A great leap backward for Victoria’s forests

The Victorian Government released its Timber Industry Action Plan on Monday, and frankly, it’s pretty disappointing.  We’ve gone through the Plan and distilled these key points:

1. Allow VicForests to offer long-term timber supply contracts of up to 20 years (up from previous maximum of 5 years).

This move would lock in current timber supply arrangements (i.e. native forest logging contracts) postponing a transition out of native forest logging by decades.

2. Where policy changes affect supply contracts, VicForests must avoid changes to supply, and the State will indemnify logging companies for any loss.

This makes it harder for those long-term logging contracts to be changed in future.  This despite the fact that force majeure clauses (which would allow VicForests to exit the contract if the policy changed) are a standard feature of commercial contracts, and an indemnity to logging companies could leave taxpayers with a very big bill.

3. A review of Victorian forest law

The plan promises to “[r]eview the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 as part of introducing a simplified legislative system that delivers outcomes of clarity, efficiency, security and sustainability to the State and the native timber industry.”  No further detail has been provided, but we’ve got a bad feeling about this one.

4. New approach to biodiversity management

“Implement as a priority a new strategic approach to biodiversity management that appropriately balances the conservation of biodiversity with the supply of timber and other commercial forest products to generate socio-economic benefits for Victorian communities.”  Again, no further detail has been provided.

5. VicForests becomes solely responsible for determining sustainable harvest levels for public native forests, and determining the location and timing of timber harvesting operations

But DSE will monitor and audit their compliance with the sustainable forestry management framework.

6. Plan ‘ecological thinning’ in reserves, parks and water catchments to improve water yields

This means allowing logging in National Parks, on the premise that the forest becomes less prone to bushfire, thus allowing more water to run into streams.

7. Plantations that comply with the Code may be established in Farming and Rural Activity Zones without a planning permit. 

Also, ploughing, ripping and mounding works associated with establishing a plantation will be exempt from the permit requirements of overlays.  Both of these changes make it easier to open timber plantations on private land with less oversight.

8. Advocate for the federal government to recognise carbon stored in timber products in its international climate change framework

A favourite hobbyhorse of the forest industry, this would reduce their carbon liability, but unfortunately relies on some highly dubious carbon accounting.

9. Make burning of native forest wood waste eligible for renewable energy credits

Something that the Federal Government has already committed not to do as part of the Clean Energy Future package, but which was supported by recently released Senate Committee Report on the Australian forestry industry.

10. VicForests will be retained, but improved

Whereas the previous Government was ready to abolish VicForests due to its chronic financial and ecological underperformance, this Government wants to keep it and attempt to improve it by implementing a 2010 review conducted by DTF and DPI.

There’s no formal opportunity to comment on these proposals, as the Government has not provided for a consultation process.  If you’d like to keep track of how these proposals develop, stay tuned to our website and our e-bulletin!

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