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Questions without notice: Timber Release Plan

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
19 February 2020

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran): My question is to the Premier. Despite the massive loss of wildlife and habitat from our native forests due to the recent bushfires, the government is still permitting logging in our remaining native forests. This is occurring right now in multiple locations in areas where threatened species are known to live. Premier, given how important the unburnt forest is to the remaining threatened species and the fact that there simply is not enough timber left to fulfil the promised supply, do you concede that the government’s 2030 timeline to end native forest logging will now need to be brought forward?

Mr ANDREWS (Mulgrave—Premier): I thank the member for Prahran for his question. I think I essentially answered this question or the content central to it last week. What I would say firstly
is that I want to be very careful not to be in essence celebrating the changes in circumstance that come from a tragedy. I would never want anyone to think that I was doing that, because I would never do
that. We will assess the impact of these fires on coupes that were allocated under the current timber release plan. We will also make detailed assessments about other areas that were slated for logging
short of being part of a detailed TRP but areas that were potential areas to be logged. The impact of the fires on those areas will be assessed in detail as well. And then we will have more to say at the
appropriate time.

If it is the case that these fires put added pressure on the time line—or the availability of timber, I should say, and therefore potentially the time line of 2030—then we will consult with industry, we
will consult with affected workers and the union, and we will consult with those environmental non-government organisations that have had a very passionate and longstanding interest in this, and of course communities. We have been criticised and praised for the decisions we made last year. We think they are balanced; we think they are fair. I appreciate not everybody agrees with that at this point. At the centre of that difficult decision was an acknowledgement by our government that we simply would not wait to be victims of circumstance; we would tackle this tough issue. One of the reasons
why we needed to do that was that a big fire event would, in our judgement and the judgements of experts, pose a critical threat to the future and sustainability of this industry, and I am sad to say that this fire event—and we have never seen one of this size and scale so early in the fire season—has had a direct impact on the timber that is available today and potentially timber that will be available in the
medium and the longer term. Those assessments are not made by members of Parliament. Politicians do not make those assessments; experts make those assessments. As and when we are in a position to
make further announcements, we will.

Just while I am on my feet and given the opportunity to talk about forestry though, our commitments to supporting every worker, every business and every community through this difficult time both now
because of fire and the impacts it has had on this industry and the broader challenges this industry faces remain undiminished. We will continue to support everybody impacted by this, and to that end I think some of the salvage work that has gone on is first rate and the work that so many contractors with their specialist skills and equipment have done. We are grateful to them, proud of them, and we acknowledge
the role they played in a very difficult fire season, one that is nowhere near over—so any assessments would only be preliminary because there may be future impacts this season on our native forests.

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran): On a supplementary question, the Premier talks about supporting the logging industry and he talks about the identified impacts that the fires have already had, but the vast majority of the government’s transition payments for the logging industry will not be available until 2024. Given the fact that VicForests is already cancelling contracts with loggers, does the Premier accept that these transition payments will now have to be brought forward to enable an immediate transition out of native forest logging?

Mr ANDREWS (Mulgrave—Premier): No, I do not necessarily accept that. We will be guided by what is found following detailed assessments. With the greatest of respect to the member,
the member does not support the transition policy that we have put forward, so to now suddenly be barracking for it—the member opposite does not support the policy we have put forward. He does not
think it is satisfactory. Now apparently he understands it better than the drafters of it, those who have actually made these important announcements, and is a big fan of it. Look, consistency is important.
We have laid out a time line. We have been praised by some, criticised by others. It is a fair and balanced package—

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
19 February 2020
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