responsibilities.”

IMAGE: Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, Member for Eastern Victoria, Melina Bath, and The Nationals State Leader, Peter Walsh, with timber contractors, Warren Fenner, Andy Westaway and Rob Brunt, and machinery that, despite sitting idle, is costing Mr Brunt $500,000 a month in finance. (PS)