01 June 2023, 16:04
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan):

My adjournment matter is for Minister Tierney. The announcement of an end to logging in Victoria’s native forest by January 2024, a full six years ahead of schedule, is excellent news for our environment, its threatened species and the state’s economy.

We have long known the damage caused by old-growth forest logging. The destruction of these magnificent forests to produce low-value products, such as woodchips and paper pulp, has led to a sharp decline in biodiversity and pushed many of our native animals towards extinction. Increasingly harsh bushfires have further exacerbated the pressures placed on our forests by logging, with vast areas of forest never fully regenerating. Economically it has never stacked up. VicForests, the state-owned business that manages Victoria’s logging industry, has been running at a loss for many years, and government subsidies have been used to prop up an ever-dwindling workforce.

So we congratulate the government on its decision – it is overdue. But this change leaves those workers, skilled and unionised, and their communities in need of new opportunities. The towns of Heyfield and Maryvale, by way of example, face devastating consequences arising from these changes. The government has earmarked $200 million in this year’s budget to allow workers to retrain and enable them to transition to other industries. The obvious question, however, is what those industries might be for the citizens of towns like Heyfield and Maryvale. It also raises the question of how we will fulfil the demand for wood, fibre and paper products.

We strongly suggest that an industrial hemp industry could be part of the solution to both of these problems. Industrial hemp offers a sustainable alternative for the building materials and paper products we need. It can provide long-term, well-paid jobs for workers affected by the end of the logging industry, particularly if there is a tight focus on capturing those jobs in value-added production instead of shipping those jobs overseas, along with the woodchips. The action I seek is that the minister, as part of the timber industry adjustment process, establishes a plan to train and support affected workers to transition into long-term, sustainable jobs in the hemp industry.

Written Answer
Received: 13th July 2023
Hon. Gayle Tierney MP
(Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education, Minister for Agriculture)

I thank the member from the Western Victoria Region for his comments supporting the Victorian Forestry Program and questions regarding community impact of the program.

The Victorian Government has brought forward the native timber harvesting exit date to 1 January 2024 to promote certainty for timber workers, communities, and industry. As part of this announcement, the Government has released the Forestry Transition Program with existing supports being brought forward and scaled up. This will provide an additional $200 million to support workers and their families to transition away from native timber harvesting, bringing the Government’s total support for transitioning the forestry industry to $875 million.

Worker support activities are being rapidly scaled up with a range of wrap-around assistance on offer. ForestWorks is providing support to impacted workers and families delivering support through 1:1 case management. Every impacted timber worker will be offered help to find new secure jobs through the job matching service offered by ForestWorks, and offered free retraining inside and outside the TAFE Network. 

I note the member’s suggestion that an industrial hemp industry could provide sustainable employment and a supply of wood, fibre and paper. Priorities and planning for future industries and jobs are primarily being identified and driven locally. Eleven significantly affected communities are being assisted by grants to

develop Local Development Strategies to transition away from native timber harvesting to new, sustainable industries. The Community Development Fund supports local development strategy communities to implement early actions from their strategy.

The Victorian Government is committed to supporting the development of emerging industries such as industrial hemp and has been actively involved in exploring the hemp industry since 2019. Recently, the legislation regulating hemp was amended by the Agriculture Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. The amendments remove potential impediments to interstate trade in the hemp industry through harmonising legislated thresholds for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in low-THC cannabis with other states and territories. Agriculture Victoria has co-invested with AgriFutures and industry in the national Industrial Hemp Variety Trial and hosts the Victorian trial at Hamilton. The second year of the trial is underway and is evaluating the performance of ten hemp varieties. Results from the trial are made available to growers to help guide decisions about which varieties to plant for Victorian conditions. Agriculture Victoria is working closely with other states and AgriFutures Australia to improve hemp farming techniques, explore other uses for hemp, as well as detail the environmental benefits from hemp production.


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